Let me preface this entire article by saying that I’m all for anything that makes people enthusiastic about exercise, or gives individuals an outlet to relieve stress. If you’re not moving, you need to move – regardless of what it takes to make you do so. I know I about to get tons of hate mail after saying what I'm about to say… Yoga Mostly Sucks!. For some strange reason women are fascinated with yoga. Given the claims the majority of yoga "gurus" tout, it's no wonder all these women are under the assumption that yoga will do everything from help them lose weight and get stronger to “bringing sexy back”.
Yoga practitioners are notoriously known for their extreme flexibility, which can be a problem if not balanced with strength. Many of the movements used in yoga only train flexibility - not mobility. Mobility implies that you have stability in the ROM that you achieve. You need to have strength to support your body weight in all those extremes. Having excessive ROM without strength in those ROMs is actually a big risk factor for injury, so excessive static stretching can be a huge problem. When you push the balance between mobility and stability out of whack too far in one direction, ligaments aren't as effective as joint stabilizers and muscle length-tension relationships can be negatively affected.
I’ve worked with loads of female athletes from the youth to professional levels – and I can’t say that I’ve ever looked at one of them and said, “She needs yoga to get stronger, faster, healthier, or leaner.” Now, if these are athletes who in some cases are devoting 3-4 hours per day to training – and they still don’t need yoga – why is it that the average female weekend warrior who has 3-4 hours per week to devote to exercise is convinced that yoga is the Holy Grail of exercise? Most females want and/or need the following when it comes to general fitness and body compositional goals:
1. Decreased body fat
2. Increased strength
3. Improved daily/athletic function
4. Increased bone density
5. Increased flexibility
Lets break these down one by one and compare yoga to resistance training:
1) Decreased Body Fat
To decrease body fat, you have to provide some sort of caloric deficit either through dieting or through increased caloric expenditure from physical activity (or some form of both). I'm going to leave the dieting component alone for now but I do want to elaborate on the latter component.
Yoga doesn't cause a high (or acute) or post-exercise calorie expenditure, which is one of the main factors in fat loss. Many people equate sweating to burning a lot of calories. Sorry ladies, but just because you sweat a lot while taking a class in a 105 degree room doesn't mean you're burning a lot of calories. People can sit in a steam room and sweat profusely – doesn’t mean they are burning a lot of calories. How many calories do you think you can burn standing or sitting in one spot for an hour, which is essentially what you do in a typical yoga class?
On the other hand, numerous studies have shown that resistance training elevates EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) for upwards of 24 to 48 hours after you're done training. Simply put, not only will you burn more calories during one hour of resistance training compared to one hour of yoga, but you'll also burn more calories even when you're not in the gym. More calories burned equals more body fat lost. I've yet to see one study which shows yoga does anything to increase EPOC significantly (if at all).
Additionally, yoga doesn't provide resistance sufficient enough to increase or preserve lean body mass (LBM), which is directly correlated with metabolism and thus the rate at which you burn calories. However, there is an exception. Beginners might see transient increases in LBM in the beginning, but that's mainly because most women who go from doing nothing to participating in yoga classes are so de-conditioned that their body weight elicits enough of a stimulus to cause a slight change.
2) Increased Strength
Muscular strength is defined as the ability to overcome or counteract external resistance by muscular effort; also, the ability to generate maximum external force. To generate maximum force (get stronger), a trainee needs to incorporate one of three methods: Maximum Effort Method (exercising against maximum resistance), Repeated Effort Method (lifting non-maximal load to failure, Dynamic Effort Method (lifting a non-maximal load with speed).
The fact is, yoga isn't easily "modifiable" to facilitate constant adaptation for strength gains. Yoga will in fact develop strength to a point, but soon thereafter you're just training strength endurance. If bodyweight is constant, then progressive resistance isn't possible without adding an external load.
3) Increased Bone Density
This is especially important for women because they're at higher risk of developing osteoporosis compared to men (especially if they're Caucasian, Asian, or slight of build).
In terms of stimulating new bone formation, what's needed is something called a minimal essential strain (MES), which refers to a threshold stimulus that initiates new bone formation. A force that reaches or exceeds this threshold and is repeated often enough will signal osteoblasts to migrate to that region of the bone and lay down matrix proteins (collagen) to increase the strength of the bone in that area.
Furthermore, physical activities that generate forces exceeding the MES are those activities that represent an increase in intensity relative to normal daily activities. For sedentary or elderly individuals, this might be where yoga could be enough of a stimulus to cause an MES and new bone formation (bodyweight exceeds the threshold). However, you still have to take into consideration the rule of progressive overload (bodyweight will only take them so far) and for younger or more active people, higher intensity activities such as sprinting, jumping, and heavy resistance training will need to be included to exceed MES.
Regardless of one's training history or lifestyle, it's clear that the activities chosen to increase bone density need to be progressive and weight bearing in nature. Yoga doesn't do this.
4) Improved Daily/Athletic Function
During a yoga class, you're sitting and/or standing in one spot for 45 to 60 minutes. This will not equate to better efficiency or performance in daily life or on the athletic field. As an athlete your time is better spent elsewhere.
5) Increased Flexibility
This one I'll concede to yoga. It does help to improve flexibility, which is a good thing (sort of). Unfortunately, it tends to promote flexibility/mobility in areas of the body where it doesn't need it. Also, yoga does not differentiate between good and bad range of motion. Yoga looked at being limber as being healthy and this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
I've worked with many clients with extended histories of lower back pain who start participating in yoga classes through the recommendation of a friend or worse yet, an uninformed physician. Their rationale: "All you need to do is stretch out your back." Quite possibly the worst piece of advice to give. Every joint in our body is designed to function with a delicate balance of mobility and stability; some just need more of one than the other.
My main concern with yoga is the tremendous amount of lumbar hyperextension that occurs; this is the LAST thing you want at the lumbar spine. Most back problems are extension-based; that is, people get excessive ROM at their lumbar spine because they lack ROM at their hips, or they’re just too weak to prevent it at the lumbar spine.
Furthermore, what good is it to have all this extra mobility or ROM if you can't stabilize in that range of motion in the first place? Having excessive ROM (in the wrong places) without the strength to stabilize that ROM actually predisposes people to injury. In my view, being “limber” is another way of saying that you’re “unstable.” This is not a good thing. Limber people easily break down on the athletic fields, and they even get injured with ordinary activities like carrying groceries.
So while yoga does enhance flexibility and mobility, resistance training actually facilitates movement through that range of motion, and provides the dynamic control to allow you to utilize the range of motion safely.
I realize that what I wrote above is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but like I stated in the beginning, it had to be said. While yoga is an excellent modality to help improve the mind-body connection, and it certainly is a valuable tool in the "overall fitness toolbox," it doesn't hold a flame to resistance training as far as what the majority of women want/need from their time in the gym.
There are good aspects to yoga; I just wish people would take more time to qualify their recommendations. Movements that encourage ROM at the lumbar spine should be discouraged, and the same goes for those that involve long isometric actions of the hip flexors. Additionally, if you’re too weak to punch your way out of a wet paper bag, you’d be better off spending your time lifting weights than taking yoga. From functional carryover (i.e. better athlete) and aesthetic improvements (i.e. lose weight, “bring sexy back”) perspectives, lifting weights is far superior.
A good rule of thumb most women should follow would be to train three times per week while incorporating a healthy dose of soft tissue work and dynamic flexibility. Once all of that is met, then she can incorporate yoga into the mix. So, in the grand scheme of things, women don’t need more yoga classes. They need to get stronger, and focus on mobility and activation training that enhances stability in the ROM that they’ve already achieved. Additionally, they need to learn to stabilize the lumbar spine instead of tying it into knots.
I recognize that, in writing this article, I’ve once-and-for-all given up my change to ever date a yoga instructor. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if it’s going to save a lot of people a lot of back pain
Related Link: Pother Article, # 3
I dont hate yoga instructors nor do i hate the fact that people have their own opinion about the form of exercise they are passionate about. I get lots of lenghty emails ... some are just plain stupid, idiotic or boring... others got some value in it ... heres one.