The Ups and Downs of Yoga

Woman doing yoga

I had planned on writing a full expose about my thoughts on Yoga.  The I stumbled back onto an article by Tony Gentilcore, which sums most of them up very nicely.  Here is my version, somewhat modified and augmented from Tony’s.

From a physical standpoint
Most women have these physique goals:
  1. Decreased body fat
  2. Increased strength & lean muscle
  3. Improved daily/athletic function
  4. Increased bone density
  5. Increased flexibility (maybe)
Yoga does not address many of these goals very efficiently.
  1. Decreased Body Fat – Yoga does not burn a large number of calories during exercise, nor does it increase post excess post-exercise oxygen consumption – calories burned in the hours after exercise.  It also likely does not reach intensities high enough to improve insulin response post-exercise.  None of this makes it the best choice for someone looking to lose weight or get leaner.
  2. Increased Strength & Lean Muscle- Yoga is not easily modified to facilitate constant adaptation for continued strength gains (see my post on progressive overload).  You might gain some initial strength gains when you start doing yoga, but without increased loading or some other variable for overload, you cannot continue to improve beyond a certain point.  Unless you gain significant weight over time, you don’t increase the resistance!
  3. Improved Daily/Athletic Function – Sitting/standing in one spot for an hour does not translate particularly strongly to increased performance on the field/court/wherever.  Improved flexibility may help prevent injury in some sports or improve performance in things like dance, but the key performance areas for many sports (speed, explosiveness, strength) are not well trained by Yoga.
  4. Increased Bone Density – Similar to #2 the above, activities must create what’s called minimal essential strain to induce bone creation.  Without progressive overload you aren’t going to produce enough strain.  Except for in the elderly, some form of external loading is almost required for this purpose.
  5. Increased Flexibility – One concession for yoga is flexibility, which it definitely can help improve.  This is a mixed bag.  On one hand, many people do need increased flexibility in many joints (ankles, hips, shoulders).  Score for Yoga!  On the other hand, Yoga also tends to increase flexibility in joints that need more stability, not flexibility, like the lower back, which can cause back pain and increased injury risk.
Crazy yoga pose

This lower back probably lacks stability

From a non-physical standpoint

Yoga can have several non-physical benefits, which should not be dismissed. Many who practice yoga note its calming, meditative nature and stress-relief capabilities as positive benefits. Although I usually focus on the fitness and physique side of things, these benefits should not be understated. Yoga can be a great way to relax, relieve stress, and get in touch with your meditative side, which can have physical health benefits in addition to the mental and emotional ones.

Bottom line

Doing yoga occasionally is probably not going to hurt you (too much). It may even help you relax, de-stress, meditate, etc, which is great for your mental (and even physical) health. Unfortunately, for women with physique or athletic goals, like the ones listed above, yoga is far from the most efficient method of achieving them. Other exercise methods, like weight training and high intensity interval training, are just more effective. If you choose to include yoga in your training program for these goals, it should be as a supplement, not the core of your training.

Read Tony’s whole article at Figure Athlete: 4 Things Your Girlfriend Should Know. The discussion of yoga is point #1, but read them all. It’s a great article all the way around.

Agree? Outraged? Leave it in the comments.

Enjoy this post? Hit the like button! Like it a lot? Hit share or retweet!