How yoga can enhance your strength workout

By Lisa O’Neill

For us gym lovers, the purpose of yoga seems to be simply an extended stretch session. While you’ll definitely get closer to touching your toes with a regular yoga class, we discovered so many more benefits at the recent Bodies by Ryan men’s yoga workshop.

 

If we’re doing stereotypes, yoga and strength training seem light years apart. While yogis are levitating off their mat in some mind-blowing, pretzel-shaped contortions smelling faintly of incense, gym lovers are ripping through all the heavy weights, winking at themselves in the mirror while popping a tricep or bicep and dreaming of their next steak. Joining forces might seem as likely an Australian Prime Minister and his/her deputy, until BBR founder Ryan Devereux met one of Perth’s best yoga teachers Rhyanna van Leeuwarden.

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In the past six months, Rhyanna has been a BBR member (the benefits of strength on her yoga practice are vast and will be featured in an upcoming blog) and Ryan has added yoga into his schedule to balance out the massive weights routine he’s subjected his body for many years.

“I’ve been training pretty intensely and lifting heavy for around ten years, with minimal stretching in between,” Ryan admitted. “I know I want to do this type of training for the rest of my life, so I had to introduce some kind of compromise and balance.”

Ryan was so blown away by the results he was getting from his private yoga sessions with Rhyanna, he decided to bring yoga to BBR and specifically to the gents of the gym.

“I think everyone needs yoga in their life and while the results are intangible and much more subtle than the ones I get in the gym, I feel so much better in my body, my mind and my life,” Ryan explained. “When I told the guys from the gym about yoga, they asked how many people were in the classes and if they could hide up the back which is the opposite of what I wanted for them. So I created the men’s yoga workshop as an opportunity for them to have an experience with a really advanced yoga teacher in a comfortable space.”

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 Here are our top takeaways on why yoga will have a positive impact on you far beyond toe touching;

1.    Body awareness– At BBR, the trainers are all intent on perfecting our form but sometimes it’s difficult to know what we’re supposed to be feeling. Rhyanna says the first place to start is to soften everything.

“Big muscles like quads, glutes and traps are the big, superficial muscles that automatically turn on when you do a movement unless we train them to relax,” Rhyanna explained. “So first we soften everything, then connect the mind and body to engage the right muscles… focus specifically on how you are meant to be feeling because the shape might look different on the person next to you.”

2.    Core strength – Rhyanna believes that achieving a neutral spine is the starting point for every movement (from cycling to bicep curls), but to activate your deep abdominal muscles it is absolutely crucial. 

“If you flex your spine, it works the upper and superficial abdominal muscles,” Rhyanna said. “When you can learn to use your core without moving your spine, you’ll use your deep abdominals and see big results.”

One of Ryan’s biggest physical changes since practising yoga has been his core strength and considering the BBR core exercises are intense already, we think Rhy might be on to something here.

3.    Focus – The breath work recently introduced to the beginning of all classes at BBR is for good reason and was born from Rhyanna’s teachings. By focusing on the breath, we connect with our body and the present moment, which helps us leave behind the outside world and get super focused on the task at hand. 

“I’m able to quieten down the white noise and the bullsh*t now, yoga has made me become a lot clearer in what I want, not just from life, but what I want my body to do as well.”

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4.    Correct breathing – while we’re talking breath, have you been doing it wrong? Getting your breathing right can bring another element of strength and efficiency to your workout. The exhale is aligned with the engagement of the core and inhale as you move out of the exercise. 

“Use the exhalation to help engage the abdominals,” Rhyanna suggested.

5.    Reducing risk of injury – When we have imbalances in our body, we feel it as tightness and restriction of movement, which can lead to injury when it isn’t addressed.

“Yoga means union and balance, so it requires an equal amount of effort and ease,” Rhyanna said. “Yoga helps us find ways to soften our body, through spacious movements, breath and deep relaxation.” 

“Most guys who weight train four to five times a week end up having some injuries or problem areas, but using yoga has made me so aware of where the imbalances are for me,” Ryan added. “I’m a lot more stable as I’m working harder on activating the correct muscles, really a shifting a weight with intention and not just using brute strength or simple push/pull.”

6.    Mindset shift to long-term success – This was a bit of a mic drop moment at the workshop for me… we live in an instant gratification society so we’re pretty out of practice when it comes to waiting. So Rhyanna’s thoughts on having patience with our results resonated. 

“We’re the heirs of our actions so every time we do a class, an exercise or a movement, we create a pattern that you can either use to change for the better or keep doing the same thing over and over and never change,” Rhyanna advised. “Remember today that the day you plant the seed isn’t the day that you eat the fruit, so plant the seed today with new understanding that with repetition, you create a new pattern and the new pattern creates an opportunity for growth.”

Have you incorporated yoga into your schedule? How has it benefited or challenged you?

Lisa O'Neill