Buff and Balanced Bodybuilders Turn to Yoga

by Aimee Hughes

We don’t typically envision iron-pumping bodybuilders also flowing and breathing through yoga postures, yet many are combining these complementary disciplines to realize huge benefits.

Competitive Edge

Nicolina Sandstedt, a yoga teacher trainer and anatomy expert with the Yandara Yoga Institute, in Baja, Mexico, says, “The body awareness and alignment focus that the practice of yoga asanas [positions] offers helps bodybuilders find correct posture. Yoga also teaches elegance in transitions that improve competitive posing.”

Peter Nielsen, a bodybuilder, yoga practitioner and world-class fitness guru in Detroit, says, “Most bodybuilders haven’t fine-tuned their presentation. They often grimace and look uncomfortable, with their veins popping out. Yoga helps teach bodybuilders how to slow down, breathe into each posture and ultimately win posing competitions because of the grace, elegance and body awareness that yoga provides.”

Injury Prevention

Joseph Grassadonia, bodybuilder, yoga enthusiast and founder of On Fitness magazine, in Kahuku, Hawaii, cites additional benefits: “Incorporating yoga into your workout routine improves your core, giving you overall body strength in specific targeted muscle groups. It also increases flexibility, stability and mobility, allowing greater range of motion. Most importantly, it will keep you from being sidelined with injuries.”

“Stretching a muscle can make it more aesthetically pleasing,” says Sandstedt. “In yoga, we often hold postures for a relatively long period of time, in a more isometric endurance workout, than the short, repetitive movements performed in bodybuilding. Bodybuilding develops fast-twitch muscle fibers for power and speed, while yoga develops slowtwitch muscle fibers for endurance. Both are important for tissues to stay healthy while building muscle mass.”

Nielsen says, “Bodybuilding makes me feel stronger; I look better and have loads of endurance. Yoga makes me feel more centered; it softens me so I can hear and surrender to what my body is telling me rather than me just telling it what to do.” Such listening is essential to preventing injuries that periodically plague bodybuilders. Slowing down into yoga’s present moment awareness teaches bodybuilders how to perform from a place of presence rather than on autopilot, which is when most injuries occur.

“Yoga works all the muscles, even the smaller, intrinsic muscles often neglected in bodybuilding,” Sandstedt says. “In addition to facilitating healthy posture, these small muscles help support balanced joint alignment.” She explains that the explosive, repetitive movements used to build muscle mass in bodybuilding make the muscles less elastic, which also inhibits range of motion. Less elastic muscles may be more prone to injury, as daily activities require both strength and mobility.”

Beginning Yogis

For bodybuilders who want to give yoga a shot, Nielsen advises trying a structured, 30-day yoga challenge. He sees how after the first month with his clients, the positive effects become apparent and most bodybuilders don’t want to go back to life before yoga.

Sandstedt says, “I advise newcomers to incorporate a light yoga routine into the beginning and end of each bodybuilding training session. Ending training sessions with a few yoga postures will help balance the body, bringing a sense of calm and equanimity to the workout experience.”

“In my fitness career, I’ve found that yoga perfectly complements any strength training program as a form of stretching, flexibility and de-stressing,” says Nielsen. “Yoga focuses me, and helps me to isolate whatever muscle I choose. It helps me reach my fullest potential and simply makes me a better version of myself.”

Aimee Hughes is a doctor of naturopathy and freelance writer in Kansas City, Missouri. Connect at ChezAimee@gmail.com.


COMPARING BENEFITS

YOGA BODYBUILDING
Stretches and lengthens muscles
while relieving tension
Shortens and builds muscles while
building tension
Moves prana (life force energy)
throughout the body, boosting energy
levels and mental sharpness after a
session
Expends energy, sometimes ending in
muscle fatigue and mental exhaustion
Improves oxygenation of the
circulatory system, providing energy
and invigoration
Improves muscle oxygenation, which
helps growth and repair functions
Tones muscles gradually Builds muscle strength rapidly and
enhances the toning aspect of yoga
Involves the body, mind and spirit Primarily involves the physical body
Accessible to every age group Not accessible for the very young and
very old
Promotes body confidence through
self-acceptance
Promotes body confidence through a
fixed physical aesthetic
Prevents injuries through body
awareness and helps heal injuries
through yoga therapeutics
Can cause injury absent preventive
awareness

Sources: Nicolina Sandstedt; Peter Nielsen; Joseph Grassadonia

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