I used to get injured a lot in yoga. My body was constantly stressed out, which, when you think about it, basically defeats the entire purpose of a yoga practice. It honestly took me a long time to realize I was both ignoring what my body needed, and relying far too much on my inherent flexibility. I was ignoring the fact that physical strength is imperative to a yoga practice, no matter who you are. It was only when I began including workouts that benefit your yoga practice into my fitness routine that I saw my entire physical practice transform, my injuries decrease in frequency and severity, and my time on the mat become abundantly more enjoyable.
According to Eliza Nelson, ACE, a certified personal trainer and orthopedic exercise specialist, there tends to be a big emphasis on lengthening and flexibility in yoga, “but adding strength work can have a profound impact on improving your practice,” she tells Elite Daily in an email. “Actually, in order to have healthy flexibility or range of motion, you have to focus on both lengthening and shortening (contracting) the muscle fibers to keep the muscles strong, healthy, and in a prime state to prevent injury.”
Here’s the thing: I loved — and I mean loved — backbends, and splits, and deep forward folds, and long, luxurious hip openers. But I used to rely only on my flexibility; I was failing to include the foundational strength training that would balance it all out. Essentially, as a yogi, I was all about preaching balance, but physically, it was what I was lacking all along.
I’m not saying everyone has to include strength training in their fitness routine in order to have a healthy and sustainable yoga practice, but what I am saying is that, for me (especially with the more advanced inversions, bends, and balances I enjoy doing in my practice), incorporating certain strength training moves made my time on the mat feel so much better — not to mention, it’s a lot more safe overall.
Nowadays, I tune into my body, and when it’s asking for strength rather than length, I hit the gym. Here are the six moves I regularly incorporate into my routine.
As a yogi, I’m here to tell you that your glutes get neglected far too often in a typical vinyasa class, which is a problem since, according to Nelson, “people tend to be weaker in the muscles of the back of the body (aka the posterior kinetic chain).”
Nelson tells me that adding posterior strengthening exercises for your back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves is very important for maintaining a strong yoga practice.
“The main benefit of squats is to create stability and strength within the hip joint,” adds Chris DiVecchio, a personal trainer and owner of Premier Mind Body. “Warrior poses and balancing poses become easier as you increase strength within this major joint.”
Side Lying Leg Lifts
If you ever see me in yoga class, you’ll almost definitely catch me doing a few of these bad boys before class begins. That’s because, again, according to Nelson, strong glutes are a critical piece in the overall puzzle of your body’s abilities, and side lying leg lifts are amazing for building some of that strength. Plus, they “can help with posture, stabilize the pelvis, hips, and knees, [and] relieve tight hip flexors and lower back pain,” says Nelson.
If you try them out yourself, “make sure you really focus on the mind-muscle connection when performing this exercise,” the trainer recommends. “Focus on squeezing and contracting the glutes at the top of the side lying leg lifts, and hold the contraction for a couple of seconds to establish that mind-muscle contraction, and to make sure you’re feeling the tension in your glutes.”
Here’s another one of my faves — one that has remarkably transformed my inversion practice. “Commonly performed in the prone position, donkey kicks are great for strengthening the core, hamstrings, and glutes, which are great for relieving back pain, as well as opening the hips for greater range of motion,” DiVecchio tells Elite Daily.
Seated Leg Curls
The truth is, there’s a whole lot of hamstring stretching in yoga, and if you don’t balance it out with some strengthening, you run the risk of over-stretching (been there, fam).
“If you find that you’re super tight in [a forward fold], or you would like to be able to go deeper into the stretch, strengthening [those muscles] with hamstring curls can be excellent to add to your routine,” Nelson says.
What’s more, DiVecchio says that seated leg curls bring more awareness, support, and stability to the often overstretched muscles in your hamstrings.
According to Nelson, pull-ups are one of the most effective back exercises you can do. Personally, I am so here for this move, and it makes me feel like a total boss every time I’m doing it at the gym.
Aside from low-key feeling like Superwoman when you do this workout, DiVecchio says that pull-ups can also help you build the strength you need for those yoga poses that require you to press up from the floor, such as cobra pose.
“Several of the poses performed in yoga are pushing/pressing movements, and the pull-up helps to strengthen the antagonists to the muscles you use for pressing,” he explains. “So, working them can help build more balanced strength around your shoulders, wrists, and elbows.”
DiVecchio tells Elite Daily that deadlifts are one of the most powerful lifts you can perform in a workout, and to that, I say, bring it.
“The power [that deadlifts] generate in the hamstrings, glutes, and back is almost unmatched by any other lift,” he says. “It requires precision and focus, which translates in yoga to proper mobilization and more mindful movements.”
Personally, my backbends have never felt better, guys.