What is a bodybuilding yogi; why not just ‘yoga for athletes’? Bodybuilding is a sport; therefore, participants are athletes, but the way we train and what our bodies go through is very different to a runner or basketball player. We face our own challenges when we walk into the yoga room and same goes when walking into the weight room.
Bodybuilding is very demanding on the human body. We train to look a certain way, not necessarily perform a certain way. It may be to look like the incredible hulk or just a muscular female with a well balanced physique. Regardless of our individual end goal, we all have one thing in common: we are building muscle.
In order to build muscle you must lift heavy weights and eat plenty of food to support muscle growth. This is quite the opposite of a typical yogi’s lifestyle. Bodybuilders must track what they eat for several reasons:
1. To ensure they are getting adequate protein for muscle development and recovery.
2. To hit certain caloric requirements depending on whether they are building muscle or losing body fat to reveal their muscle.
3. Restrict certain foods that may prevent them from doing 1 and/or 2.
4. To make sure they are getting all their meals in each day and not to skip a meal.
5. To time their meals which have specific macro-nutrient ratios for different parts of the day.
How does a yogi eat?
1. Yogis are quite often vegan which raises concern and difficulty over getting adequate amounts of protein.
2. They eat when they are hungry and are more in tune with their bodies rather than a clock telling them to eat.
3. They preferably eat all organic to abide by the first limb of yoga, Yama, where Ahimsa or non-violence is practiced. This can get very costly for the hungry bodybuilder eating plenty of chicken breast and vegetables.
Bodybuilding is very ‘Yong’ and must be balanced like anything in life. Where there is a left there is a right, a start and an end, up and down, day and night. Bodybuilders often suffer from burnout because they never balance the extreme activity with something that calms the nervous system and repairs the damage. Enter yoga.
THE STRUGGLES WE FACE
As you can already see there are some struggles that arise from trying to live a bodybuilder’s lifestyle and a yogi’s lifestyle as one; eating is just one of many.
As a yogi we practice the eight limbs of yoga which includes Ahimsa, the act of kindness to all living things or ‘non-violence’. This means that what we eat should have died humanely or grown environmentally friendly. We all know buying organic is expensive and as a bodybuilder, with a higher intake of protein need, we tend to eat a lot of meat. I personally don’t know a professional bodybuilder who is vegan and all natural so there’s the first struggle, being vegan if that’s your choice. Yes there is protein in Quinoa and beans but they are predominately a carbohydrate source; yes there is protein in nuts but they are predominately a fat source. One way to overcome the vegan bodybuilder hurdle would be to find an organic whole food protein shake but this brings us to the second struggle…the cost. Organic anything comes with a high price tag. The way to get around this is to choose what you eat organic and what you could get away with not being organic; for instance, all meat should be purchased organic, but we can be a little more lenient with our fruits and vegetables.
I choose my vegetables and fruits by whether or not I’m going to eat the skin. There are also plenty of online lists of ‘safe’ foods that you don’t have to buy organic. For instance it would be safe to buy kiwi, onions, avocado, pineapple, peas, cabbage, and broccoli that are not organic. Cabbage and broccoli don’t have skin but they don’t retain as many pesticides because they face less pest threats, resulting in less pesticides being used. Foods to definitely buy organic include apples, all berries, grapes, spinach and all other leafy greens, bell peppers, and cucumbers.
STIFF AND TIGHT MUSCLES (DOMS)
This is a big one and one that we cannot fix completely, but there are ways to make it easier. Bodybuilders apply a lot of weight to their muscles in order for the muscle tissue to tear and repair and come back bigger and stronger. The tearing fibers and tissue are a mini trauma and with trauma or injury comes inflammation and pain. This is what we call DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Some days are worse than others, but it can leave us immobile for one to four days; the hamstrings and shoulders seem to be the worst impacted.
Yoga can be very painful and frustrating for the bodybuilder suffering from DOMS, but once we get through the class we feel ten times better having stretched out our muscles. We can make it less painful if we do the following:
1. Stretch directly after a workout and perform 10 minutes of light cardio to keep our blood from pooling in the areas worked.
2. Eat enough protein, particularly pre and post workout.
3. Take an Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acid supplement to help with inflammation.
4. Take a glutamine supplement to aide in recovery.
5. Foam roll.
6. Take an Epsom salt bath.
7. Get a massage.
You can’t technically ‘shorten a muscle’, and you can’t change a muscles insertion point on the bone; however, after years of tearing down muscle fibers and forming scar tissue, it can feel as though you have shortened your muscle. In reality it is just really tight. This makes yoga more challenging if we don’t keep up with regular stretching. It can feel like the bicep tendons and connective tissue are tearing away from bone in side planks and extended side angle pose.
The difference between the feeling of shortened muscles and DOMS, as mentioned in the previous section, is that DOMS only last a few days and happens inside the muscle whereas these ‘shortened’ muscles are actually tight, inflexible connective tissue and tendons that have worsened over time because of lack of stretching. Regular stretching and Yin yoga are particularly beneficial in reversing this issue.
FITTING IN BOTH ACTIVITIES
I am extremely lucky when it comes to this as I am a personal trainer and make my own schedule. I do, however, get very busy from time and time and something has to give.
Training as a bodybuilder you can expect to be at the gym anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half per training session. Yoga classes generally take 75 minutes, give or take. If we are trying to lose body fat for a competition or because our ‘off-season’ has come to an end, then we also need to fit in cardio which can range anywhere from 30 minutes to two sessions per day, totaling up to an hour and a half.
There are suggested best times for exercise and yoga practice, but the very best time is when you are able to get it in. It is preferential that we split our weight and cardio sessions up but occasionally time does not allow for this, in that case it is recommended to ALWAYS perform cardio AFTER weights. Weight lifting takes precedence; you want all your energy to go into lifting heavy with good form. Yoga can be done at any time of the day but if you are practicing a more vigorous class then you don’t want to be flowing directly after your weights when your strength is compromised. Chaturanga Dandasana is not fun after heavy dumbbell shoulder presses, trust me.
Arrange your day the best you can. Only you can decide what’s best for you. I perform fasted cardio first thing in the morning, I like to run on an empty stomach and it sets my day off right. We can all use the extra serotonin boost that cardio provides for the day ahead. I then do yoga mid morning and weight training mid afternoon with some added cardio either after weights or later in the evening.
WHY WE SHOULD BE DOING BOTH
“I don’t lift weights, all I do is yoga”. I hear this all too often in the yoga arena and it scares me. The American Heart Association has a recommendation for weekly resistance and cardio training for a reason.
The ‘newbie’ to any type of exercise will experience strength and cardiovascular improvements in the first couple of months of regular activity; these ‘new gains’ start to diminish as the body adapts to the new regimen. The only way to keep building strength is to apply new force and intensity to the body. This needs to happen continually as you become stronger and stronger and is called Progressive Overload. Even when you have reached your desired physique you need to maintain the muscle you have gained; again, you must apply outside force to the muscles.
Physique goals aside, let’s talk about heart health, bone health, and your health in general. Hot Yoga classes will raise your heart rate but no studies have shown that yoga trumps resistance training and cardiovascular activity for heart health. Hot yoga is not for everyone so a lot of yogis aren’t even experiencing a raise in their heart rate during their practice. The recommended amount to keep your heart healthy is 150 minutes per week of moderate cardiovascular exercise.
There are more than three million cases of Osteoporosis in the US per year. This number could be dramatically decreased if more people picked up the weights, particularly women. When we apply force to our muscle it puts stress on our bones and our amazing bodies adapt to this applied force by increasing bone density, something that bodyweight exercise alone do not do well. Doing yoga alone will not achieve these magnificent benefits that weight bearing exercises gives.
Yoga does come with an array of its own benefits, particularly for the bodybuilder. It…
· Improves flexibility, which can help the bodybuilder get deeper in squats, for example.
· Increases range of motion promoting better muscle fiber recruitment.
· Prevents joint breakdown by increasing the flow of fresh nutrients into the joint area.
· Strengthens your spine protecting it from injury during heavy weight training.
· Increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles giving them more power and fuel.
· Lowers cortisol levels, the stress hormone, which is a bodybuilder’s worst nightmare; when elevated cortisol can cause muscle breakdown and the storage of body fat.
· Helps you to focus and be more in tune with your body which helps the mind to muscle connection.
· Calms the nervous system which becomes elevated in a response to muscle fiber trauma.
· Teaches you how to breathe properly which is an important technique used in weight training.
In my professional and personal opinion, the two go hand in hand and if you’re only performing one of these two incredibly beneficial activities then you’re missing out on achieving your full physical potential.
Our bodies are our homes and if we don’t take care of them then we’ll have nowhere to live.
There are some challenges to overcome but once you get in sync, your body will function harmoniously. A healthy body sets the stage for a healthy mind.