Combine the Benefits of Strength Training and Yoga in One Class
How many times have you heard students say, “I just don’t have time to do strength training and yoga” or “I’d like to try yoga, but I don’t think I can be still for that long”? Take away their excuses with an inspired combination. By adding resistance exercises to yoga, you create a more active and results-oriented class. This time-efficient format appeals to participants who want both strength and flexibility benefits in one stop.
A Win-Win Combo
YES Training® developed out of my own experience teaching and practicing yoga. I had heard so many students make the comments mentioned above that I decided to experiment by adding dumbbells. I went through each standing pose that I normally practice (and teach in a typical flow-style class) and tried a variety of strength training exercises. Some combinations worked, others needed to be modified, and some were too challenging for the average participant. I chose a balance of exercises that would work all the muscle groups. I offered a free master class to all the instructors at my facility and asked for their honest feedback, which was invaluable. I learned what nonyoga instructors found most difficult, as well as what they liked. The yoga instructors voiced their concerns and suggestions regarding cuing and choreography. Their comments helped me create a class that worked.
The benefits of combining strength training and yoga are many. When par-ticipants hold a sequence of yoga poses after a resistance set, stretching is auto-matically built into the workout. Many times, students focus their efforts on strength training, giving short shrift to stretching. During strength training, muscles are shortened repeatedly; stretching elongates them, keeping them from tightening up over time. Flexibility benefits are realized during the resistance set as well, because in most yoga poses a muscle is being lengthened or a joint is being “opened.” From another perspec-tive, the dynamic resistance complements the joint mobility and flexibility garnered from practicing yoga.
YES Training also brings controlled speed and heightened awareness to strength training by disallowing momentum. Participants are encouraged to find their longest controlled breath and match their movement to that breath; this helps them focus on correct form and technique. Using mind-body cues versus traditional cues also adds awareness. For example, instead of giving a standard cue for a lateral raise, try, “On the exhalation, move your arms outward from the body’s center to the side walls, pausing as your hands reach shoulder height; then slowly float the arms back to your sides.” This cue focuses attention and helps participants concentrate on the movement’s essence.
Appeal is another benefit. This com-bination class attracts not only the gen-eral fitness club member who wants more out of each workout, but also the prac-titioner who focuses only on traditional yoga formats. Although there is strength work within a traditional yoga class, it is primarily isometric and doesn’t offer the same potential for strength gains as concentric-eccentric training does. Consider the yogi who has practiced the same poses and sequences for several months. Although he gets stronger and more “open” in his yoga poses, his body composition and strength gains plateau. By adding free weights he enhances his health without losing his mind-body focus.
The unique design of this class warrants special consideration. The following guidelines offer insight:
Teach to Everyone. Like many group fitness classes, this class may attract students at several different levels. Encourage beginners to focus only on their breath and the yoga poses for the first few classes. Don’t introduce weights until participants feel more comfortable with the basic poses. Encourage students familiar with yoga but not strength training to start with light weights. Cue participants who have some experience with both modalities to use dumbbells of various weights to challenge different muscle groups (e.g., heavier weights for biceps, lighter weights for shoulders).
Keep Your Audience in Mind. Are you teaching in a fitness center where you use English pose names and there is little or no focus on meditation? Or are you teaching in a mind-body studio where Sanskrit, candles and incense are common? Continue teaching the yoga style you know and your members expect. Base the class in yoga first, resistance training second.
Follow Form With Function. Always establish the yoga pose, alignment and breath before adding resistance. For example, get students into warrior 1 by cuing foot position, knee alignment, tailbone and spine alignment, core musculature engagement, and shoulder and arm positions. Next, establish the inhalation, then add a resistance exercise such as a biceps curl. Cue elbow flexion with the exhalation.
Go With the Flow. To keep heat in the body and the class flowing, occasionally have participants put the weights down, and sequence a vinyasa (series of poses)at regular intervals. This is traditional in most flow yoga classes and commonly includes plank, chatarunga, upward-facing dog and downward-facing dog.
Be Watchful. Look for muscle fatigue from holding poses too long and encourage students to take breaks if necessary. Many students will be new to yoga, and even your experienced students may be accustomed to holding poses for only three to five breaths, as opposed to the five to seven breaths it will take to cue each pose and complete a set of five or more repetitions.
Each student will need a yoga mat and one to two sets of dumbbells or mini Body Bars in 2- to 5-pound increments. Once students feel comfortable with the class, they can increase their weights to 5 and 8 pounds (or more, as appropriate for muscular fatigue). Have participants place their weights at the top corners of their yoga mats. This will put the weights within easy reach, yet out of the way for the warm-up and flow segments. Cue students when to pick up or switch the weights, as well as when and where to put them back down. To cue the class efficiently and keep it well connected and flowing, it is essential to know which yoga pose and resistance exercise are next in your choreography.
For example, let’s say your first pose is warrior 1 with anterior shoulder presses, followed by warrior 2 with medial deltoid lateral raises. After the last anterior shoulder press repetition, cue students to lower the weights to their hips and then open into the stance for warrior 2. Next cue them to lengthen their arms down the sides of the legs on an inhalation, then exhale and lift the arms out to the side walls on the lateral raise. This precise cuing is necessary to avoid confusion and poor form; it would be awkward to move from warrior 1 to warrior 2 with the weights still lifted in front of the face. With the weights cued down to the hips, students can open to the warrior 2 stance, check their alignment, settle into the pose and prepare for the next resistance move safely and comfortably.
Keep the following elements in minwhen designing a 1-hour class:
Warm-Up (10 minutes). Use this seg-ment to bring the mind inward, connect movement to breath and warm up the neck, shoulders and spine. Begin the flow and prepare the body for movement. Show modifications.
Work Segment (30-35 minutes). In this main section of class, use the equipment. Combine two to three different sequences of three to five yoga poses with resistance exercises (repeating on each side). Do a vinyasa (no weights) between sequences.
Focus Segment (10-15 minutes). During this section,
• hold poses and add body weight resistance to selected exercises (e.g., move from child’s pose to a set of chest push-ups);
• hold poses for longer periods of time to promote muscle lengthening and deep opening in the joints (e.g., hold seated forward fold for 10-15 breaths);
• focus on a particular element, such as back bends, twists, etc; or
• any combination of above.
Relaxation (5-10 minutes).This tradi-tional ending allows the body to relax and let go, encouraging students to lis-ten to their breath and tune into their yoga experience.
This format provides plenty of room for individual teaching style. For example, one instructor might have her class perform warrior 1 with a biceps curl on the right and left sides, then hold a yoga pose before going on to the next resistance exercise. This style allows for more breaks in strength training and more opportunities to hold poses that stretch the muscle groups being used. Conversely, another instructor might create a more flowing format by choreographing several yoga poses, each with a different resistance exercise, and then cuing an “opening” pose, immediately followed by a vinyasa (see sample class sidebar for example). Regardless of the progression, the highest priority is consistently cuing form, body alignment, breath and resistance exercises.
Opening the Door
An open mind is a key element in yoga. It is important to let go of preconceived notions, tension and negative thoughts to fully experience yoga’s benefits to mind and body. How many members are creating more stress in their lives by trying to fit in everything? By combining strength and yoga in one safe and effective workout, you create an opportunity for students to “do it all” while also slowing down and connecting with themselves.
Linda L. Freeman is creator of YES Training®, a Resist-A-Ball® master trainer and owner of Guru Fitness® LLC, a fitness continuing education company. She is an IDEA Master PFT and an IDEA group fitness committee member.
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