Yoga has exploded in the U.S. over the past few decades; what was once a fringe sport is now taught at practically every gym, health club and community center in America. And for good reason: Yoga has many benefits, including reducing stress, increasing flexibility, improving balance and building strength — all with little, if any, workout equipment required.
But while some types of yoga (e.g., Iyengar and Ashtanga) provide more strength-training benefits than others, for many people, yoga just doesn’t provide enough weight-bearing exercise to completely replace a traditional strength-training workout. To address this problem, a number of yoga teachers have started adding light weights in their class to enhance the strength-training benefits of yoga and sculpt lean, yoga-like muscle.
How does yoga with weights work? Essentially, traditional yoga postures are performed with hand or ankle weights and repeated several times, just like doing reps in weight training. By focusing on more reps rather than more weight, yoga practitioners build lean muscle tone versus the bulkier muscle gained from traditional weight-training routines.
Why Add Weights to Yoga?
Much of weight lifting involves really focusing on the breath and movement — and really feeling the muscles activated with each rep, according to Sherri Baptiste, coauthor of Yoga With Weights for Dummies. Likewise, yoga brings attention to really feeling every intricate movement of the muscles in each pose. “Blending the two together seemed like a natural fit,” says Baptiste.
Megan Scott, a sports rehabilitation specialist, physiologist and contributing author of Yoga With Weights for Dummies, adds: “When we started integrating weights into a yoga practice, we found that it really tones and conditions the body faster than traditional yoga.”
How to Get Started
Ready to give yoga with weights a try? Consider the following:
- If you’ve never done yoga before, try a regular yoga class first. It’s important to learn the basics before adding weights into the mix.
- Nothing beats a real, live teacher, so when you’re ready to add weights, check local gyms, health clubs, yoga studios and community centers to see if there’s a yoga-with-weights class near you.
- If you can’t find a class (which is possible, since the yoga-with-weights trend is just starting to take off), try a book or DVD, such as Yoga With Weights for Dummies (book) by Sherri Baptiste and Megan Scott, Iron Yoga: Combine Yoga and Strength Training for Weight Loss and Total Body Fitness (book and DVD) by Anthony Carillo, or Sarah Ivanhoe’s “Yoga Body Makeover Series” (DVD).
- Whether you’re practicing at home or in a class, ease into yoga with weights. Start with light 1- or 2-pound weights, and never use more than 5 pounds per weight.
Can yoga with weights replace traditional strength-training? Scott says no. “Some people believe traditional yoga is all you need. But even with weights, it’s best to add traditional strength-training to your yoga practice to reach your full potential.” Scott recommends at least one to two days of heavier weights each week to gain strength.
Nevertheless, adding yoga with weights to your workout routine can be an uplifting experience. “With yoga, there’s an intelligence required, combining breath work with the posture. And with weight training, you need strength and energy. Combine the two and you have the perfect workout,” says Baptiste. “You feel good after yoga with weights because there’s a shift in your perspective and energy. Even a 1/2-pound of weight can change the energy in the body.”