Is yoga good enough exercise in itself? Can I combine yoga and gym workouts? Will going to the gym effect my yoga practice? Will the flexibility I get from yoga reduce my strength and power in the gym? At Yoga Gym, we’re always being asked if yoga is a good form of exercise and how we can combine it with other types of training like lifting weights and going to the gym. So in this article we’ll share all we know about yoga and exercise.
Maybe you’re a passionate yogi.
You practice daily and feel strong and healthy despite never going to a gym in your life.
You can’t think of anything worse than going to a gym and waiting in line for equipment when you have the freedom to practice wherever and whenever you want.
Or maybe you’re a gym junkie.
You can’t imagine a day without lifting weights.
And you worry that if you skip a workout or spend time doing yoga instead of lifting then you’ll lose muscle and gain fat.
Or maybe you just want to be healthy and do the right thing.
You might be looking for the best way to get in shape and improve your core strength.
Or you might be a coach looking for training tools to help your clients.
In this article we’ll explore:
- What are the different styles of yoga and their benefits?
- What does the evidence say about yoga vs. gym training?
- What is the best type of exercise for you?
Despite our love of extreme workouts like Insanity and CrossFit, the popularity of yoga is growing worldwide (and has been since it began over 5000 years ago). And one of the reasons for this is that the benefits of yoga equal and often outdo the benefits of what we think of as ‘traditional’ forms of exercise like going to the gym.
Research shows that yoga lowers our risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, lessens our symptoms of depression, headaches, and diabetes, and combats weight gain.
Yoga varies considerably depending on the style. And each style comes with its own benefits. Passionate yogis have developed their own styles of yoga like PiYo (a combination of pilates and yoga), Broga (yoga designed specifically for men) and Animal Flow (a combination of yoga, martial arts and movement), but here is a breakdown of some of the traditional styles.
- A set sequence of flows, standing and seated poses
- Challenging and dynamic
- Builds strength – especially in the upper body and core
- Breath synchronised sequencing
- High intensity
- Builds strength and mobility
- Alignment based yoga
- Ideal for injury rehab and prehab
- Uses props to ensure proper posture
- Passive poses held for long periods of time
- Calms the nervous system
- Increases range of movement in the joints
Yoga vs. Gym Training
So there are some clear disadvantages of yoga over gym training: you won’t get to catch up with your mates, you won’t be able to get a protein shake from the gym café, and you won’t be able to take that cheeky gym selfie.
Jokes aside, yoga and working out at home has many benefits:
You stay more motivated
Motivation to go to a gym tends to be external and short-lived whereas working out at home takes much more internal motivational which is longer lasting. Researchers have found that people who exercise or practice yoga at home are more likely to stick to their training plans than those who have to leave their house to workout.
It’s just as effective
It’s a myth that gym training burns more calories or causes more fat loss than yoga. Research has found that yoga is just as effective in improving fitness and reducing body fat as working out in the gym.
It may be more effective
Research has found that one thing yoga does that other forms of exercise does not do is stimulate pressure receptors in your skin which increases vagal activity and reduces cortisol. This contributes to lower inflammation, lower body weight, and lower risk of disease.
You avoid distractions
Whether it’s talking to your mates of watching what other people are doing, gyms can be distracting for many people. Practice yoga at home and you are far more likely to stay focused on your training.
You have more freedom
Gyms can be limiting in terms of what you can and can’t do. You can’t necessarily do a down dog in the middle of the gym floor whereas at home you have the freedom to do whatever pose you need to without any embarrassment. Gyms can also be restrictive in terms of opening hours. If you lead a busy life, being able to practice yoga at a time that fits in with your schedule is more likely to keep you motivated.
Gyms can get crowded in the evening which means waiting for equipment. If you’re doing a high intensity session with short rest periods, this can ruin your whole workout. Yoga at home using flows, poses and bodyweight exercises and you can make sure you maintain the intensity.
Gyms are generally pretty clean but research has found that free weights have 362 times more bacteria than a toilet seat which puts you at risk of illness. If you use your own yoga mat you can make sure you wipe it down after every session to keep it germ free .
You can create your own sanctuary
You might find the music at the gym demotivating or you might find the whole environment intimidating. Practicing yoga at home means you can play your own music, wear whatever you want and create a motivational space that will encourage you to keep fit.
No membership fees
The prices of gym memberships varies depending on where you and whether you’re happy with something basic of prefer something luxurious or sport specific. Practicing yoga at home is free or you can follow online videos for a small cost.
Should I do yoga?
The one benefit that stands out from the rest is the way that yoga activates our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) whilst all other exercise activates our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) – our fight-or-flight response. This is most likely due to the way we focus on our breath in yoga as opposed to the weight we are lifting or speed we are running.
With our hectic schedules and busy lives, if we are then hitting the highly stimulating, cortisol raising environment of the gym 4-5 times a week, it’s unlikely we are getting the rest we need which means our cortisol remains elevated, we increase the risk of inflammation and we may actually be impeding our weight loss and performance goals.
This doesn’t mean stopping going to the gym altogether, but you could benefit from swapping out 1-2 gym sessions for home yoga practices to bring your body back into balance.
If on the other hand, you only do yoga and want to explore other forms of exercise then gym training can complement you home practice. Yogis tend to get on well with Olympic weightlifting because of our mobility and movement control so it’s well worth a go.
And if you’re totally new to exercise then the most important thing is to find something you enjoy. Begin at home with some simple yoga routines and bodyweight workouts and build up your fitness plan from there. You can have a go at the Strong and Stretchy Workout for free by signing up here.
Want to learn more?
After reading this article you might realise there’s more to yoga than you thought.
It’s our mission to help you build a balanced body – one that’s strong, athletic and healthy and allows you to reach all the goals you have.
Women and men in our Yoga Gym Plans get yoga workouts, tutorials, training plans, meal plans, recipes and support to help them lose weight, reduce stress, and feel more energised.