What can yoga do for you? It’s no secret that professional athletes of all sports have adopted yoga in some shape or form as a significant part of their training routine. Fitness-centric yoga has proven physical fitness benefits, such as improved balance, increased flexibility, and better body awareness (not to mention many more). But it also has proven non-fitness benefits, such as improved mindfulness, better posture, decreased stress, better sleep, and even increased testosterone.
But you’ve still got guys who aren’t convinced. When faced with the decision to spend their hour of exercise on a yoga mat or in the weight room, most guys concerned with building muscle or getting stronger will choose the weights.
The truth is that by combining yoga with what you’re already doing – be it weights, CrossFit, calisthenics, or triathlons – you’re going to get better at what you do, prevent injury, and recover more quickly.
Below I’ve listed the proven benefits of yoga for men (and women):
A few caveats here:
I’m focusing on PROVEN benefits – You won’t find any pseudoscience in this blog. I’m focusing on the results that can be measured; not what a yoga “guru” told you.
These are benefits specific to YOGA, and not typical exercise or calisthenics – We all know that exercise is good for you, but what benefits are particularly noticeable when it comes to yoga? I’ll cover those instead of the general stuff.
1. Yoga for flexibility – There are a few types of exercise that focus on flexibility as much as yoga. Most traditional types of exercise focus on strength and endurance (think of running, weight training, or calisthenics), but one of the typical benefits you’ll hear about from yoga is increased flexibility. One of the main reasons for this is the nature of the postures. While practicing yoga, one of your goals while doing yoga poses is to get as deep as you comfortably can into the posture, or in other words, going into your maximum range of motion. While here, you focus on controlled breathing, helping to activate the parasympathetic nervous. When this happens, the parasympathetic nervous system releases hormones and neurotransmitters, which tell the muscles to release tension. This allows your muscles to lengthen, and this ability of the muscles to lengthen (elasticity, if you will), is the definition of flexibility.
2. Improved joint health/joint pain relief – This is one of the most noticeable benefits of a regular yoga practice. Doing yoga consistently helps to improve your joint health and decrease joint pain in a number of ways. Stretching and flexibility work helps to relieve tension on the joints caused by muscle tightness, and the strength work in yoga helps to address muscle imbalances that also contribute to joint pain.
3. Increased mobility: What is mobility? Mobility is an umbrella term that includes many aspects of movement, but it is most easily understood as “strength in an extended range of motion”. Mobility combines flexibility with strength. It is your ability to exhibit strength while also working on your flexibility. Flexibility, on the other hand, refers to the passive ability of soft tissue to stretch. When practicing mobility, the muscles continue to hold tension while working on your mobility, and this allows you to generate force when you are near the end range of motion. There are very few exercise types that focus on mobility in this way, which makes yoga particularly effective at helping to increase mobility. And since you’re using your body weight (and not a significant amount of resistance), you’re able to focus more on the mobility aspect. A fitness-focused yoga workout will include aspects of both mobility AND flexibility.
4. Correction of muscle imbalances – A “muscular imbalance” refers to one muscle being stronger than its opposing muscle. It’s what happens when you spend too much time doing one exercise and don’t do enough of the opposing exercise. But it also happens as a result of our day to day movements (or lack of movements).
Have you heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”? This is a good example showing that to that physical fitness problems aren’t just caused by exercise – they’re also caused by what we do during the day. Yoga helps to correct muscular imbalances because it helps us to “undo” or “counter” the positions are bodies are in while we are inactive. These counter movements include hip strengtheners, hip openers, core strengtheners, backbends, and twists, just to name a few of the most obvious examples.
(Man Flow Yoga goes above and beyond a typical yoga workout to address other common imbalances as well, through specific hip strengtheners and strengthening of the scapular stabilizing muscles.
5. Greater mind-body connection / mind-body awareness – This is another one of those benefits that you can get from exercise in general, but you’ll notice to a much greater degree when working on it with yoga. The unique format of practicing yoga postures – (1) breathing, (2) isometric strengthening (holding the posture), and (3) continually refining the technique – allows you to practice mind-body awareness to a greater degree than other more traditional types of exercise. Addressing these 3 aspects of mind-body awareness is critical in terms of effectiveness.
(If you are doing yoga, but not frequently checking in with your technique, then you’re not getting the mind-body awareness benefits. That’s why it’s important to find a yoga technique focused on form if your goal is to maximize your physical fitness level through yoga. This is where Man Flow Yoga really stands out from other types of yoga, as it adds the element of proper technique and muscle activation to its workouts.)
6. Improved balance – Balance is another aspect of strength that is regularly practiced in a yoga workout; one that you’re not going to get as much work on in another type of workout. There are specific balancing postures in yoga that challenge your ability to stay upright, both from a strength perspective as well as a balance/coordination perspective. Improving your balance helps to (1) increase your body awareness, (2) builds stability in your joints, and (3) helps with injury prevention. It’s also incredibly important in helping to maintain physical fitness and strength levels as you get older. Balance is something that you have to practice in order to retain. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
7. Breath control and improved breathing – There are few forms of exercise that focus on breathing as much as yoga. Breathing is critical to any form of fitness, but you rarely practice it. Proper breathing helps you improve your physical performance by bringing fresh oxygen to the blood in your muscles. But it also improves us mentally, enabling us to make smarter decisions. Better breathing means more blood flow to the brain, and the ability to make smart decisions when you’re under pressure.
8. Faster recovery time – Practicing yoga regularly helps you decrease your recovery time for two reasons in particular. The first reason is that much of yoga is restorative and that it helps your muscles release tension, lengthen, and you recover when this happens. The second reason is that increased flexibility helps you recover in less time. When your muscles are more flexible, you recover more quickly.
One of the best times to stretch is right after a strength workout such as weightlifting. Static stretching of fatigued muscles performed immediately following the exercise(s) that caused the fatigue, helps not only to increase flexibility, but also enhances the promotion of muscular development (muscle growth), and will actually help decrease the level of post-exercise soreness.
After strength training, your muscles are shortened. If the muscle is not stretched after strength training, it will retain this decreased range of motion the buildup of lactic acid will cause post-exercise soreness. Static stretching of the “pumped” muscle helps it to become “looser”, and to “remember” its full range of movement. It also helps to remove lactic acid and other waste products from the muscle.
9. Decreased risk of injury (in particular from soft-tissue injuries) – The mobility, strength, and balance work found in yoga helps to prevent injury caused by general weakness or inflexibility. The restorative stretching helps to prevent injury from overtraining.
One of the biggest causes of preventable soft-tissue injuries is a lack of flexibility. A lack of flexibility places greater strain on the joints, tendons, and ligaments. Improving your flexibility reduces this unnecessary joint tension, and helps to avoid preventable injury.
Much of yoga also helps to correct muscular imbalances, improve motor control (aka increase muscle activation), and this is helpful for preventing injuries due to improper mechanics.
Bottom line, with more flexibility and greater muscle control, you will reduce your risk of injury.
10. Improved hormonal levels (testosterone increase) – Our ability to have optimal hormonal levels is largely based on a healthy balance between the (1) parasympathetic nervous system and (2) sympathetic nervous system. If you are always stressed, muscles tense, and unable to relax, you will have low testosterone levels. That’s because your body only produces testosterone once the parasympathetic nervous system (your rest & digest state) has been activated and you feel at ease.
Conversely, your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is what utilizes testosterone stores; but if you never learn to relax and disengage, then you’ll have lower testosterone levels.
Yoga helps you relax and improves your mindfulness, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps to increase testosterone. (Be sure to eat a healthy diet with less inflammatory foods, and to sleep at least 8 hours per night, too!)
11. Better posture: Practicing yoga is one of the best ways to improve your posture. The reason for this is because few types of exercise place as much emphasis as yoga does on body awareness and proper posture. Most of us have the strength and mobility for in proper posture but is only through practicing better posture that you will have improved posture. (In just one month of consistent Man Flow Yoga workouts through my “Posture Fix” Program, 89% of respondents indicated they noticed improved posture and improved postural awareness.)
12. Overall wellness – You’ll just feel better. Gentle, low impact (or in the case of yoga, NO impact) strength and flexibility work helps your joints feel better, releases pain and discomfort in your lower back, neck, and shoulders, and you also have more energy. Most people notice this benefit after just a few weeks of consistent, yoga for fitness-focused workouts – some in just days!
13. Stress Relief: Taking the time to eliminate distractions, focus on your breath and your body, and work on your physical fitness reduces stress. Yoga has been proven to be particularly effective at this.
Studies for anxiety and depression showing a positive correlation between regular yoga practice and reduced stress relief have been coming out since the 1970s, and it’s even been proven to increase heart rate variability (HRV), an important factor in lowering your risk of anxiety and depression.
“Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia are among the most common reasons for individuals to seek treatment with complementary therapies such as yoga. Yoga encourages one to relax, slow the breath and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system and the flight-or-fight response to the parasympathetic system and the relaxation response. The latter is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rate, decreases blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels, and increases blood flow to the intestines and vital organs.” Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/