To all the bendy, twisty, bring your leg-up-over-your-head people, I see you. I not only notice you in a yoga class “killing it” in hanumanasana (splits) pose, but I also see you struggling to balance your body, maintain muscle bulk, and recover from pain & injury. Being flexible is aesthetically beautiful. Just like we enjoy watching a ballerina lift her leg into an arabesque with elegance and grace, it’s often amazing to see flexible bodies practice yoga. But something a ballerina does, that most people don’t recognize, is that she also, in some capacity, trains with weights. Using weights in conjunction with dynamic stretching exercises, like yoga or ballet, is essential for you to not only improve the poses but also to prevent muscle/bone loss.
How do you know if you are flexible or hypermobile?
Being genetically hypermobile is very different from becoming flexible through exercise. Some people spend many hours in the studio training and practicing mobility exercises to improve their flexibility. Yoga poses are meant to improve range of motion and increase flexibility which is great, especially if your body tends towards rigidity. On the other hand, there are genetic hypermobility spectrum disorders (HSD) to be aware of. One of the most common is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. HSD’s like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome are usually assessed with what's called a Beighton Score. If you reach a certain score on the scale, then you most likely have a HSD. Some red flags to look out for that might mean you have a HSD include: GI issues, chronic pain, autonomic dysfunction, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, and joint instability. If you think you might be suffering from a HSD please reach out to me, a PT, or your physician for specific medical advice.
Top 5 reasons to exercise with weights if you are a flexible yogi
If you know you are very flexible from over-training flexibility exercises, and do not have a HSD, here are the top 5 reasons you should start to incorporate weight-training into your daily exercise.
Build muscle and bone. Weight bearing exercises, like down-dog, plank, cat/cow, are great body-weight exercises. But sometimes, they just aren’t enough to build proper muscle and bones. Lifting weights will help you increase your muscle mass and improve muscle strength. This is especially important for women as they age. Not only will you feel stronger, but you will also notice an improvement in your arm balances and chaturanga push-ups. Similar to muscles, bone density also improves with weight training. In the US, around 80% of all people with osteoporosis are women. Every time weight is placed on the body, bone tissue grows. This physiological principle is called Wolf’s Law. Adding weights to your program will improve bone density and reduce your risk of bone fractures caused by osteoporosis.
Improved proprioception. Proprioception is the brain's knowledge of where the body is in space. Your brain is able to map out the location of your limbs given the information it receives from the proprioceptors fibers in muscle tissues and joints. When weight is added to the body during a yoga pose (let’s say holding weights in warrior 3), the brain receives additional sensory feedback (weight) and therefore has a better understanding of what’s happening with your body. This can later improve your balance or quality of the pose when you practice without weights.
Better stability and motor control. Similar to proprioception training, when new weight is added to your body, you must initially move slower and with control, to balance the weights and prevent yourself from falling over. This slower movement happens because your brain is learning how to move and control the extra weight. During this process, you are learning how to control your legs and stabilize your joints. With better motor control, you can you achieve new yoga poses with ease.
Prevent pain. From my clinical practice, I see a lot of yogis with back, hip, wrist, elbow etc. pain. Many of these people only practice yoga or only dance and do not do any cross-training. From my experience, flexible yogis and dancers who add weighted exercises to their regular yoga/dance training have less pain and recover from pain faster (long-term research studies on this would be very interesting!)
Psychological & physical benefits. New and upcoming research shows that lifting weights can significantly reduce anxiety. We also know, intuitively, that lifting weights builds physical strength. If you practice simple weight-training exercises 1-3x/week you will see an improvement in both your psychological and physical health. You might even feel confident to try advanced asanas in your next yoga class.
If you’re very flexible and are ready to start adding weights to your yoga program, but don’t know where to start, feel free to send me a message or set up an appointment.
Check-out my other blog posts on all things physical therapy, pelvic health, and therapeutic yoga.