Put down the weights for a bit and take a yoga class. Your focus, concentration and physique will thank you for it.
For years, Michael Lechonczak, a yoga instructor at Equinox Fitness Centers in New York City, was a committed strength-training enthusiast. “I was really big and I lifted weights six days a week,” he says, “but I was so tight, I couldn’t touch my toes and all my joints ached. I was the typical American male. I focused on my upper body with strength training. I did some cardio, but I wasn’t doing any flexibility work.”
All that has certainly changed, because today, Lechonczak is a full-fledged “yogi” who teaches myriad yoga classes and also does some personal training. But thanks to his own experience, Lechonczak sees examples every day of weight lifters who, like himself at one time, are badly in need of some yoga. “Guys will come into my classes, and they’re ripped, but they’re in pain, and they can’t even open their legs and do a side stance or a simple back bend,” he says. “They’re a prisoner of their own bodies; and they’re also an injury waiting to happen because they’re so tight, there’s no range of motion.”
So, if you’re a strength-training nut, yoga could be your ticket to a healthier body and more effective workouts. “I was really suffering the day I took my first yoga class,” says Lechonczak. “But after one class, I immediately felt better, my lower back pain subsided and my ability to concentrate and focus was greatly enhanced.”
Here are some of the main benefits yoga offers the strength-training enthusiast:
Improved breathing: “When I started taking yoga, I finally learned how to breathe properly,” says Lechonczak. “More oxygen means more energy, and that will benefit you in every aspect of your life, including the ability to lift more weight. It’s a win-win situation.”
Break the old routine: Every strength trainer hits the dreaded plateau now and then, and taking a yoga class is a great way to break the routine. “Yoga can get you out of the same old drudgery and can ultimately enhance your time in the gym, because it’s something different,” says Lechonczak. “You’ll be more relaxed and centered, so when you go back to your regular workout, you’ll be more focused.”
Improved flexibility and focus: Yoga teaches its students proper form and alignment, which will benefit you during a strength-training routine. “A lot of bodybuilders’ lower back muscles are very tight. If you open those up with some yoga, it eases much of the back pain. An easy spinal twist, for example, commonly found in yoga classes, is extremely important,” says Lechonczak.
Aesthetics: Let’s face it, there’s nothing attractive about that “hunched over” look all too common among bodybuilders. “After practicing yoga, your muscles will be draped more beautifully over your body,” says Lechonczak.