Yoga for powerlifters may be a new concept for some, but for those powerlifters who have made yoga part of their programming, it has become an essential part of their success. Understanding why powerlifters should consider incorporating yoga into their programming, it's important to look at the benefits of yoga and the needs of powerlifters.
There are lots of misconceptions about yoga, especially in gyms that cater to powerlifting clientele. Many lifters think of yoga as something women do when they don’t want to mess up their hair. What most lifters fail to recognize is that yoga is a tactical weapon for athletes across every sport in the world. Much like some people used to laugh at running backs that took a ballet class, it behooves the powerlifter not to shirk off the idea that yoga can make you stronger.
What Yoga Is Not
Yoga is not strictly a spiritual or religious tradition meant for mental relaxation. While yoga does have its roots in Hindu spiritualism, it has become an athletic tool adopted worldwide and used to create physical balance, core strength, and flexibility.
What Yoga Is
Yoga is an ascetic discipline that consists of breath control, simple meditation, specific body postures, and muscular toning and stretching. It is used by athletes to improve core strength, reduce the risk of injury, and identify imbalanced muscle groups.
Yoga is also used as part of a rehabilitative program for athletes who have suffered injuries ranging from slipped spinal discs to torn ACLs and even to aid in the recovery from broken bones.
Benefits of Yoga for Powerlifters
There are many ways in which yoga improves powerlifting and performance in powerlifting. Yoga has proven a useful tool by powerlifters who want to identify their weaknesses and physical imbalances.
Benefits of yoga for powerlifters often come from the unilateral exercise philosophy of yoga. In other words, yoga requires powerlifters to isolate and identify muscle groups on both sides of the body.
Through this isolation and the practice of poses for each side of the body, bodybuilders can identify which muscle groups have imbalances. Because yoga isolates the left side from the right, powerlifters can determine which side of each muscle group is compensating for the opposing, weaker side.
For example, by discovering that the right hip flexor has much less mobility than the left hip flexor, powerlifters identify muscles that need further stretch as well as areas of the body that are at risk for injury due to different strengths and flexibilities from one side to the other.
Regardless of what type of yoga you practice, all yoga is built upon the principles of core strength. As powerlifters, it is easy to confuse core strength with ab muscles. However, core strength is about the full abdominal muscular region; pelvic, transverse abs, flanks, and intra-abdominal pressure.
With core strength at its foundation, yoga helps powerlifters build core strength and stretch core muscles for more power.
But yoga doesn’t stop there. It also teaches powerlifters how to stretch their most injury-prone muscles and tendons. With its 10,000+ years of history, yoga simultaneously strengthens the muscles it stretches. Thus, the time spent on yoga provides more benefits than any other exercise.
Well over 90% of powerlifters struggle with opening the hips. This lack of mobility effects bar path in the squat as well as squat depth. It also inhibits the bench press arch and Sumo deadlifts.
Yoga focuses many of its poses on stretching hip flexors and opening the hips. This means yoga may be the answer to hip mobility- which nearly every powerlifter struggles to overcome.
Every powerlifter knows that creating intra-abdominal pressure makes a huge difference in the ability to push your maximum weight. Breath control and the ability to take and hold deeper breaths is critical to successful powerlifting. Yoga can be the path to successful intra-abdominal pressure for powerlifters who remember yoga's every pose also includes breath control.
To further illustrate the point that powerlifting and yoga are the marriage your program needs, let's look at some specific yoga poses and their direct benefits to powerlifting.
- Pigeon Pose-This pose can provide a deep hip opening. Improving the opening of the hips and flexibility carries over to wider sumo squats and deadlifts.
- Low Lunge with Quad Stretch Variation-Low lunge with a quad stretch variation improves the thoracic rotation and lengthens quadriceps. It also helps with deep knee flexion. Improving knee flexion alone could be key to greater lifts or, at the least, a great escape from a knee injury.
- Crescent Lunge - The Crescent lunge is a little bit like the all-inclusive resort of yoga. With this one yoga pose, powerlifters stretch the quad and calf of the back leg, reduce the tightness in hip flexors and stretch the psoas. Imagine the improvement in power a lifter gets when the entire leg, hip flexors, and psoas are all lengthened and have better mobility.
- Triangle Pose- The triangle pose helps with the development of the hip hinge movement pattern which, in turn, improves deadlifts, kettlebell windmills, and kettlebell swings. The hip hinge is said to be the most important movement in powerlifting. Most lifters butcher this movement because they lack mobility and core stability. This yoga pose leapfrogs weighted exercises and addresses the problem head-on.
- Chair Pose - The chair pose activates the glutes and opens the thoracic spine. It also puts many huge lifters to shame. This pose will expose and engage portions of your glutes that have been “asleep” during all of your powerlifting. This awakening of muscles not previously targeted means you get more power in the glutes.
- Downward Dog-The Downward dog is another multi-pack of benefits from yoga. This simple maneuver benefits ankle mobility, stretches and lengthens the Achilles tendon, lengthens and mobilizes the entire back line all while creating spine decompression. Don’t let your pride stop you from participating in this pose. It’s a powerful way to prevent injuries like Achilles ruptures, ankle sprains, and herniated discs.
- Dancers Pose-The dancer's pose stretches quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and the lower back. This pose also improves space in the shoulders, chest, abdomen, and groin. If there are muscles in the shoulders, chest, or abdomen that you struggle to stretch fully, this is the move for you.
These are just a few of the poses that yoga teaches. As a powerlifter progresses through a yoga regimen, the level of difficulty increases, and the benefits compound. Adopting yoga as part of a powerlifting program is one of the smartest decisions a powerlifter can make. In addition to yoga’s enormous stretching benefits, it has just as many injury-prevention benefits.