False dichotomy is one of those nickel phrases college freshmen toss around to sound smart. I know I’ve used it before exactly for that purpose (along with paradigm. Paradigm’s a good one for that first Thanksgiving visit home from college). But just because the phrase is trite at this point doesn’t make it entirely without merit. I can think of no other example than the false dichotomy between yoga and strength training.
I’ve talked to yoga people who have a warped view of what strength training is, and it tracks with the popular view of why one would chalk up one’s hands and attempt to pull a few hundred pounds from the floor, swing a heavy kettlebell around, or press a dumbbell over one’s face. Vanity. Narcissism. Testosterone. General bro-rificness.
And I’ve talked to strength people who have a warped view of what yoga is. That it’s just stretching, or that it’s woo-woo Oprah-fied soft fitness, or that people do it when they want to avoid actually working hard.
These sound like straw man arguments, but I promise you I’ve heard them in one capacity or another recently from otherwise well-informed, smart people.
Generally I’ve found that the people who engage in such arguments back and forth generally don’t know a lot about the exercise modality they’re busy bad-mouthing.
I don’t enjoy yoga. I actually think it’s safe to say that I find it torturous. I find it to be boring, and rather than leaving a class feeling energized, rejuvenated, and relieved of stress, I feel almost the opposite of all of those things.
Yoga isn’t for me, in other words. But it might just be for you! And even though I’m a barbell, kettlebell, and dumbbell guy I think yoga is one of the best exercise practices one can learn.
- It can be progressively overloaded to an extent, so body transformation is possible.
- The right studio can be an empowering and comfortable space.
- It promotes mindfulness, body awareness, and good posture.
- You can take it anywhere–hotel rooms, vacations, and studio apartments.
And though I love the gym, I recognize that there’s a significant portion of the population out there who will never love strength training the way I do. But everyone needs to do some form of strength training if they wish to build and maintain muscle, develop mobility, and enjoy quality of life during the aging process.
Yoga can fill that void. It is a form of strength training. Instead of barbells, one is using gravity and body weight to build muscle and mobility. The downside of yoga as I see it is its comparatively limited capacity for progressive overload: with good programming and solid nutrition, I can keep adding weight, and thus new stimulus, to a barbell. There’s a ceiling for that kind of overload with yoga–but this amounts to the picking of nits when one considers that more than two in three adults in the United States are obese. Chances are if you’re a couch potato right now that the overload for which yoga allows will be enough to change your body and get you stronger for several months to come (if your nutrition is on point and you’re getting enough sleep).
On the other end of the spectrum, yoga enthusiasts tend to downplay the mobility requirements of barbell strength. The strongest people I know happen to spend a lot of time on warmup, mobility, cooldown, and recovery. Not exactly meathead principles we’re talking about. Don’t confuse the guys you see doing bicep curls in front of the dumbbell rack at your big chain gym for the type of strong, mobile, athletic men and women I’m referencing. You can’t truly get strong unless you’re also mobile–it’s just too difficult to avoid injury otherwise.
These two seemingly disparate communities ought to learn from one another. If you’re a gym rat, challenge yourself to take a yoga class–and don’t judge the process or turn it into a competition. Allow yourself to be humbled. (You will be humbled.)
Likewise if you’re a multiple-day-a-week yoga practitioner, I challenge you to learn some basic strength training movements. If yoga is your only form of strength training, your biggest gaps are likely to be pulling movements (like pull-ups and rows) and weighted squatting or hinging movements (like squats and deadlifts). By supplementing your yoga practice with some targeted strength training movements you’ll likely gain muscle mass and burn a bit more fat than you might otherwise from yoga alone.
The key takeaway is this: stop being so judgmental of things you don’t understand. Yoga and barbell training have been resilient against other, more dubious exercise trends. There’s a simple reason for this.