How to Combine Yoga and Weight Training

From a reader:
I just want to ask if yoga and lifting weights can go together. I've been married for three years and was fairly fit and active prior to getting married. Last year, I realized how big I had become and so I decided to exercise and eat sensibly.

I played badminton thrice or four times a week and cut down on my food intake. My idea was to eat less that what I could burn. I lost weight! I'm down to ninety pounds (5'1") now, which I know is not good.

My problem is I'm still very active (yoga, badminton, boxing, and running). I don't want to give up any of these activities but I don't want to lose more weight. I'm eating more now but I'm still eating sensibly. I'd like to gain a bit but I don't want to get fat. Is it possible to get bigger but not get fat? Muscle dapat, right?

I was thinking of doing weight training but will this be a good combination with yoga? Will weight training make me less flexible? What if I just stick to yoga? Won't this eventually build muscle mass?


I am always happy to hear success stories from readers who have lost weight and become fit the safe and sensible way. In this case though, it's a matter of too much of a good thing. A normal weight range for someone who is 5'1" is between 100 to 125 pounds according to the World Health Organization's Body Mass Index (BMI) rating scale. Weighing ninety pounds at that height is a bit on the underweight side. A more reasonable weight would be 100 pounds, which is at the low end of the BMI rating for normal weight.

It is possible to get bigger (gain in muscle mass) without gaining in fat but to gain ten pounds of pure muscle weight is not that easy for a woman. Sarah would have to spend a significant number of hours at the gym progressively lifting heavier and heavier weights. And it wouldn't happen overnight either. She would not have the energy left to do all her other exercise activities. Besides, even if she could do it all, she would run the risk of overtraining or doing too much exercise and those activities would interfere with the growth of her muscles. Anyone who wants to achieve a considerable amount of muscle mass needs to rest between weight training days because this is the period when muscle growth and repair takes place.

Since she is underweight, what is realistic and achievable in her case is to gain a combination of fat and muscle. Fat is not evil. Our bodies need fat for storage of energy, insulation, padding (imagine how painful it would be to sit down without a layer of fat in your rear end), and skin lubrication. Fat only becomes a problem when we have too much of it.

Yoga consists of poses that develop strength as well as flexibility though overall, it puts more emphasis on suppleness. A well-designed weight-training program will emphasize strength gains but include stretching exercises.

Lifting weights has gotten the ill-deserved reputation for making one less flexible because many people don't do the stretches they are supposed to do after the workout session, the trainer designing the program doesn't put much emphasis on stretching, or the person has bulked up so much (like those bodybuilders you see competing on TV) that their abnormal muscle size interferes with the way their joints are supposed to move.

But even though lifting weights will not make one less flexible, yoga is the champion when it comes to developing flexibility. The stretches done after weight training are not as challenging and are not held as long as the yoga poses that put emphasis on becoming more flexible.

Weight training uses the resistance of free weights (barbells and dumbbells), weight stack machines and cable machines to challenge the muscles to grow. When it comes to gaining muscle mass and strength, weight training has an advantage over yoga because the resistance being carried can progressively become heavier as you get stronger.

Yoga will build strength and muscle mass but you cannot progress beyond the resistance that your body weight offers. For example, when you do the warrior, your legs are lifting the weight of your body. When you do a plank, it's your chest, shoulders, and triceps that are carrying your body's weight. In the beginning, it is difficult to perform these poses with proper alignment or to hold the poses for the required length of time. But the more classes you attend, the easier it becomes. That's because your muscle fibers become stronger and slightly bigger to be able to lift your body. However, once they have gotten used to the challenge, they will not get any stronger or bigger because the resistance (your body weight) will not change.

If Sarah wants to add more muscle mass than what yoga can offer, my advice would be to try and gain ten pounds by eating more and adding a weights program to her exercise routine. She can still do her other exercise activities (yoga, badminton, boxing, running) but she may have to sacrifice the frequency and duration at which she does them. Badminton, boxing, and running are all primarily cardiovascular and aerobic forms of exercise. She can do each of them once a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. She can do her yoga and weights on Tuesday and Thursday, with an additional weights session on Saturday. The reason I am suggesting to put the weight training on the same days as the yoga is because both exercise formats develop strength and her body can "rest" on the days in between while she does her aerobic training. Of course, this is just one example of how someone with Sarah's goals can arrange their workout schedule. An experienced fitness trainer can discuss with her other ways of doing this.

It can be exhausting to do weights after a yoga session or vice-versa if you are not used to it. So Sarah has to gradually build her strength to avoid injuring herself. Her weights program should not be complicated with plenty of sets and three kinds of exercises just for the chest, for example. To save time, it should be a straightforward simple routine of one type of exercise per body part (chest, lats, biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings and buttocks, rotator cuff) of one set of eight to twelve repetitions. There is no need for her to do exercises for the abdominals, lower back, and shoulders because these muscles groups are well covered in her yoga routine. The rotator cuff muscles are a set of four small muscles that surround the shoulder joint like a cuff. Anyone who does a lot of activities that involve the shoulder (in Sarah's case, badminton, boxing, and yoga) should strengthen these muscles as a preventive measure against shoulder joint injury.

Sarah can still gain weight by eating sensibly (avoiding or eating only occasionally sweets, chips, pastries, saturated animal fat, etc) if she eats bigger portions of foods high in healthy calories like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, salad dressings made with and food fried in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils that are not hydrogenated, and smoothies and shakes made with non-fat yogurt, milk and fruits. She can also indulge in bigger portions of bread and pasta made with whole-wheat flour and brown rice.

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