Is Yoga Enough to Stay Fit?
Well, what does it mean to be fit, exactly?
A common misconception about fitness is the focus on the physical appearance of the body. Fitness isn’t all about looks, and it’s much more about what we are on the inside than on the outside. It has nothing to do with the crazy beauty standards that have put pressure on women around the world, which can create really unhealthy relationships with working out, food and body image.
Physical fitness often creates muscle growth and fat loss, which can create a certain “look,” but how do we know we are giving our bodies everything they actually need?
What it actually means to stay fit
Staying fit includes training different systems of the body:
- Cardiovascular endurance
- Muscular strength & endurance
And allows a person to easily do daily tasks and play in some sports, if that is what they like to do.
Being fit doesn’t mean going crazy in the gym or looking a certain way, it is just a way for us to create a happy, healthy life without injuries and without straining to do the things we like to do.
How yoga benefits physical fitness
A lot of people view yoga as simply the asanas - the poses you perform in a yoga class. But this is just the very surface of the yoga universe and everything it can provide you with!
Yoga has many benefits to physical fitness, starting with increased flexibility. This can support healthy joint mobility, provide increased blood flow and decrease stress and tension in the body (see our article on Yoga and Stress Relief!).
A consistent practice can easily lead to this benefit, and you’ll be impressed with your progress after just a few consistent weeks of practice.
Aside from flexibility, yoga is great for injury prevention. Yoga practice can prime the body for the strain of daily activities:
- Maintaining proper posture while working, sitting, standing, walking. These little movements seem so minor, but add up to a lot of your time! Resetting the body to have good posture is important to keep you feeling good.
- Decreasing tension and stress, which then eliminates common aches and pains. A lot of people complain about back pain, leg pain and neck pain, and a lot of these issues are structural. So if we work to realign these areas of the body, then we can free up our pains
Another benefit of yoga for physical fitness is the level of physical activity it provides. Being active, even if it is “light” activity, is incredibly helpful for the body. A consistent routine including yoga will allow the body’s metabolism to adapt to a natural rhythm.
And apart from the physical side, yoga provides incredibly beneficial mental training. Yoga is all about staying in the present, focusing on all that your body and being is. Training the mind is just as important as training the body in staying overall healthy and happy!
But is yoga enough?
Yoga does have many benefits to staying physically fit. But we see the most ideal situation for physical fitness as a combination of different training styles.
Yoga is an incredible (usually low intensity) physical activity that prepares the body for what it will need for daily tasks and other sports. There are even some yoga poses that require much more effort from the body, and can really heat you up and get your muscles working!
Incorporating different types of yoga practices into your routine can create a really well-rounded schedule for your physical fitness. Making sure you challenge yourself and do use these harder poses to stress the body a bit more will help you enter into more moderate and vigorous activity for parts of your practice.
How can we make our yoga enough for us to be fit?
According to most national health guidelines, adults should be getting about 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity five out of seven days per week, for minimal physical fitness goals.
Yoga may not quite provide us with the intensity that we need to help other systems of the body, such as the aerobic and anaerobic systems. Some poses are extremely difficult and get our heart rates up, but we need our level of activity to be moderate to vigorous for at least 30 minutes. So unless you’re taking a very challenging class, sometimes traditional classes wouldn’t give you this level of activity.
There are mixed results from different studies that have been done to try to answer this question - is yoga enough?
One study by Larson-Meyer (link study) found that yoga did not satisfy the general physical activity requirements because it was categorized as “light” physical activity. The author suggests that it can be combined with other activities throughout the day to count toward daily activity goals.
Another study performed at UC Davis in the US found that a number of different fitness variables benefitted in the participants throughout an 8-week yoga program.
It is hard to find a firm answer as there isn’t enough research on this topic yet. Everyone has a different recipe that will turn out best for them. You’ll find your magic formula through trying out different approaches and seeing what works best for you. Your yoga practice is what you make it. If you tend to love restorative classes and consistently only practice restorative routines, then you probably won’t get to the recommended minimum physical activity levels.
On the other hand, if you can establish a routine with yoga classes that challenge you and get you into vigorous exercise 5+ times per week, then you can definitely stay physically fit just with yoga.
If you plan to make yoga your sole source for physical activity, you should plan to practice vigorously 5 days per week, at a minimum of 30 minutes per session to meet minimum exercise requirements. You’ll need to make sure that at least 30 minutes during all 5 sessions during the week that your heart rate is up, your nervous system is working along with your muscular system and creating a vigorous effort.
We suggest for the best results that your practices are 45 minutes to an hour, which will allow for absences of vigorous activity and let you have some moments during your practice to rest and reset before getting into another vigorous pose again. The specific poses that you find to be vigorous depend on your experience level.
Some ways that can create this vigorous effort:
- Speed up your flow: try moving one breath per pose. Creating this momentum and less down-time will get your body working harder
- Incorporate balance poses: balancing poses recruit your whole body. These poses will heat up the whole body and get you sweating (try half moon pose, warrior 3, extended hand to big toe pose, and some fun arm balances if they’re in your practice!)
- Push yourself: take that vinyasa. Challenge your muscles, let your arms and abs feel the burning of moving you through each pose. Have fun creating that heat and using your breath to push you along!
What else should I focus on to be physically fit?
If you want to incorporate more than just yoga into your fitness routine, then there are a lot of different ways to train. It is important to train all different areas to make sure your body is getting everything it craves to stay healthy!
Cardiovascular endurance is an important component of physical fitness, as it relates to the health of your heart. It is shown to increase the function of the blood vessels and lungs as well. Target this type of training through running, biking, dancing, and other cardio activities.
Another training system that is important to target is the anaerobic system, which helps build up your lean muscle mass. During anaerobic exercise, the body burns calories more efficiently and may be more productive in energy output. Consistent anaerobic exercise can build up your endurance over time. Target this training system through weight lifting, high intensity circuits, sprinting, jump roping, etc.
Resistance training specifically targets muscle growth, which can add to the body’s overall functionality and ability. Resistance training also promotes healthy bones and decreases the odds of developing osteoporosis. Implement resistance training through lifting weights.
How to combine these training methods
It may seem overwhelming trying to address each aspect of training while still enjoying your physical activity and daily life. There are a wide number of recipes you can try, but what really matters is finding what works best for you.
Here are some of our tips:
- Start simple. If you currently aren’t physically active at all, start with a reasonable, doable level of activity.
- Beginner’s yoga would be an incredible way to get your body moving and used to more consistent physical activity.
- Another great way to ease into fitness is through low intensity steady-state cardio, such as walking. Aim to start out meeting physical activity guidelines (150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week) at a lower intensity, then work your way up.
- If you are currently physically active, it is important to vary your training styles.
- If you love hitting weights, make sure you get a few days of cardiovascular training in. This can be done through traditional cardio methods like jogging, running, biking, etc.
- One of our favorite ways to incorporate cardio training is through high intensity interval workouts (HIIT). These workouts are quick and effective in calorie burning. Dancing is another great way to get some cardio in, and probably the most fun!
- Additionally, if you LOVE weights, then yoga is extremely important to practice.
- As you are resistance training, you create micro-tears in your muscles to promote rebuilding and muscle growth. This creates tightness, soreness, and imbalances in the body. You need yoga more than ever!
- Start with doing some yoga on your rest days as active recovery. Grab your Alma travel yoga mat and do it anywhere you like, wherever suits your life/schedule.
- If you’re already all about the cardio, you also need yoga! Running, biking and walking (as well as other common cardio training modes) are often very repetitive, and can create issues in the body. Over-doing certain training methods will eventually break down the body’s structural support.
- Yoga is essential for maintaining the integrity of your joints and soft tissues. Loosening tight muscles, tendons and ligaments can be a savior for your body, and is extremely important if you want to keep up your training regimen. Implement some yoga flows and stretches before and especially after your cardio to tend to your sore muscles and realign the body.
Yoga and fitness go best hand in hand
As you can tell, the best training methods for the body are a mixture of all of them.
Be patient, as it takes time to figure out what works best for your body. Everyone is different! The most important thing to remember is to listen to your body, it is always telling you what it needs.
If you are stiff and sore, ease into your day with a walk or some easy yoga.
If you are energized and motivated - use it to your advantage! Take this time to try a new training style that you want to implement (maybe a hot or high level flow?!) and see how it goes.
Fitness is about having fun and doing good for your body. The best physical fitness routine is the one that you will actually follow and keep up with - so take the time to really figure out what you love and what works for your life. Schedules can keep us pretty limited in what we have time for, and as creatures of habit we may not venture into other training methods. So remember this and try something new when you have the opportunity! It may be exactly what your body needs.
Sample training combination
In case you’re still having trouble on finding a good balance between your training methods (yoga and other fitness), here is a sample week that you can try out:
Start off the week on a high note. Incorporate 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular exercise.
- Get your heart rate up, get that sweat flowing! Go for a run, challenging bike ride or whatever you like for cardio.
- After your cardio training, aim for 20 minutes of yoga. This can be done either immediately after your workout, or a bit later after you’ve showered (the heat from the shower will help loosen up the body). Remember combining yoga and fitness is key!
Your nervous system may be a bit tired from yesterday’s vigorous activity. Let’s switch it up and do resistance training today - 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity.
- Push yourself, make your body work for those muscle gains! You can implement a weight training split throughout the week (focusing on body parts/muscle groups ie upper body, lower body), or simply perform full-body workouts each time you resistance train. Bodyweight workouts can challenge your muscles more than you think!
We’ve done two days (60 minutes) of moderate to vigorous physical activity so far this week. Let’s slow down and recover today, with a long yoga flow.
- Aim for 45-60 minutes in any flow that feels good to you - maybe you need a restorative class to really relax you. Allow this time to heal your body. Search for flows on youtube, instagram live, or on a local studio’s website.
Thursday would be a great day to get back to your cardiovascular training for another 30 minutes.
- Remember - cardio can make your body hurt in ways you may not expect! Pair it with your yoga for optimal results.
Try to get in another resistance training session on Friday. Maybe this one is 60 minutes.
- Kick off the weekend with a bang! Resistance training will get your adrenaline pumping and make you feel so good. Use household items as weights if you don’t have any.
Saturday would be fun for a HIIT session for at least 30 minutes.
- Find a fun trainer online to watch or attend a local studio’s live workout, or make one up at your own gym if you are comfortable! HIIT workouts release all of the good endorphins that workouts provide and will quickly and effectively burn a lot of calories.
Rest and recover! You’ve gone over your target of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise for the week.
- Wash your Alma travel yoga mat in the washing machine on Sunday just for an easy practice that will ground you for the week ahead. Your body and mind will thank you for it!
If you have any more questions about combining yoga and fitness, send us a message! Enjoy your journey.