How to Recover More Quickly

I’ve written before about the importance of breathing on this blog. But a recent session with a client caused me to think it may be worth revisiting.

The session I am referring to was with a young client who was doing a vertical load of resistance exercises. This basically means he would do one exercise, move to a different second exercise and finish with a third exercise before taking a rest. This is different from horizontal loading, which is seen in many big box gyms, and involves doing a set of a particular exercise, resting for the prescribed amount of time, then repeating this to complete all the sets before moving on to the next part of the training session.

Not only does vertical loading allow for greater workout density it also allows for greater intensity. You can train more intensely because you have more time from one lift until you repeat that same lift again. There are two other exercises plus a rest break before completing the next set of the same exercise.

But this post isn’t about program design. Instead it’s to illustrate the importance of proper breathing during training.

Now as you can imagine doing a workout of this type your heart rate will begin to climb. And if you are a little bit deconditioned, tired, under-fueled, dehydrated, stressed or coming down with a cold your heart may have to work a little harder than normal to do the task at hand. And as your heart rate climbs and you try to push yourself you may find you aren’t recovering adequately to maintain the intensity and pace of your workout.

Since safety precedes results you need an option here. Here’s what we did for this client that helped him complete not only this set but the rest of his workout.

When it came time for his rest break we had him lay on his back. One hand was placed on his navel and we asked  him to close his eyes.

Next we asked him to follow a breathing pattern of 2-2-4 which represents a 2 second inhale, a 2 second hold followed by a 4 second exhale. And we asked him to do this all through his nose. Nasal breathing helps restore a parasympathetic state more effectively than oral breathing.


The other two points regarding closing his eyes and placing a hand on his navel were to help him relax more quickly. In particular the hand on the navel was to provide a tactile cue to encourage belly breathing and see that on inhalation the abdomen lifted and expanded and then retracted during the exhalation.

Within 45 seconds of using this recovery technique this client was able to complete the training session at or above the prescribed intensity. Had we not given this a shot the client was most likely done for the day and mentally planning to end the training session.

A bonus with this type of recovery is that it may help athletes move more quickly as well. It is becoming better understood that the difference between elite, world-class athletes and great athletes has little to do with their ability to produce force. Instead one of the big differences between being good and great lies in the ability to limit inhibition of the antagonist muscle groups. While this is a topic for another blog post I believe proper breathing may play a role in assisting an athlete to turn down a muscle and allow them to move more quickly.

In any event give this recovery technique a try the next time you train. Even if you aren’t hitting the wall and feeling nauseous you will still benefit from a quicker and more complete recovery facilitated by proper breathing.

Chris [fb-like]

An Easy Way to Be Better at Every Sport

Do you remember growing up and having your parents drill into you proper manners? I’m talking specifically ones that had to do with your mouth. You know what I mean?Poor manners cost him a lucrative pro career.

Poor manners cost him a lucrative pro career.

‘Chew your food with your mouth closed’

‘Don’t smack your gum’

‘Close your mouth’

And besides helping me develop proper manners and etiquette so I won’t be a social outcast this also helped me with my sports performance. So thanks mom & dad!

But how exactly does chewing with your mouth closed help with sports performance? Well honestly it has nothing to do with the nutrition and more to do with how we take in oxygen and expire carbon dioxide. I’ve got to give credit to Mr. Sherwin, my high school science teacher, for teaching me some of the following.

Below are 4 benefits of nose versus mouth breathing.

Benefit #1 – Nasal air is warmed and humidified

When you consider the location and properties of our lungs we know they are in the chest cavity and moist to facilitate inflation, deflation and gas exchange. The more similar the air we breath in is to this environment the better. For example, air taken in through the mouth needs to warmed and moistened before arriving at the lungs.

***I remember when going to university in Regina riding my bike in the middle of winter. In -35 C weather I learned that although you may be tempted to ride quickly to get out of the cold weather more quickly this caused me to breath through my mouth and typically was followed by a sore throat or chest cold. It was a better strategy to bike more slowly and keep my mouth closed. This allowed me take air in through my nose only and ensure the air was warmed before reaching my lungs.***

Benefit #2 – Nasal air is filtered

Are you concerned with air quality? Are you aware of all the pollutants floating around in the air you breath at home, work or school? And I’m not even talking about people upstairs from your work that smoke cigarettes right out the front door of our gym. Yeah that happens on a daily basis.

Anyways, the nose has small hairs in it called cilia which help to filter out dust, pollutants and other air borne particles to clean this air before it makes its way to our lungs.

Benefit #3 – A dose of nitric oxide

Not to be confused with nitrous dioxide (N2O), nitric oxide (NO) is made by the nose and serves a number of functions. NO helps to lower blood pressure, helps increase the oxygen carrying capacity of our blood and also kills bacteria, viruses and germs.

So NO helps us be more efficient in our transfer of oxygen and helps keep us healthy. This same benefit is not provided when we breath through our mouth.

Read also about Kai Greene’s famous “Grapefruit” video

Benefit #4 – Calmer breathing

Breathing through our mouth is associated with chest breathing and stress (sympathetic). For example, think of a dog or animal that is about to attack. It bares its teeth and breaths through its mouth. And you can see the chest and shoulders rise and fall which each breath.

Or picture the athlete who has just won the 800 m at the Olympics. This is a painful event involving high levels of stress. Upon crossing the finish line some athletes may collapse to the ground, eyes closed, pained expressions on their faces and breathing rapidly through their mouths.Nasal breathing would help them make the shot.

Nasal breathing would help them make the shot.

Contrast this with breathing through the nose which is calmer, less thoracic and more diaphragmatic, and helps restore a state of parasympathetic stress.

As you continue on with your training and day to day activities pay attention to how you breath. Is it nasal or oral? When does it change? If you play hockey or ringette a mouth guard is a great way to practice breathing through the nose as the lips are kept sealed around the mouth guard.

And if you’re a decent athlete with good manners make sure to thank your mom & dad.

Chris [fb-like]

Stand Tall for Better Recovery

One of the great things about coaching is that there are plenty of opportunities to train. 

We never have an excuse for access to equipment. While it’s nice to have access to kettle bells, Olympic platforms and anything that makes a session more enjoyable the truth is all we need is gravity for an effective workout.

But besides that we’re always getting exposed to new training methodologies and research. And so this can become our lab. This is the place we test our theories, see what works, what doesn’t and how to make any changes if necessary.

And just as the best part of our job is the people we get to work with this place is great in that we can usually find another coach to rope into a training session. Megan, Kayla, Graeme and Jordy all place a high value on training and are always up for the challenge as well.

Recently when training with Megan and Kayla I noticed they were doing something at the end of each set. And it’s something most of us do usually out of habit.Kayla or Megan? Take your pick

Kayla or Megan? Take your pick

If this were a live presentation and I asked for a show of hands ‘who bends over and puts there hands on their knees to recover?’ almost 100% of the room would be reaching skyward.

But there’s a couple of problems with this.

First of all let’s take a look at what an ideal posture should be. And compare this to the common forward head posture many people have.Ideal or forward head posture

Ideal or forward head posture

Now if you look at the bottom arrow of the picture on the right you can imagine this is close to where the pelvis would sit. The picture on the left would have a pelvis parallel to the ground and on the right it would be pointed up in the front and down in the back.

The problem with this poor postural position, especially at the hips and pelvis, is that with each inhalation the diaphragm descends and the chest expands. When the pelvis is poorly positioned with a forward head posture this limits the extent to which the diaphragm can descend. And this limits the amount of air that can taken in with each breath.

This gets worse when you drop the head further forward, flex forward at the trunk and round through the low back.

Dropping the head down creates a posterior tilt of the hips & pelvis. Dropping the arms in front of the body limits the ability to expand the chest. And when you compare the recovery rates of people who stop moving after activity and those that walk or move slowly, the movers recovery more quickly and completely.

So being hunched over limits thoracic expansion, impedes the ability of the diaphragm to descend and prevents movement for recovery.

Next time you are running intervals, shuttles or any type of a push-recover type of workout remember to ‘stand tall’ during the recovery phase.

Chris [fb-like]

Fitness Trackers – Are They For You?

How do you track your training sessions? At worst I’m hoping you have a notebook to record your loads, weights, reps, sets, rest breaks etc and be able to refer to this information from one workout to the next.A training journal is a necessity for those seeking the best results.

A training journal is a necessity for those seeking the best results.

With something as simple as bringing a notebook to the gym you’d think everyone would do at least this much. it doesn’t cost anything and takes no extra time or effort. You can make all your entries during a rest break or immediately after training.

But besides going old school and low-budget with a journal there a number of fitness trackers which will monitor and record everything from heart rate intensity and averages, caloric output and even sleep cycles at night.

Recently, a study at the Iowa State looked at the accuracy of 7 different fitness trackers. Researchers looked at BodyMedia FIT, DirectLife, Fitbit One, Fitbit Zip, Jawbone UP band, Nike+ Fuel Band and the Basis B1 Band. BodyMedit Fit and the Fitbit Zip were found to be most accurate. And in a related story Nike may be killing off its fuel band in the near future.

But back to the point of gadgets to track your caloric output I have never really been sold on them. I’ll admit there are benefits to knowing what your heart rate data is and to monitoring the length of your workouts. However when you think about it these type of products are usually favoured by those with a few pounds to spare.

And my concern is that individuals tracking how many calories they burned at Zumba or spin class will then see this as a credit to indulge later. For example, if a fitness tracker shows that I burned 473 calories sweating to the oldies can I then rationalize a 300 calorie treat later in the day? And does knowing how much I burned influence why decision to indulge and have a treat later that day?

To me it’s kind of like starting a new job. Most people know what they are to be paid. Yet they still wait to actually receive the cheque in their hands before they go out and spend what they know they’ve earned. Until they have the confirmation of how much is coming off for dues, taxes, insurance and everything else they may be reluctant to go out and spend by assuming their new paycheque will cover what they buy.

Case in point…once people have have a job for some time they may know exactly how much they will receive on each cheque and then spend accordingly. They know not only how much they can spend but when payday is and how long the wait is until they can spend again.

Nutrition and creating a caloric deficit probably works in similar way. If we know exactly how many calories we have burned we may feel justified or even entitled to bigger and more frequent indulgences.

The problem then becomes one of accuracy. If we are using one of the less than accurate fitness trackers we may be over-estimating our caloric output. If the best devices were 10% off then how inaccurate were the less accurate ones? 15%? 25%?

Imagine for a second if you were using a less accurate fitness tracker that displayed 500 calories burned for a workout. And then you decide you can have a treat that is only 380 calories. You are still 120 calories ahead, got in your training session and were able to enjoy life by having a treat. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

But let’s back up for a second. If your fitness tracker was 20% off in its accuracy than that means you really only burned 400 calories instead of 500. And if the restaurant that prepares your treat makes it a little differently than advertised you may end up with more than 380 calories as expected.

Now not only is your training a wash when you factor in your treat but you also no longer have  a 120 calorie credit left over from believing you burned 500 calories. And how do people behave when there is surplus? They spend it as quickly as they can! Nobody invests extra money from a tax return or a bonus at work. No way! This is free money to do whatever you like without any pain or guilt associated.

So what is the take home from all this? Well if you use a fitness tracker be aware of the limits on accuracy. And if you are going to pick one up try one of the ones in the study that provided the truest record of calories burned. Either way know that caloric outputs are simply estimates and should not be used as tools to budget your nutritional consumption.

Chris [fb-like]

Train Smarter Not Harder

There seems to be a theme in fitness these days regarding intensity. Check out any number of YouTube videos or social media updates and they all seem to be tagged with descriptions of beast mode, strong is the new sexy or something similar.Seek results not soreness.

Seek results not soreness.

Add to this the popularity of obstacle course racing where the greater the chance of serious injury the more people talk about it. Now no one seems to bat an eye to hear you’ve done a 10 km race. Unless it involved electrocution, possible hypothermia and challenged you completely in all areas physically.

And for the right person at the right stage of their training this can be a great thing. But there are a lot of conditions attached there. This is not something for the person just getting started in fitness or is not already training regularly with a high level of intensity.

So while you want to push the intensity and challenge yourself make sure you aren’t overdoing it from the get-go or getting strong-armed into signing up for an event you aren’t physically ready for. When you consider the injury rate at a Tough Mudder can be 20% you can quickly appreciate how many people are in over their heads when they step up to the start line. 15,000 at the start line and as many as 3000 injured is not a good statistic. Unless you are a physiotherapist than you may be glad to hear the phone ringing off the hook Monday after an event.

So what are you to do? Play it safe and never enter these events? Or can you be a little smarter with your training and still push yourself, get great results and do some fun races?

Absolutely you can. And the key is listening to your body.

I know this expression can sound trite and over-simplified but here are a few tips to ensure you are on the right track.

1. Ease into your workouts

When you are doing multiple sets think of slowly building up. For example, if I was doing 4 sets of something I might think of giving 70%, 80%, 90% on the first three sets. Then depending on how things are going I can decide how much to push on the last effort.

2. Use a heart rate monitor

If you aren’t measuring what you’re doing you have no way of knowing if you’re improving. Using a heart rate monitor helps you know the highs, lows and average heart rates achieved. You will also know know how long your session lasted, have a clock for rest breaks and get an estimate of calories burned.

3. Pay attention to how a movement feels

Imagine taking a transatlantic flight then stepping under a bar to do some overhead squats. How would that feel? Probably not very good. But after a bit of a stretch and warm-up and a few lighter sets you’ll start to feel things loosen up.

In the same way that movements can start to feel better with more mobility and warm up we also want to pay attention to when our form changes for the worse. If you feel pressure at certain parts of the body we should know to not power through but adapt our training to this feedback. This might mean adjusting the range of motion, the tempo, the load or the reps. Sometimes making these adjustments makes minimal to no difference and we have to call it a day. Better to forgo a step forward with our training at the risk of taking two steps back with an injury.

4. Pay attention to your breathing

One of the easiest things you can do is to be aware of your breathing. And don’t think this is only a quantitative thing in terms of how many breaths you take in a certain period of time but only the quality of your breathing.

Do you breath through nose our mouth? Is your breathing balanced with equal time spent on inhalation as exhalation? Do you breath with your chest (thoracic) or you abdominals (diaphragmatic)? Is the expansion when you inhale three dimensional or anterior? And is the breathing relaxed or laboured?

Since #4 is the easiest to do and you have everything you need to practice already start to track your breathing when you train. It’s easiest to do flat on your back a little harder from a seated or kneeling position and most difficult from a standing position. Perform your workouts with more attention given to your breathing. When you notice your breathing changes to being more laboured, unbalanced and through the chest this is a good time to switch exercises or grab a water break. As your fitness improves you’ll notice you can go longer or more intensely and eventually build up to beast mode.

Chris [fb-like]

Putting the Brakes on Your Metabolism

Since we know how the body burns calories it would also make sense to understand what puts the breaks on our ability to burn calories. Or in other words what slows down our metabolism?

Now there are a number of factors that influence our metabolic rate. An older person burns fewer calories than a younger person, usually dropping by about 2% per decade. So if there were such a thing as copies of the same person in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s at the beach the oldest version at the beach would have a 6% slower metabolism than the version of themselves in their 20s. This is due simply to the fact they got older.To rev up our metabolism we need to take off all the brakes.

To rev up our metabolism we need to take off all the brakes.

Now in combination with getting older and having a slower metabolism there is also the fact that testosterone drops as we age as well. From a peak in our twenties this hormone slowly declines starting in our thirties. With less of this anabolic in our body it is more difficult to build and maintain our lean body mass. As a result a smaller frame requires fewer calories to sustain it and our metabolism slows.

And besides our age and hormones there are other things which can disrupt our metabolism including prescription drugs, our sleep patterns, our overall health and our body type. With many of these we can’t do too much to influence our metabolism. For example, we can’t go back and choose better parents to alter our genetics. And it’s tough to stop time and prevent the aging process but some people do a pretty good job of staving off the effects of aging.

So knowing that there are some aspects of our metabolism that are completely out of our control means we have to be even more careful about the aspects which we can influence. For example consider when someone is dieting and trying to lose a few pounds. The typical approach would be to eat fewer calories, create a caloric deficit and hopefully drop some weight.

Here’s the problem.

As we reduce our caloric intake our metabolism slows. We eat fewer calories which lowers our thyroid hormone output, there is less thermic effect from feeding and we reduce our muscle mass. Don’t worry too much if you’re not familiar with thyroid hormone. For now if you understand that it is involved in our metabolism you’ll get the point.

So as we restrict calories we put the brakes on our metabolism. And this confuses a lot of people as they understand that weight loss requires a caloric deficit. And it does. However too much of a deficit and the body will think starvation is imminent and do what it can to slow down the ‘assembly line’ of calorie burning which is our metabolism.

I seem to recall from my Precision Nutrition certification course that our resting metabolic rate is most severely depressed when calories are reduced to the 1000-1200 calories per day range. So if someone required 1800 calories to maintain weight and reduced this to 1000 calories they may find that their metabolism slows, weight loss stops and it becomes more difficult to fuel their workouts without enough energy.

Guess what? The opposite is true of people  looking to add lean mass. If the same individual that requires 1800 calories per day jumps their intake to 4000 calories they will see their metabolism spike. The body is overwhelmed with the overload of additional calories and ramps up metabolism in an effort to burn off the excess calories. Young skinny guys looking to add 10-20 pounds of muscle know this first hand.

So what’s the solution?

Whatever your goal make small changes and then track the results. By a small change I’m talking about a 10-20% difference in what your body requires for normal day to day activities where you maintain weight. Using the 1800 calorie example this might be 1440-1620 calories per day for weight loss. And for the person looking to gain mass this might be 1980-2160 calories per day. Monitor the changes in terms of your strength, energy levels, waist circumference, body-fat and mass then go from there making small adjustments every couple of weeks.

Chris [fb-like]

The calories v. sugar debate

So recently on the interwebs there was a bit of discussion on a social network about the importance of sugar in the diet. Actually it was more than just a discussion as some members took to mocking the other side who then responded to blocking the immature commenter from their profile.

Now what that is all about was the fact that one group was of the belief that the increased consumption of sugar is the culprit of our deteriorating health i.e. obesity, metabolic syndrome etc. And the other side was dismissing the notion of sugar being responsible and favouring the opinion that increased calories were the root cause of society’s declining health.

A couple of points on this:

1. This isn’t religion and we don’t need to get overly offended about the position of another individual or group based on what they believe with respect to nutrition.

2. The two positions aren’t mutually exclusive. Why can’t we believe both positions? In other words isn’t it possible that we are both eating more calories and eating more sugar today than we ever have in our history? It kind of seems like a silly 80s beer commercial.It doesn't have to be just one.

It doesn’t have to be just one.

So it is possible for both sides to be right. We are consuming more sugar than we have in our history and we are consuming more calories as well. The solution doesn’t have to be one or the other in terms of reducing calories or reducing sugar. The answer should be both.

And this is something we have been preaching to our clients for as long as I can remember. Actually I can remember as it was something I learned from an American colleague of mine at a conference in Colorado. You see as soon as I realized Shawn was a registered dietician I was peppering him with questions for the entire conference. And one of the things he said that stuck with me was that we have to consider our nutrition in three areas. If we meet two of the three conditions than we will have problems when it comes to meeting our weight loss, performance or health oriented goals.

And these three conditions for nutrition were:

Dose – How much we eat of something matters.

Quality – How good or bad something is for us matters.

Timing – When we eat matters.

The interesting thing is that many who believe they have everything dialed in with respect to their nutrition are addressing only two out of three. Here’s how this would look with each of the three scenarios above.

Dose/quality satisfied, timing ignored – This would be the person who eats the right amount of calories of the best quality foods but skips breakfast and lunch. This person then eats 2000 cal dinners every night, has difficulty sleeping as a result, is not hungry upon waking in the morning. In fact they may be so full from the previous night’s meal that they complain of nausea when training the following am.

Dose/timing satisfied, quality ignored – If an individual required 2000 calories to maintain body mass than this is the person that eats exactly that amount. And unlike the person in the previous example who eats all 2000 at one sitting this person eats 500 calorie meals spread out over four meals throughout the day. The problem is that the 500 calorie meals consist of ice cream, pizza, nachos and cotton candy. In other words although the timing and amount of calories is good the quality is terrible.

Quality/timing satisfied, dose ignored – This is the person that eats the best quality foods at the right times but not the right amount. And while we typically might think of this of being an issue of over-eating it can work both ways. In fact it may be more limiting for those looking to drop some weight if they cut calories too much. Using the same numbers as above for the 2000 calories required per day this might be the person that eats broccoli, chick breast, spinach, fish and many other healthy proteins, vegetables and drinks water. The problem would occur if this person only eats 1000 calories per day of these foods. On the other hand it would also be a problem if someone were to eat 4000 calories per day of the healthiest foods and then struggle to lose weight.

To summarize you can’t worry simply about sugars intake and ignore the basics thermodynamics which dictate whether weight is gained or lost. At the same time a calorie is not a calorie. There needs to be some consideration for the quality of the food we consume and not simply look to create a deficit regardless of which types of foods make up the calories.

In the next post we’ll look more closely at which factors influence weight gain or weight loss.

Chris [fb-like]

3 takeaways from Hawaii

I’m just finishing a vacation with my family in Hawaii. And it’s been a great week to spend time together and relax.

But even though I’m on vacation there are still times when I notice little things that will help me as a coach. Below are the 3 takeaways from my time in Hawaii.

Slow down to learn

It seems as though everything in life is automatic and has to happen now. We can stream pretty much anything online without having to wait, do our banking in our pyjamas and have learned that we don’t need to wait.

While I was snorkelling near Waikoloa I would float over a some corral and not notice too much. I could very easily have changed directions, looked elsewhere or switched gears and grabbed a boogie board instead.

But I waited and just floated there for a second. And a variety of life came out from hiding. Fish that had tucked under the corral or stopped moving to blend in with it assumed everything was safe. The amount of life, colour and activity that presented itself was amazing.

It’s all because I gave it 5 seconds to develop for me.

Do the same thing with your training. Don’t rush things. Be patient. Really learn to listen to your body, to the movement and to notice the subtle aspects of your training.

Because if you’re always in a race you’ll miss a lot of the little, very important lessons right in front of you.

There is always lots to improve

As you become more patient with your training you will notice more things that you can improve. Take breathing as an example.

The complex where we were staying at had a gym. And by gym I mean a 10×10 foot room with a treadmill, bike, elliptical and a universal gym. So no gym.

But i still wanted to stay active and so I joined my father in law for his morning runs. Each day I would think about something different to focus on with my running. For example I would:

* run with a hand on my belly to ensure I was breathing with diaphragm and not solely through my chest

* run while shaking out my arms to ensure no wasted energy through the upper body

* pay attention to how quiet my feet were when contacting the ground

* focus on having a forward lean

* focus on trying to run tall

* pay attention to what areas of my body developed tension after the runs

As you can see there lots of things to focus on and improve with regards to running. The key is run only fast enough that nothing falls apart. For example, as soon I noticed my breathing becoming more chest rather than stomach based I would dial back the pace to bring this back under control.

Start with and always revert to the basics

If you’re a runner you’re probably looking to run further or faster. And if you’re a lifter you’re probably looking to lift more weight or a similar weight for more reps.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the end goal that we gloss over the steps that help ensure we safely achieve our goal.

For example, what if the goal in every workout was to initiate each rep with proper posture? What if we established a neutral pelvic alignment by contracting the flutes first? What if we ensured a neutral rib that didn’t flare up? What if we set or braced the abs? Or packed the neck?

From this ideal starting position I’m guessing each rep would feel a lot better. I’m guessing loads would feel a lot easier. I’m guessing the potential strain that accompanies poor posture would all but be eliminated. And I’m guessing the recovery time for your workout would be reduced substantially.

And that’s if we just looked at posture.

The key is to remember what is your foundation and always come back to it. It’s a great way to center yourself and have a great starting place before trying a new lift or attempting a new max.

The take home message is that we can use opportunities to improve when all the conveniences of home aren’t readily available. Just remember to slow down, pick something to improve upon and always come back to the basics.

Chris [fb-like]

Yoga – Is It Good for Athletes?

Everything we do with our clients has to serve a purpose.

The foam roll drills and stretches need to facilitate increased mobility. The nutritional plans need to provide the essential nutrients, energy and hydration. And the training plans need to fit the needs, goals and abilities of the individual doing the work.

So I’m always curious as to why people go to yoga?

A quick google search lead me to with the Top 10 Benefits of Yoga. Their list includes:

1. Stress Relief 2. Pain Relief 3. Better Breathing 4. Flexibility 5. Increased Strength 6. Weight Management 7. Improved Circulation 8. Cardiovascular Conditioning 9. Focus on the Present 10. Inner Peace

***I’ll look at 4,5 & 8 below. The rest are fairly subjective and therefore difficult to measure.***

There is no doubt that a number of people practice yoga but I’m always curious as to their reasons? I look at everything that our clients do as being beneficial and purposeful.

And yoga has me perplexed.

Because I hear constantly of the purported benefits of yoga. And especially the benefits it lends to sports performance.

In fact there is power yoga which sounds like it would be perfectly suited to athletes that are seeking more power and to move more quickly.

But power is the definition of the amount of work done per unit time. And work is equal to a force applied over a distance. So you need to move a substantial force quickly over some distance to train for power. Holding bodyweight poses for extended periods of time hardly meets the criteria for power development.

Case in point India has one, count it one, individual gold medal in the history of the Olympics. Ever. And by the way that gold medal came in air rifle. Hardly a sport requiring power. Well, a powerful gun maybe 🙂

In a similar sense to the lack of power development afforded by yoga a similar example can be made for the strength benefits. For these purposes we can think of strength as the ability to develop force. And within strength training there is something called the SAID Principle which stands for specific adaptations to imposed demands. In other words the body will adapt accordingly to the demands placed on it. Lift a heavy weight and the body gets stronger to handle the weight.

The problem becomes that with yoga there is no external load. So the body does not need to become stronger to overcome an external resistance. Further, the load is maintained in a isometric contraction during a pose. In other words the muscles are not shortening and lengthing as they would in running, jumping, throwing or basically in sports.Athletes need muscles that change length and generate high levels of force. Sorry yoga :(

Athletes need muscles that change length and generate high levels of force. Sorry yoga 🙁

So for someone to say they practice yoga for strength and power benefits it lends to sports just doesn’t make sense.

But let’s carry on.

Maybe it’s not for sports performance that someone practices yoga. Yogis love to share the benefits related to flexibity. If the goal is flexibility is this something that is ok to do?

It depends.

I have some concerns about some of the hyper-mobile positions of the body in certain poses. We ascribe to the joint-by-joint approach to training and understand that our structure dictates our function.

For example the lumbar vertebrae have a unique structure and very different function than, say for example, the thoracic vertebrae. The lower segments have a primary function associated with stability and are not meant to move very much, if at all. The upper thoracic segments are more important for mobility and are vital for upper back and shoulder health and function.

Apart from the hyper-mobility that can result from some forms of yoga I’m not entirely sold on the concept of hot yoga. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy a good steam room as much as the next person. But let’s use the right tool for the right job. If increased mobility is sought use the best tools to achieve this. The increased extensibility that is achieved from sitting in a hot room is not necessarily maintained after when returned to a moderate temperature room. There should also be concerns of athletes that may become dehydrated from hot yoga as 2% dehydration impairs sports performance.

To read more about some of the potential injuries that may result from yoga check out this article from the New York Times about one of the top yoga instructors in the US who has given up the practice due to his own injuries and these risks.

So if there are minimal training benefits for athletes and potential harm to key joints at the low back, knee, shoulder and neck why is yoga so popular?

Well part of it has to do with the fact it is easy.

Now I am defining easy as something that does not require high levels of strength, power or well developed energy systems. I’ve already covered the limits regarding strength and power development and with respect to energy system development the cells of the body become adapted to the type of activity. To improve your energy systems for cycling you need to cycle. Lance Armstrong won 7 Tour de France races but finished in the middle of the pack during the New York Marathon. He probably didn’t dope for the marathon, right?

So holding static postures is not going to develop the necessary energy systems for hockey, soccer, basketball, football (insert any other sport here) unless your sport is yoga. Then, specificity of training is achieved. And although today when I write this yoga is not an Olympic sport I don’t like the way the IOC is going and I may end up eating my words.

Does this mean I am totally against someone practicing yoga. Definitely not. If they go because they enjoy it I’m ok with that. If they find it relaxing or meditative then go. If they are like some of younger male athletes who seem to have figured out girls like yoga I’m also ok with it. Basically we as a society are under enough stress (sympathetic) and sometimes the thing we need most is to rest, digest and recover (parasympathetic). I’m sure for some of our athletes and clients, yoga serves this purpose just fine.

However if an individual is seeking to get stronger, more powerful, develop their energy systems, move better and become a better athlete yoga is not their best option.

What it comes down to is why are you practicing yoga? If someone can easily answer this and yoga is their best option they should carry on. But when you examine what the best tools are for athletic development yoga may not be one of them.