9 Reasons Yoga is a Better Workout Than the Gym

You might associate the word ‘yoga’ with fit, flexible young women in tight clothes. Contrary to what you might believe, it’s not just an activity for bendy 20-somethings. Here are some of the reasons you should give yoga a shot!

  1. It helps you set goals. Many yoga teachers ask you to set an intention for either the yoga class itself or another aspect of life. Simply telling yourself “I’ll respect my body for one hour by doing only what I feel like” can have surprising long-term effects.
  2. It boosts confidence. On top of the uplifting spiritual values, meditation can release mental tension and form an internal connection with yourself.
  3. It increases flexibility. “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga” is 100% untrue. No matter how tight your muscles may be, yoga will stretch your muscles, ligaments, and tendons in a safe way to increase mobility.
  4. Relieve stress. Yoga goes beyond training your body to reframing your mind. It allows you to see the bigger picture, unplug from distractions, and connect with your body and various sensations.
  5. Refresh your spine. Gentle spinal twists help to loosen up the many joints that compose your spine. In addition to improving your tennis game and golf swing, a healthy spine is critical for a long, salubrious life. This may promote detoxification and good digestion. Backbends, forward bends, and twists provide spinal disks with movement to keep them supple.
  6. Prevent injuries. Yoga reminds you to honour your body’s needs and limits, which change week-to-week, day-to-day, and even by the hour. In every yoga practice, it is important to do a mental scan of your body and take note of how you feel physically and emotionally. Exercises such as running involve rapid, high-force movements, which involve an imbalance of opposing muscle groups. Yoga focuses on balancing the body by honing in on muscle groups and engaging them in a safe, healthy way.
  7. Improve concentration. Clearing some room in your jam-packed schedule for a yoga class can help you slow down and take a moment to tame that endless stream of thoughts. Yoga offers the ability to be present, notice only the sensations that are happening, and develop the sense of calmness.
  8. Tone muscles. Yoga ditches barbells and machines to build strength using your own body weight – think squats, planks, leg lifts, and pushups. Because a yoga practice progresses from one series to another, different parts of the body are strengthened and lengthened without putting too much stress on specific muscle groups.
  9. It can be as easy or as hard as you want. For challenging classes, find one titled ‘Power’, ‘Vinyasa’, or ‘Flow’. Gentle, relaxing yoga classes include ‘Restorative’ and ‘Yin’.

7 Common Fitness Questions

Cardio-exercise

What are the health benefits of fitness?

  • More energy
  • Better mood and better sleep
  • Increased vascular health and decreased likelihood of stroke
  • Increased cardiorespiratory capacity (bigger lung size)
  • Brain repair
  • Overall and abdominal obesity associated with increased risk of negative health results
  • More lean mass = lower mortality risk
We already know that it’s a good idea to perform 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions (heavier weight to increase muscle strength) or 10-25 repetitions (lighter weight to increase endurance). Here are some of the common questions people have about resistance training, and evidence for best practice. 🙂
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What is better – free weights or machines?
Resistance training can be done in many ways. You can use free weights, machines, or even body weight. All of these will help you increase strength and muscle mass, and there is no true difference between them. Resistance machines, however, pose a lower risk of injury. People are suggested to choose a favourite resistance type based on their preferences, because there is no difference in strength gains between free weights and machines. The only difference is that injury is more likely when using free weights, so older adults (or injured people who are more frail or at a higher risk of injury) should turn to resistance machines. Otherwise, it’s all a personal preference.
CONCLUSION: From a safety perspective, resistance machines are preferable. However, in terms of gaining strength and muscle, it is a personal preference. Free weights and machines are equally efficient when it comes to increasing strength and endurance.
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Should I lift weights in stable positions or unstable positions?
Some people believe that using unstable surfaces while weight training will simultaneously train core muscles. This is NOT essential, and experts say that the best way to train core while doing resistance training is to practice unilateral presses (see the next section for more). There is a lack of evidence that balancing on an unstable surface will improve abilities or carry over to other sports. In other words, balancing on an unstable surface while doing bicep curls will improve your ability to balance on the same surface while doing bicep curls. However, training this way will NOT enhance performance in other skills, such as balancing on a snowboard. In fact, the instability will actually decrease the amount of force you can produce at one time.
CONCLUSION: Training on a stable or unstable surface will lead to the same results. There is no evidence that training on unstable surfaces will improve performance in other skills.
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Bilateral or unilateral?
Unilateral exercises (exercises that involve one side of the body) do not have the counterbalance effect, which means core muscles must be activated to stabilize the torso. For instance, if you are doing a bicep curl with your right arm, your body will have the tendency to lean to the right because of the added weight. This means the oblique muscles (and other core muscles) on your left side must contract to maintain the torso’s upright position and keep your centre of mass overtop of the base of support.
CONCLUSION: Unilateral exercises will simultaneously train the core muscles, since your core muscles must be “on” to maintain an upright torso.

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More resistance is better – true or false?
This is not always true. People should choose a weight that is greater than 80% of their one-repetition maximum, and then perform repetitions until momentary muscle failure (see the last section). Now, what exactly is a one-repetition maximum? The 1RM is the maximum amount of force that you can produce in one contraction. It’s the absolute upper limit – the heaviest thing you can lift in one shot. Imagine picking up the heaviest dumbbell and contracting all your muscles to lift it just once, putting it back down, and never having to do that again. That’s your 1RM, which is FAR too heavy to lift consistently when exercising. Instead, we want to go for 80% of that. For instance, if your 1RM is 200 pounds, your best resistance will be 160 pounds or more. Why 80% of that? Evidence shows that this is the ideal percentage for you to maximize strength and muscular endurance gains, while preventing injury and improving bone mineral density. We wouldn’t want you to lift something too heavy, help your muscles grow, but simultaneously harm your bones!
CONCLUSION: More resistance is not always better. People should use 80% of the maximum weight they can lift.
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How quickly should I do my exercises?
No matter what, exercises should be done at a speed that allows you to maintain tension throughout the entire motion. In other words, not too quickly and not overly slow. Fast movements that are ballistic or explosive will put too much force into joints and connective tissue, which means injuries are likely. Explosive movements are NOT recommended, because they pose a high risk of injury. Explosive movements are no better than slow and controlled weight training.
CONCLUSION: Controlled movements that allow your muscles to stay tense all the way through are ideal. Explosive and rapid movements are likely to cause injury.
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Should we do a certain number of repetitions or go until momentary muscle failure?
It is best to train until momentary muscle failure. This allows you to recruit all of the available motor units (motoneuron and all of the muscle cells that it innervates, or synapses onto) and muscle fibres. Training until your muscles can no longer contract is preferable. At this point, you will not be able to do any more repetitions. This method is more beneficial than performing a pre-determined number of repetitions.
CONCLUSION: Momentary muscle failure is the best method because it allows you to use all available motoneurons, muscle cells, and muscle fibres. This is better than doing a specified number of reps.

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What are your favourite exercises?

The FITT Principle: Recommended Exercise Guidelines

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What is the FITT Principle?

F: frequency – how often? This is the number of times a week one should exercise
I: intensity – how hard? This is how much effort you are putting in while exercising
T: time – how long are you doing it? This is the duration of each session of exercise, or the number of repetitions, sets, and time between sets
T: type – what kind of exercise are you doing? Eg. biking, walking, pilates, etc.

These are the ACSM guidelines for the four large categories in exercise, set for healthy adults. Note that seniors, previously-sedentary adults or novices, and children, all have different standards and these are NOT the guidelines for them.

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It is important that every exercise regimen is adjusted to suit the individual. For instance, a 75 year-old stroke patient will be prescribed a very different exercise routine than a 14 year-old elite gymnast.

Ellette Craddock Senior man walking with walker, woman helping

What is the ACSM?
The American College of Sports Medicine is an organization and a certification body. They are a group of scientists who pride themselves in reviewing studies and scientific research to come up with guidelines and recommendations for exercise. Most of the time, science-y papers are boring, way too long, picture-less, and written in Times New Roman (EW). Thanks to the ACSM, regular people don’t have to go through these research articles to find out what is best for our bodies in terms of exercise. This organization does all of that for us – they examine and cite thousands of papers and integrate the evidence, to give us the best recommendations based on their research of the research. We can then apply these guidelines to our personal exercise routines.

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Fun Fact!
The ACSM is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world! The CSEP is another group of professionals – the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists parallels the ACSM – and improves the health of Canadians by doing research into exercise physiology, biochemistry, and fitness.
Let’s keep the principle of SPECIFICITY in mind – you must work each muscle group in order to have strength gains in that particular part of the body. In other words, the body part you exercise will become stronger.
Now, let’s take a look at how the FITT principle applies to four broad categories of exercise.

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Cardiorespiratory Capacity
F: 3-5 days a week
I: 40-60% of maximum heart rate, or a 4-6 on the Borg Scale (0 = no exertion, 10 = maximum effort). This is moderate intensity.
T: 150 minutes a week, or 30-50 minutes a day. This amount of exercise can be split up into 10-minute “doses” separated throughout the day, because 10 minutes is the minimum time to get your heart rate up.
T: Engaging major muscle groups, such as the trunk and core

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Muscle Strength
F: 2-3 days a week
I: 40-60% of your one-repitition maximum, or moderate intensity. Seniors, or previously-sedentary adults should start light or very light to prevent injury.
T: 2-4 sets, 8-12 repetitions each
T: Engaging major muscle groups, such as the trunk and core (a variety is best: running, swimming, etc.)

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Muscular Endurance
F: 2-3 days a week
I: Less than 70% of your one-repetition maximum (40-60% is recommended, moderate intensity)
T: 2-4 sets, 10-25 repetitions each. Note that this has the same number of sets as Muscle Strength, but involves MORE repetitions because the goal is to improve your muscle’s ability to work continuously without fatigue.
T: Entire body (free weights and machines are equally efficient)

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Flexibility
F: 2-3 days a week
I: You should feel tightness and slight discomfort, but no pain. The stretch should NOT be unbearable, and you should be able to hold it for 10-30 seconds (static), no matter how deep into the stretch you are.
T: 10-30 seconds per stretch, done in a cycle so each stretch is performed 2-4 times. In the end, each stretch should be done for a TOTAL of 60 seconds. For example, you can touch your toes for 20 seconds, do a butterfly stretch for 20 seconds, then a cobra pose for 20 seconds. Repeating this cycle three times will give you a minute of each pose.
T: Stretches can be static, dynamic, ballistic, or PNF. Static stretches are “normal” stretches, where you hold a pose. Dynamic stretches involve moving, such as twisting your upper body, swinging your arms, kicking your legs out to stretch your hip flexors, etc. Ballistic stretches involve bouncing. Think rapid, “back-and-forth” movements. PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: 6 seconds of contraction followed by 10-30 seconds of an ASSISTED stretch.

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Other things to keep in mind:
  • Your specific fitness goals
  • Current level of fitness
  • Your genetics (ontogeny, body composition)
  • Even if you aren’t reaching the recommended intensity or frequency, that doesn’t mean you are not improving. Your body will still benefit from the exercise – remember that these are only GUIDELINES and must be tailored to fit the individual.

Whew! Well, that’s it for now. Only three days until I’m back home in BC, and I can’t wait to see my parents, sister, and doggie again. Sometimes, when I’m thinking of my family, it helps to look at old posts and think of all the awesome moments we spent together and how many more great times we’ll have in the future. And, of course, it helps to look at photos of yummy food! These are some of the posts and pages I like looking at 🙂


Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!