Author: Sylvia Kingston

Personal Fitness Trainer, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

Yoga & Strength Training, My Two Loves

I would like to take a moment to talk about my two loves, yoga and strength training. Yoga and strength training go together like peanut butter and jelly, like bacon and eggs, like the sun and moon. You get it, they complement each other perfectly!

I love lifting heavy; I can’t get enough of it. It’s incredibly empowering as a woman to feel strong, to be able to squat more than your body weight and to be able to bust out a few pull ups and dips. I love the high of a weight lifting session and I know that some of you reading this are nodding your head in agreement. Most athletes are no stranger to the constant aches, stiffness and limited range of motion associated with living an active life. Over time being active puts a great deal of stress onto your body. Eventually shortening muscle fibers and connective tissue creating tightness and adding stress to joints and reducing joint range of motion. Taking time to mobilize and stretch can greatly reduce the aches and stiffness that comes along with being active. How many of you practice yoga? If you are reading this and thinking I’m not flexible enough for yoga hogwash. That’s exactly why you should go to yoga!

As a yoga instructor and fitness coach I know firsthand how valuable a solid yoga practice can be for your mind and body. If you happen to be a gym junkie who loves beating your quads and glutes into submission, this article is for you.

Body Awareness
Flowing through poses in yoga while barefoot and without mirrors requires a great deal of control and focus. This control forces you to use and develop the oftentimes weak stabilizing muscles in the feet, legs and trunk. Because of the focus and control needed in yoga, you develop a profound sense of proprioception –a sense of position and self within movement. Proprioception helps tremendously when executing compound lifts like deadlifts and push-ups. The focus you develop during yoga will help you be more present and focused during your lifts.

Range of Motion
No matter how many times you tell yourself you need to stretch more, getting in a few more reps before rushing out the gym door sounds much more appealing doesn’t it? Thoughts and ideas of stretching and mobilizing go out the window when you are able to snag an open squat rack before someone else does.
Any great foundation of strength training starts with having good mobility and flexibility. There are many types of yoga, some focus more of flexibility than others. To increase range of motion try finding a yoga style like Yin Yoga that help increase the length of muscles fibers and connective tissue.

Controlling the Ego
Most active people are keenly aware of competition. We compete with our previous lifts, times and sometimes each other. While competition has its time and place and it’s great to be inspired, ultimately none of it matters, we are just fanning the fires of our ego.  Knowing your limit and pushing past it is a delicate balance. Yoga is a constant reminder that it doesn’t matter what you wear, what the pose looks like, or how quick you are, it’s about uniting your body, mind and breath. Yoga teaches you to listen to your body, to know when you are pushing too hard and when to back off. Yoga teaches you to develop contentment with where you are, because that’s exactly where you need to be. This is a unique and helpful tool to have when lifting weights, this will keep you centered, mindful and help prevent injury. It also helps you accept your progressions and to avoid comparing yourself to the person next to you.

Bodyweight Strength Training
Lifting heavy and pumping iron is great but there is something very humbling about bodyweight training. Yoga puts your body into positions you wouldn’t normally get into at the gym. Being able to control your breath, stabilize your core and balance your entire body on your hands like in handstand or crow takes a great deal of control that you cannot achieve with equipment. The skill and strength transfer from the yoga mat to the gym room is unlike any other. Putting your body through precarious movements and holds using just your body only builds a greater understanding of the movements performed in the gym. Yoga also moves through basic movements like pushups, lunging and planks. Being able to master your own body weight is a great skill to have.

Rest and Recovery
Hitting the yoga mat on a rest day can be a great low impact way to keep the body moving on your rest days. Yoga can also help your body detox on rest days. Yoga is designed to compress, lengthen, wring out, push and pull various parts of your body, this sends a signal to your brain to turn on the “detox” mode in your body. In addition to detoxifying your body, a great benefit of yoga is a detox of your mind. Yoga and meditation can help you control your stress levels and feel more relaxed between gym sessions.

As an active person, if you can find a way to incorporate a regular yoga practice you can prevent loss of range of motion, become a calmer happier person in all aspects of your life including the weight room.

Meditation

Meditation, let your eyes close, take a breath and just let go. This is easier said than done. Meditation is a lost art, something that we might think about but never get around to doing. When people think of meditation perhaps an image of the Shaolin Monks sitting cross leg comes to mind. You may think “that could never be me; I’m too busy for that”. Let’s put our busy schedule aside for a moment and talk about why everyone should make time for it.

We all (well most of us anyway) bathe regularly; we clean our bodies just about daily. Just as our body needs to be cleansed so does our mind. Think of meditation as a bath for the mind. Our head gets muddled with stress, friends, family and our own inner voice. Letting that perpetually build can take a toll on your sanity. The holidays are 100% busy and stressful. If there was ever a time to start a meditation practice this is it.

So what is meditation? Meditation is different for everyone. Being a yoga instructor, I have dedicated many hours to meditation and have made it a part of my life. From a yoga perspective, the practice of yoga and the movement you do in class is all preparation to unite the body and mind, and create a calm receptive state for meditation. However, traditional yoga meditation is not the only meditation! There are many, many schools and thoughts on meditation such as vipassana, visualization, kundalini and much more. Just like exercise, everyone likes something different.

To give meditation a try, just sit. Literally, start by sitting; find a way that is comfortable for you to sit. Cross your legs, sit on your shins or even find a comfortable couch or chair. Then begin to close your eyes, be an observer of your thoughts and the way your body feels. Once you are within yourself, try to let go. Let go of thoughts, stress, your to-do list and just be present. People new to meditation may not be able to go more than 5 seconds before the next thought slips back into their mind. If this happens to you, find a focus within your body, such as your inhalation and exhalation. Some people find it easier to focus by listening to the sounds of the environment or the sounds of their own body. It’s normal to feel impatient or agitated by sitting but don’t be discouraged. Practice makes perfect. Incorporate 5-10 minutes a day and work your way up from there. As you begin to practice more often you will slowly see a shift in your attitude and mind. With time, you may begin to notice feelings of mental calmness, less anxiety, more compassion and creativity throughout your daily activities. Allow the process to transform your mind. I encourage you to find a practice and style that is right for you!

Namaste
Sylvia

Are Your Glutes Fired Up?

Are your glutes sleepy? The “glutes” are made up of four muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor fasciae latae (TFL). Of these four, the gluteus maximus is the largest and one of the strongest muscles in the body but underactive and overlooked in training. Having active glutes will improve athleticism, hip stability, appearance and quality of daily activities. These muscles are so powerful; one could wonder how and why they become inactive.

Most of us find ourselves sitting for a good portion of the day. We sit at work, in the car, we sit when we eat and for some of us, we even sit in the machines here at the gym. Let’s take a look at what all this sitting does to our muscles. Your hip flexors (the muscles at the top front of the thigh) are a primary mover in raising our legs. When sitting all day, they are in a constant shortened state which makes them very tight. Now let’s roll over to the back side of the body. With shortened and tight hip flexors,the opposing muscles, your glutes, are in an overstretched and INACTIVE position.

There are many reasons why your glutes are not firing the way they should be but the two most common, are inactive and overshadowed glutes.

Inactive glutes:
This is simply; your glutes not firing correctly or being engaged. Imagine your glutes in a constant state of shutdown or the term “sleepy”. Oftentimes this is due to inactivity. Doing low level activities like getting up from a chair, or easy walking only minimally engage your glutes.

Overshadowed glutes:
This is when other lower body muscles like the quads or hamstrings become much stronger than your glutes. This will cause them to become dominate and take over the exercise. For example, exercises like lunges that should be targeting and strengthening the glutes end up being powered by other stronger lower body muscles. In this scenario your glutes are working and firing correctly, just overshadowed. Even the best athletes can have overshadowed glutes.

Now what, how do I fire up my butt?
Getting the glutes to wake up and fire is a multi-dimensional approach through loosening, lengthening, and activating the correct muscles. Below are some suggestions on how to go about this.

Loosen:

  • Loosen up the tight muscles.  Self myofascial release (most people will know this as foam rolling) is a great way to loosen your tight muscles. Try using a lacrosse ball on your hip flexors and foam roll on your quads.

Lengthen:

  • Try static stretching on your hamstrings, hip flexors, quads and muscles surrounding your ankles.

Activate:

  • Hip thrust

hip thrust 2 - sylvia hip thrust 1 - sylvia

  • Single leg hip thrusts

Single leg hip thrust 2 - sylvia

single leg hip thrust 1 - sylvia

  • Monster walk

 

Banded knee squat 1 - sylviaBanded knee squat 1 - sylvia

Integrate:

  • Banded knee squats

Learning to activate your glutes will help athleticism, improve daily activities and give you a fresh start on exercise. Implementing these activation exercises into your warm up before you exercise will help ensure that your glutes are “awake” during your workout. Keep in mind that every person is going to be different and have their own set of specific needs. Doing just one single approach may not be the correct prescription to waking up your glutes. If you need assistance on figuring out which approach would be best for you, consult with a personal trainer.