The question: “I would so much rather take a yoga or Pilates class than lift weights—but will I get the health and strength-building benefits I need from those classes?”
The experts: Polly Monson, personal trainer, fitness coach, and the owner of NYC’s Central Sweat; Marta Montenegro, an exercise physiologist and certified strength and conditioning specialist; Mandy Ingber, celebrity yoga instructor, wellness expert, and author of Yogalosophy; Kristin McGee, celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor in New York City
The answer: It’s important to keep in mind that yoga and Pilates mat classes can vary a lot. For example, a yoga class that focuses on relaxation and stretching probably doesn’t have as many strength-building benefits as a more vigorous vinyasa sesh. That said, poses like warrior two and triangle can help strengthen leg muscles and lower bodies, while arm-balancing poses like side plank and crow can help strengthen arm muscles and upper bodies, says Ingber. And the Pilates pushup is an especially efficient way to utilize nearly all of your muscles, says McGee.
So, do those fast-paced, make-you-sweat-today-and-sore-tomorrow yoga and Pilates mat classes count as strength-training sessions? 100 percent. Weight-free classes can help you tone muscles, strengthen the joints that support muscles, and even see improvement in the way clothes fit, says Montenegro. And just one hour of vinyasa yoga, for example, can burn up to 445 calories (many classes are longer than that). Plus, all of these classes help to build muscle endurance and flexibility.
But can yoga and Pilates mat replace your weight-lifting workouts? That’s where the answer is not so clear-cut. You see, a yoga or Pilates mat class can obviously be a great workout, but routines that don’t include pumping iron could result in missed opportunities to burn fat, boost your metabolism, and increase your bone density. “Anything that adds resistance to our skeleton will stimulate bone deposition, which can prevent osteoporosis,” says Montenegro.
But hold up! This so doesn’t mean you should stop going to your favorite class, says Monson. It just means you should supplement it with some other stuff, too—that it’s ideal if it’s not your only method of strength training. Monson says your body will really benefit from a combination of weight lifting and your favorite classes. “I personally like to use free weights and do Pilates and yoga,” says McGee. Monson agrees that weight lifting and weight-free strength-training classes complement each other. “Getting a strong core in Pilates mat will help you do full body exercises in the weight room. Yoga will help you prevent injury while lifting weights.” She says that weight lifting will also help you improve in your favorite classes because it helps you build muscle that will aid you in mastering more intense moves. (Handstand, anyone?)
Going forward with your strength-training plan, Monson suggests a trip to the weight room two days a week for 30 minutes in addition to taking two of your go-to classes each week.
Still not sold on making a trip to the weight room? Ingber and McGee say that if you love your class of choice, it’s OK to skip the weight room—but make sure you continue to challenge your muscles by incorporating props. In Pilates, try small weights, weighted balls, or TheraBands. If you’re a yoga buff, Ingber recommends including weights or lunges in your yoga routine for an added challenge.
Image courtesy of goodlifefitness