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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

How Adding Flow Yoga to Your Workout Routine Boosts Your Gains

How Adding Flow Yoga to Your Workout Routine Boosts Your Gains

When we fall into a workout routine, our moves become automatic, and the body quickly adapts. This is called muscle memory.[1] While teaching your body how to properly execute squats, push-ups, or crunches is a benefit, overly relying on these moves to consistently grow gains won’t yield the kind of results you want. That’s because the muscles work in the same way every time.

Simply put, they’re not being “surprised,” so they get lazy.

Supplementing your routine with flow yoga is one way of surprising your muscles, especially if you are new to the yoga practice and have never tried the postures. It’s like taking a new road home when you drive, deviating from your usual route. Science has found that by doing so, you’re creating new neuropathways in your brain.[2] The same is done in your muscles when you try a new routine.

How is this done? Let’s dive right into it.

How Flow Yoga Boost Your Gains in Your Workout Routine

Think about your current workouts:

If you lift weights, you rely on external tools to engage your various muscle groups. Over time, your shoulders, legs, or biceps will come to expect the weighted plates or dumbbells, in the repetitive sequences that you remember.

In flow yoga, we use the body as the weight. Add gravity and hundreds of different postures and combinations, and you have a workout that uses the same muscle groups, but in many different ways.

A pose such as plank is a full-body workout, with every muscle engaged to keep the body in one long line. While it’s a stationary pose, it requires muscle control and activation, with no room for passivity.

    A Flow sequence, on the other hand, requires your muscle to switch from one pose to another swiftly, providing you with a more balanced and wholesome use of your major muscle groups.

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    Not only do these poses and routines re-energize the body in a refreshing way, they also allow you to learn something new, which is powerful for the mind.

    Bottom line? Complementing your exercise regimen with flow yoga is like hitting the shuffle button on your workouts, using your muscles in ways that “surprise” them, which in turn boost their growth and performance.

    Energizing Flow Yoga with Added Cardio

    Flow yoga is also known as “Vinyasa.”[3] In Sanskrit – the sacred language of the practice and its Indian roots – Vinyasa is roughly translated to “one breath, one movement.”

    This guideline, first and foremost, enhances your breathing, and teaches you how to go from our typical shallow, chest-only breathing, to a more deeper, belly-chest breath that uses the entire lung system.

    Not only is this beneficial for a myriad of healthcare reasons (combat allergies, eliminate toxins, reduce stress, ease anxiety), it also greatly impacts our muscles,[4] and therefore our workout.

    Flooding your muscles with rich oxygen will only keep them healthy, while the cardio benefit will get you warmed up to take on the more challenging postures in a flow yoga class. This prevents injuries and cramping.

    The best example of energizing cardio in flow yoga is the Sun Salutation sequence. Each pose is completed on an inhale or an exhale, until the sequence is finished. One full sequence may be repeated several times, encouraging you to take fuller and deeper breaths. The cycles warm up and loosen the body and prepare the muscles for stationary poses that are held longer.

    Here’s how to do a Sun Salutation Flow:

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    Due to the Sun Salutations, the muscles are not thrown into a challenging workout, but rather primed and prepared with energizing breath.

    Why is this important, you ask? Because happy muscles are warmed-up muscles.

    The Best Thing About Flow Yoga

    The best thing about practicing flow yoga? You’re building strength and flexibility.

    Strength and flexibility are like the Mecca of a wholesome workout routine. Before we get into why this is important, let’s break these two down individually to see how they stand up on their own:

    Meet Strong Stan

    Strong Stan is at the gym, doing bicep curls with massive dumbbells. His muscles have peaked in size, and he proudly displays them.

    While he loves to lift weights, Strong Stan often skips stretching or warm-ups. He just doesn’t see how that could help him continue his muscle gains, so he jumps right into a heavy workout.

    While it’s not evident to a passerby, Stan’s muscles are hurting. Without sufficient flexibility or deliberate stretching, Stan’s muscles are shortening and getting tighter. This eventually leads to joint injuries,[5] because un-stretched muscles have limited range of motion.

    Big muscles are a sure indicator of strength, but here’s the kicker – choosing not to prioritize flexibility will keep them inherently at risk.

    Meet Flexible Fiona

    Flexible Fiona is in a flow yoga class, easing herself into a backbend.[6] She effortlessly gets into the pose, and “hangs” out there for a few breaths while the teacher cues the class.

    Even though the teacher instructs the students to engage their glutes and be mindful that this is an active pose, Flexible Fiona opts otherwise, and relaxes into the posture by sacrificing the strength she ought to be building.

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    To many in the class, Fiona’s execution of the backbend would be a success – maybe even something to envy. However, what Fiona doesn’t realize is that her excessive flexibility is actually a detriment to her joints.[7]

    Flexibility has been defined as the “absolute range of motion” by Tony Gummerson, Martial Arts instructor. For people who are naturally flexible, that line of absolute range is often blurry and, in practice, overlooked.

    It’s very easy for Fiona to go above and beyond her range of motion, since her flexibility parameters are much wider than what Strong Stan may experience in a similar pose.

    Because she doesn’t feel the stretch in the same degree of motion as other students in class, Fiona has to push the envelope of her flexibility. This puts too much pressure on the joints that are already overworked, and it overstretches the muscles that are now prone to tearing.

    Your goal is to create muscle and joint balance and wholeness.

    What Strong Stan and Flexible Fiona have in common is that they’re both missing vital pieces of muscle awareness.

    In Stan’s case, heavy and tight muscles crave flexibility. Without it, not only would Stan hit a plateau in his gains because of a sure injury, but he would miss out on having the lean and toned muscles that we all want to have.

    In Fiona’s case, her overstretched muscles are not getting a workout at all. Rather, her excessive flexibility is resting on her joints, which leads to definite injury.

    So what can you do? It’s quite simple.

    You have to give your muscles the opposite of what they’re used to.

    If you’re a Stan and hate stretching, focusing on your flexibility is key. You will lengthen your tight muscles, and you’ll create new muscle memory by practicing routines that are new to you and your muscle groups.

    If you’re a Fiona and hate strengthening, focusing on this priority is vital. Your muscles are used to being passive as you stretch, so shaking up the usual and putting them to work will not only keep you injury-free, but that much closer to the muscle gains you’ve been looking for.

    Fortunately, flow yoga is the whole package, and can be the one-stop-shop for both Stan and Fiona.

      Final Thoughts

      If you’re serious about using flow yoga to supplement your workout routine to boost gains, sign up for a class at your local gym or yoga studio. There are a number of styles of yoga to try, but as we’ve discussed in this article, the Vinyasa style is your best bet to complement a moderate exercise regimen.

      Many studios offer beginner-style Vinyasa classes, where the instructor will explain the basics, and break down the sequences in a pace that is suitable for entry-level students. From here, the student can build upon their practice, and opt for more challenging, fast-paced classes, such as Power Flow or Ashtanga.

      Working out is a lesson in teaching your muscles. The gains that we grow are the result of that experience, and it all comes down to conditioning our body in a way that is healthy, efficient, and balanced.

      With a practice like flow yoga, we can offer supplemental training to our current regimen that will work our muscles in ways that are new, refreshing, and “surprising.” This method will keep our muscles toned and lean, as long as we prioritize the balance between strength and flexibility to ensure that we’re meeting both of these needs. Our muscle gains and body health depend on it.

      More Resources About Yoga and Fitness

      Featured photo credit: Edit Sztazics via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Aleksandra Slijepcevic

      Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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      Last Updated on April 19, 2021

      15 Static Stretches to Totally Enhance Your Workout Routine

      15 Static Stretches to Totally Enhance Your Workout Routine

      Stretching is one of those aspects of fitness that many people conveniently forget about. Perhaps you’re one of those who consider stretching nothing but a mere chore meant for ballerinas and gymnasts. While they are great for both, static stretches can offer a boost to any workout routine for people of all fitness levels.

      Irrespective of your reasons for working out, be it for sports or personal fitness, one thing is certain: stretching can help you. Static stretches come with myriads of benefits, such as improvement in flexibility and reduction in muscle tightness, which ultimately allow you to go through your workout routines with greater efficiency.

      For the purpose of this article, we’ll zero in on several great static stretches and take a look at the benefits and when they should be done.

      Benefits of Static Stretches

      Static stretches come with tons of benefits that can help you make the most of your workout routine. Some of them include:

      Improved Flexibility

      If you want to perform better, flexibility is of tremendous importance, irrespective of the specific workouts you do. Luckily enough, static stretches are all you need to get all the flexibility you desire.

      Flexibility, also known as the range of motion (ROM) around a joint, has been shown by several studies to be improved by static stretching.[1]

      Although the specific mechanism through which this occurs is still unclear, static stretches have been shown to greatly increase muscle and joint flexibility[2] and tissue length[3], which work in tandem to make your workout more effective.

      Prevent Injuries

      If you’re looking to push yourself to your training limits without coming down with injuries, then stretching will do you a great service. Research has shown time and again that performing the right stretches pre- and post-workout greatly helps with injury prevention.[4]

      Think of it this way:

      When you stretch, you literally push your joints and muscle fibers to their limit. This increases the stretch tolerance in these muscles and joints over time, and the increased tolerance allows you to perform more rigorous exercises without negatively impacting your body or risking an injury.

      Increased Blood Flow to the Joints

      Another benefit of stretching is increased blood flow – and by extension, nutrient supply – to the joints and muscles of the target areas. This, in turn, improves the performance of these muscles and joints due to the availability of more nutrients, improved oxygenation, and removal of metabolites.

      For static stretching, though, the mechanism of action isn’t as straightforward. When stretching statically, blood flow (capillary oxygenation) temporarily reduces due to vascular compression.

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      However, immediately after releasing the stretch, the blood flow to these areas nearly doubles the pre-stretching levels.[5]

      Improvement in Recovery

      If you’ve been working out for some time, then you’ve probably discovered that a rigorous workout session can leave you battling sore muscles for days.

      Recovery essentially means getting rid of this soreness and returning your muscle fibers back to their tip-top condition.

      Research has shown that practicing static stretches after your workout session helps to reduce muscle soreness. And while some may argue that this effect is minimal, the fact still remains that stretching does help shorten your recovery time.

      Stretching allows tissues to be better hydrated after the induced tension is released, and this encourages reduced inflammation and faster repair of such tissues.

      Other reasons why you really should incorporate stretching into your workout include:

      • Improved relaxation
      • Increased movement efficiency
      • Reduction in the risk of lower back pain
      • Reduction in muscle tension
      • Improvement in neuromuscular coordination
      • Improvement in balance and postural awareness
      • Relief from cramping

      15 Static Stretches to Enhance Your Workouts

      Here are some amazing exercises that will keep your body in tip-top condition and take your workout routine to the next level.

      1. Neck Stretch

        While sitting tall or standing, place your right arm gently on the right side of your head, and place the other arm out to your side. Slowly pull your head towards your right shoulder until you can feel the stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold for about 30 seconds before releasing, and repeat for the opposite side.

        Many people tend to hold stress and tension in their neck and shoulders. If you find this is the case, this is one of the best static stretches to use for a muscle release in this area.

        2. Chest Stretch

          Stand upright, with your fingers interlocked behind your back, near your buttocks. While keeping your shoulder blades together and your back straight, push your arms up behind you until you feel the stretch in your chest. Hold for about 20-30 seconds before releasing.

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          3. Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch

          Shoulder Cross-Arm Stretch « CASS FITNESS

            Stand upright or sit up tall on a chair or mat, and extend one arm out in front to shoulder height. Grab the extended arm with your other arm, and pull it towards your chest while keeping the extended arm straight. Continue the pull until you feel the stretch in your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat for the other arm.

            4. Triceps Static Stretch

              Lift your arms overhead, with both arms slightly behind your head and bent at the elbow. Use your right hand to pull your left elbow until you feel a stretch in your triceps. Hold for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the other arm.

              Many know this stretch from gym class, but it really is one of the best static stretches for the arms.

              5. Biceps Stretch

              Arm Exercises | Seated Bent-Knee Biceps Stretch

                Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your fingers pointing away from your body, place your two palms flat on the floor behind you. While your hands are steadily in place, slowly slide your butt downward toward your feet until you can feel the stretch in your biceps, shoulders, and chest. Hold for about 30 seconds before releasing.

                6. Wrist Stretch

                11 Best Tennis Elbow Exercises For Pain Free Mobility [PDF]

                  While standing up straight or sitting tall, extend your right arm forward to shoulder height with your fingers pointing toward the ceiling. Grab your right fingers with your left hand, and pull your right hand to bend the wrist until you can feel the stretch. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the opposite arm.

                  7. Side Stretch

                    Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. Take your right arm and reach over your head towards your left side while bending your side. Keep bending your side slowly until you can feel a stretch on your right side. Maintain this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the opposite side.

                    The muscles down your side body are notoriously difficult to stretch out. This is one of the best static stretches to try on a consistent basis to get them loosened up.

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                    8. Abdominal Static Stretch

                      Lie down on your stomach with your face towards the ground and your palms facing the floor as though you’re about to do a push up. While keeping your pelvis firmly on the floor, gently push your upper body up from the ground. This should make your feel some stretch in your abs. Maintain this position for about 30 seconds before releasing.

                      9. Reclined Spinal Twist

                      Supta Matsyendrasana - Supine Spinal Twist - Yogaasan
                        Lie down, with your arms extended to the sides and placed on the floor. While keeping the right leg straight, pull up your left knee towards your chest, tilt it toward your right side, and then drop it slowly over your extended right leg.

                        Keep your shoulder blades flat on the ground, and you should feel the stretch around your back. Hold for about 30 seconds and repeat for the opposite side.

                        10. Knees to Chest

                        Knee-to-chest exercise from Physical Therapists' Advice to Manage Pain at Home - The Active Times

                          Lie on the ground facing the ceiling, with your knees bent. Hold your shins, and pull your knees toward your chest. This should make you feel some stretch in your lower back. Hold for about 30 seconds before releasing. If you’re looking to loosen up your back muscles, this is one of the static stretches you can do daily.

                          11. Hip Flexor Static Stretch

                          How to Do the Standing Lunge Stretch

                            Stand upright in a standard lunge position, and place your two hands on your hips. Step out on your right foot into mini-lunge position, without your knee going beyond your right toe. Hold for about 30 seconds and repeat for the left side.

                            12. Figure 4 Stretch

                            How to Do a Figure 4 Stretch | Openfit

                              Sit tall on the ground with both knees bent and both feet on the floor. Lift your right leg and cross it over your left thigh, while your left knee remains bent. Pull both legs inwards toward your abdomen for a deep stretch of your glutes. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat with the other leg.

                              13. Standing Quad Stretch

                                Stand tall while maintaining a straight posture. With your left hand, grab a pole, wall, or anything durable for balance. With your right hand, grab your right foot and pull up your heels until they touch your buttocks.

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                                Keep your knees close together while doing this, push your hip forward, and you should feel the stretch in your quadriceps. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the other side. This is one of the best static stretches for the quads.

                                14. Hamstring Stretch

                                  Sit on the floor with your right leg extended straight in front of you and your left leg bent. Reach forward with your right hand, and touch your right toes. This should cause a stretch in your right hamstring.

                                  Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat for the left leg. If you’re unable to reach your toes, try holding your shin instead, but seek to go further every time you perform the stretch until you can touch your toes.

                                  15. Calf Stretch

                                    Sit on the ground and extend your right foot straight in front of you. Gently pull your right toes backwards with your right hand. This should cause a noticeable stretch in your calf.

                                    Hold this position for about 30 seconds and repeat for the left leg, if you’re unable to reach your toes, use a rope or towel to pull your toes inward.

                                    Bonus: Stretch With a Resistance Band

                                    Resistance bands offer a unique benefit from free weights and create tension throughout your movement. Get the free 30 Day Resistance Band Full Workout Challenge, and challenge yourself to stretch with a resistance band.

                                    When Should You Do Static Stretches?

                                    Static stretching is great when done correctly and at the right time. Over the years, research has shown that static stretching produces best results when done after working out or on rest days,[6] but not as a part of warm up routines before an explosive workout session.

                                    This is because static stretches have a cool-down effect on each muscle group and are more effective when done after the muscles are already warm.

                                    That doesn’t mean you must never ever perform static stretches before working out, but do it sparingly. Dynamic stretches, which involve more movement, are generally recommended for warming up as it helps the body prepare better for the work ahead.

                                    The Bottom Line

                                    Carving out the body of your dreams isn’t only about lifting weights and running. You need to keep your body “elastic” if you’re going to make the most of your training, and that’s the whole point of static stretches.

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                                    Starting today, be sure to incorporate these static stretching exercises into your routine, and in no time, you’ll find yourself recovering faster and performing better than ever before.

                                    More Tips on Stretching

                                    Featured photo credit: Alora Griffiths via unsplash.com

                                    Reference

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