Can Yoga Replace Strength Training? Which Makes You Run Better?

Can yoga replace strength training? Yoga or weights? Weights or yoga?

Which will make you a better runner? Are you better doing one than the other? Will one result in better sculpting your arms, legs, back?

Runners already have a laundry list of to do’s with dynamic warm ups, hip work and foam rolling. So it’s easy for us to push weights and/or yoga to the side, but it’s worth your time.

And since I want you to do what’s going to give you the most bang for your very limited time, let’s explore the benefits of both yoga and strength training for runners…then which is better.

Weights vs Yoga

For years, I waffled between the two. Some weeks I’d include both, other weeks I’d do one…and let’s be honest as a runner there were too many weeks were I did none.

I wanted to see results to decide which to do, but as you might know…you gotta be consistent in anything for results.

Now, I’ve been extremely consistent with strength training every single week since my knee injury in 2017. One I needed something to do while I recovered and two I realized that the older I get the less I’m able to skip any strength work !

Distance runners are notorious for losing muscle mass during marathon training and that’s the last thing I want now that I’m in my 40s and know it keeps my metabolism humming.

Like most of you, I felt conflicted about where to spend my time.

Because don’t we all have one friend who got shredded doing CrossFit and cut time off their PR…and another who went to yoga got leantoned and yeah, cut time off their PR.

Both friends are positive their way is right and we find ourselves trying a little of both, but committed to none.

Which as always leads me back to the one thing I do know: we are all an experiment of one.

But even an experiment of one wants to know how to spend her time.

I don’t need anyone to push me with running, but the gym is a different story! Tell me the benefits to my running and I’m far more likely to stick with it. After all, the second I realized PT worked to keep any IT Band issues at bay, I’ve done my moves religiously for years!

All right so what are some of the arguments for and against each…

How Workouts Impact Your Nervous System?

Improving performance is all about balancing stress and recovery, both of which are controlled by the Nervous System.

Yoga

I know that yoga is portrayed as calm and serene and I do often get that feeling…but let’s be honest if you’re doing a serious class it’s a sweaty nasty mess with lots of loud breathing and thoughts of kill me now.

However, most importantly is that when you are in certain poses your muscles relax and This creates more room for blood to flow, thus attracting more oxygen to your muscles.

Yoga also puts a great deal of focus on breathing which seems to naturally elicit a relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system), something runners need to combat the physical stress of running.

Both of these result in healing and injury prevention. how yoga builds stamina and other running benefits

I also think you can’t overlook the community and connection that is often found in yoga.

Strength Training

Weights are going to further stress the body, which is great for strength and muscle building, but maybe not ideal if you’re trying to train for a marathon and need a workout to deload.

So instead, weights need to be part of your training load and considered along side the intensity of your runs.

Winner

Yoga is better in this case for runners because we often have high cortisol from stressing our bodies.

Yoga will allow you to bring that back down and get calm in order to prevent burnout and over training. These are huge issues as we increase mileage during marathon training and slowing down is a BIG STRUGGLE for too many runners.

These sessions will remind you that slow has value.

Should runners do weights or yoga? Is it possible to do both? #runchat Click To Tweet

Yoga or Weights for Stamina?

Endurance or stamina can indeed be built outside of your runs, through smart cross training.

fatigue does seem to ‘travel’ from one muscle group to another, and mainly, from upper to lower bodyfrom School of Human Kinetics and Recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

Which goes to say, work that upper body to run longer!

Yoga

Yoga improves stamina through a combination of physical and mental benefits. Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes believes the increased utilization of oxygen and better breathing through learning to use the diaphragm has benefited his running.

Additionally, holding yoga poses allows us to work on our stabilizing muscles that might be neglected in running and strength to hold a better posture, which means better running form.

Weights

Surprise, weight lifting can also improve your running stamina and maybe not just in the way you think.

You can do light weights with high reps on your upper body to build endurance for arm swing and posture, but going heavy on your lower body is actually the biggest benefit.

A study of elite Danish cyclists showed that lifting 70-90% of their 1 rep maximum improved strength, speed and movement economy (less fatigue), while also losing body fat.

Winner

Tie, unless losing body fat is your goal in which case strength training will have the bigger impact.

**However, it should be noted that a recent study showed Stretching after lifting weights can increase your power by up to 30% in the coming sessions.

How to do both Yoga and Strength Training?

Personally, I still believe that we can benefit from both.

In fact, if you checkout these yoga benefits for runners, I bet you’ll agree that it’s worth adding once a week.

Now it’s a matter of determining how to enjoy both activities in a way that benefits our bodies. After doing some research I found what makes the most sense to me…since yoga is often about more static poses and longer contractions, weight lifting sessions should be about quicker movements.

It should also include movements that you do not get from the yoga practice itself, which would largely be pulling movements such as pull ups, lat pulls, rows or deadlifts.

Example Cross Training Schedule

So you want to do it all and train for a half marathon? Here’s how that could work:

Monday: REST or restorative yoga
Tuesday: 5 mile easy run
Wednesday: 10 min sun salutations, 30 min full body weights, 10 min floor work
Thursday: 5 miles with speed work
Friday: 10 min sun salutations, 30 min full body weights, 10 min floor work
Saturday: 3 miles easy or biking
Sunday: 10 mile Long Run

What type of yoga is best for runners?

If you’re doing heavy lifting then maybe a restorative or easy flow class is more ideal to keep your total body balanced.

If you’re doing high rep light weights for stamina, then maybe you’d enjoy the push of a power yoga class.

Checkout these FREE ONLINE yoga classes to get you started.how yoga builds stamina and other running benefits

Can you do yoga and weights the same day?

If you’re trying to fit all your cross training in the same day, it’s definitely possible to incorporate both.

Use the yoga session as a warm up prior to your lifting and you’ll find it ensures the shoulder joints are lubricated and working correctly. This goes against what we want to do with running, where we do NOT want to hold long positions before the workout because it can increase our risk of injury.

Personally, I like to do a normal dynamic warm up, do my strength session and then use yoga to fully slow down and relax. Plus, we saw that awesome benefit about getting more from our strength by stretching afterwards!

Should you do yoga with weights?

Ideally…no.

Barre classes do a light version of this, but really the two are meant to be different and provide different benefits.

Think of yoga as a workout that will build strength, but it’s really focused on the following:

  • Engaging your core
  • Improving range of motion
  • Loosen up tight areas that are preventing a good stride
  • Improving your breathing
  • Working through hard stuff

Meanwhile I want you to think about your strength training workouts like this:

  • Lifting heavy to build muscle (whatever heavy is for you)
  • Improving the power in your legs
  • Building better endurance through strong glutes, hips
  • Encouraging better running form through a strong core that can remain stable as you fatigue
  • Preventing most common running injuries

Many yogi’s also love to tout the philosophy that “Yoga helps everything, but nothing helps yoga“.

Which is true is some respects, but I can’t say that I fully agree.

My good cardio allows me to move through the poses without being winded and I know my weight lifting has helped my arms become less resistant to fatigue in many poses…but yes yoga has also improved every area of ​​my fitness.

So in the end there is no right or wrong answer.

But if I was forced to pick one area for you to spend limited time: Strength Training.

Some ideas for strength training:

Where do you stand on yoga vs weightlifting? Do you incorporate both?

Have I convinced you yet to try yoga or at least not spend 100% of your time running?

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