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 lean, toned 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.
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. I also think you can’t overlook the community and connection that is often found in yoga.
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.
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 body” from 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 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.
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.
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.
Can you do yoga and weights the same day?
If you’re trying to fit all your cross training in on 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?
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
- Loosening 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:
- Free online strength training resources
- Runners upper body workout
- 4 Week Runner Strength Training Program
- 30 Day Core Plan for Runners
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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Great post! I am always wondering this myself. I struggle to find time to do both while marathon training. I always end up going to yoga for the added stretching and injury prevention, but I wish I could do weights as well.Thanks for the tips!
I prefer weight training over yoga; and I love the results I see especially in my arms. I see yoga more as an improvement to my flexibility (although there is a lot of strength stuff involved, jsut not to the same degree).I need to do more of both. I'll work on making that more of a focus in the next month or so.
I would love to be able to incorporate both (I did in my pre-kids life), but as it is, with working 3/4 time and parenting the rest of the time, I have time for two of the three (running, weights and yoga) and because of the way the rec center schedule works, weights beat out yoga for now. I feel my body suffers with the lack of it, so I try to do sun salutations and some other poses on my own, but it's hit or miss. I love classes!Oh well, life stages…I'll get lots of time back when they go to elementary school…which is next year….:^)
My friend teaches yoga and said exactly what you wrote….there is no pulling movements so when she does strength train she tries to incorporate some moves that yoga doesn't hitI love to strength train and use yoga more formthe stretch for my running vs strength
Both is ideal for lots of the reasons already discussed. The most pertinent to me are the flexibility with yoga and concentration needed to maximize the experience and with weights I need targeted strength building for some ailments I have. The "Stonger" I am, the better my ailments are to me.
Running to Music
this is such an interesting post. I have been trying to find the answer to this for a while. Lately I've been doing only weights, no yoga, and I definitely see better results (not to mention takes less time), but the flexibility and mobility component of yoga feel sooooo good after a hard run. I never know whether to count yoga as a strength day!
Every time I try yoga, I get injured. Like clockwork. No matter how easy I try to take it.Kettlebells, on the other hand, are all fun with no injuries (yet).
I like both. Yoga makes me feel all calm and extra feminine (though I am all for guys doing it too!), and weight lifting makes me feel extra strong and tough. :)
I LOVE this post – I have been thinking the same things lately – as I tried yoga Tuesday night, and my arm weights session yesterday was really difficult….I want to be more toned and sleek, but I want to have the power…I try to do yoga once a week, but I might want to up it to two or three days, as I only do weights twice a week.
I am doing yoga for the first time ever….via the p90x program. That includes yoga, cardio, AND weight lifting. I love it! Ok, the yoga is not easy for me…..but still…
I definitely incorporate both, but on days when I am sore, I do "stretching" yoga. This can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour of light yoga poses that involve warm-up and more stretching than strength building. Doing just two days a week of weights and one to two days a week of yoga seems ideal for me, otherwise my muscles don't get an adequate break to rebuild!
Shamefully, I incorporate neither… but I need to!!!
I do and love both! :)
Great post! When I get back to being healthy, my perfect week would consist of 3 runs, 1 yoga class and 1-2 strength training sessions. I now see the importance of doing weight training on your legs, especially if you run a lot, to work on the muscles that running doesn't hit as much.
Happy Feet 26.2
I've been doing yoga for 5-6 years with weight lifting off and on. This summer, I stepped it up, and added Supreme 90 day, which is similar to p90x. It has made a BIG difference in seeing muscle tone in my arms, legs and even abs. So I believe in BOTH. I could never give up yoga, way too valuable for injury prevention. (I also used myfitnesspal, which certainly helped in being able to uncover some muscle)
I love yoga – so good for chronic back pain and keeps me running, cycling and swimming! I don't lift as much as I should…
I have done yoga 1-2 times a week for the most part for the past 4 years along with my running. I know it has made a big difference in my running and often times I have chosen yoga over the running :) Oops.
Years ago, like 15 years ago or so I did lots of weightlifting and loved it but got off track and am finding it hard just to bring the strength training portion back in which I know I need especially since I am 47. I struggle finding a balance with the yoga/running/strength training.
I tried yoga once but decided not to continue with it because as a man I felt it wasn’t giving me the necessary exercise I needed to build strength and stamina. I admit that there were times when I felt more relaxed when I finished a yoga class. I like the idea of using both yoga and weight lifting together. With yoga complementing my weight and cardio training.
Both definitely since 1977! Why I am still running after 46years…
I believe each type of yoga has its own benefit so to just say ‘yoga’ is too general for me. My ashtanga practice has resulted in more tone and strength than I ever achieved lifting weights. Yin makes me flexible and mentally strong – so helpful during those long runs when my body is getting tired. I incorporated strength for injury prevention- lots of lower body targeting hips and glutes, some plyometrics like box jumps and as a previous commenter mentioned to add in ‘pull’ movements to fill the gaps. I know it’s hard to fit it all in but aiming for a mix of activity is best for me.
Fully agree there are so many types, just couldn’t get in to it all without a 3000 word post :) I love your breakdown of why each has worked for you.