Yoga Isn’t Stretching: Here’s What You Need to Know About Recovery
Our expert yoga instructors explain why you should be doing both.
Words By Colleen Travers
You may think because you regularly stretch after a workout you don’t need to do yoga. Or, perhaps you’ve gotten into the practice of a weekly yoga routine but since then have scratched any kind of stretching after hopping off the Bike or Tread. While yoga and stretching separately are great for recovery, these two activities shouldn’t be an either/or option. In fact, in order to improve your fitness and crush your workouts you need them both to keep yourself in optimal shape. Here, our expert instructors Kristin McGee and Aditi Shah explain what the differences are between yoga and stretching and how they can together benefit your overall performance.
Yoga Is a Full-Body Workout
Getting into the flow (no pun intended) of yoga will not only give you a solid workout, you’ll also learn how to focus on your breathing – a key tool you need to master in order to kick up the intensity in cardio-based circuits like high-intensity intervals, endurance rides or runs, and other workouts. “The attention to breath is what makes yoga different from stretching,” says Kristin. “We focus on taking slow, deep, mindful breaths as we move in and out of or hold each yoga posture.” This combination of breathing while holding poses helps create a state of mental calmness while also working on increasing your strength and stamina, adds Aditi.
Stretching Focuses on Certain Muscle Groups
“Stretching is great for focusing on specific muscle groups right after or before a run, ride, or strength session,” says Kristin. “For instance, if you just did an upper body strength workout with Andy Speer, you then might choose a 10-minute upper body stretch class after. Or if you are heading out for a run with Becs Gentry you may want to open up your quads and hip flexors before with a 5-minute lower body stretch.” There’s been a lot of debate over the years on whether you should stretch before or after a workout, but research suggests that it’s more about the type of stretching you’re doing that’s important. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that dynamic stretching (moves like walking lunges or high knees) is best before a workout to prepare your body for exercise and boost your performance, while static stretches (like quad and hamstring stretches) are best for recovery post-workout.
“A good yoga class will help to mobilize the joints, stretch muscles, tone the organs, strengthen the body, breathe systematically, focus the mind, and so much more”
Yoga Helps With Flexibility and Mobility
Mobility and flexibility are closely linked together, but they are not the same thing. After all, you can have tight hamstrings but great mobility, being able to hinge forward at the hips with ease. Or you may experience the opposite, loose leg muscles but very limited movement as you hinge your hips forward. “If you want to cycle further or run faster you need to be able to move your legs through their full range of motion (mobility) as well as not be limited by tightness in the muscles (flexibility) which could prevent you from recovering,” says Kristin. “Flexibility is more passive and can only be applied to a muscle so far as a joint has range of motion,” adds Aditi. “This makes mobility crucial in order to maintain range of motion of joints in the body. Ideally, mobility work happens before a workout so that you can work on strengthening into the space you create in your joints.” Although dynamic stretching can help with mobility, the static stretching you do after a workout mostly works on flexibility, but yoga is able to focus on both in one session. “Depending on the sequence you decide to do most yoga workouts have a mixture of poses that help mobility, flexibility, and ones that work on overall strength,” says Aditi.
You Can Alternate Strength Training With a Yoga Class
If you’re wondering where exactly to fit yoga into your already packed fitness schedule, consider it as an equivalent workout to strength training. “Yoga helps your build overall strength and mobility,” says Kristin. “Try it in place of a strength training session or even on recovery days.” And while stretching helps prevent injury, Aditi says that yoga’s full-body approach makes it worth dedicating some workout time to it, even if you only have space for a 10-minute class on the app after a sweat on the Bike or Tread. “A good yoga class will help to mobilize the joints, stretch muscles, tone the organs, strengthen the body, breathe systematically, focus the mind, and so much more,” says Aditi. “You might find that a yoga practice even helps to build discipline, tolerance, and balance that you can take off of your mat.”
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