Should You Do Yoga Before or After Workout? How to Get the Best Of Both Worlds

yoga before or after working out

Anyone interested in yoga has probably had some crossover into the fitness world, or visa versa. Whether you’re trying to sculpt your dream body or just seeking some mental grounding, yoga is the perfect complement to your gym workout routine.

But that doesn’t mean you should just hit the mat right before weight training or high energy workouts. In fact, research shows that this could be counterproductive to your fitness goals.

It turns out that the ordering and schedule of your workout movements seriously impacts your results. Let’s dive into the science behind whether or not you should do yoga before or after workout routines.

Short Answer: Should I Do Yoga Before or After Workout?

The simplest answer? Practice yoga after your workouts.

However, it is most ideal to schedule your yoga session on a different day entirely.

Yoga can be very complementary to gym and cardio training, but there are many factors that influence why yoga is best practiced on its own day.

Complementary or Contradictory? Gym Workouts vs. Yoga Fitness Routine

Practicing yoga as part of your gym or fitness routine has an abundance of benefits:

  • More strength
  • Improved mobility
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased oxygenation to muscles
  • Improved focus and mental strength
  • Coordinate mind-body connection
  • Helps improve muscle recovery

But these benefits mostly come from a yoga practice that is properly timed within your workout session.

Why You Shouldn’t Do Yoga Before the Gym

We all know that yoga can benefit just about everybody. But that doesn’t mean we should be doing it right before hitting the gym.

Here’s a few more reasons why you shouldn’t do yoga before the gym:

Static Stretching Reduces Muscle Power

Study after study has shown that static stretching (AKA holding long yoga poses) actually reduces your athletic performance. This is because a static stretch lengthens muscle fibers, thus reducing their ability to contract. Contraction (shortening the muscles) is what actually builds muscle mass.

Doing yoga before a weight training session is working against yourself.

This is more problematic in Yin Yoga or Iyengar Yoga classes that involve sustained poses. Flowing movements between asanas (as in a Vinyasa class) don’t pose nearly as much of a problem.

Yoga lengthens and you presumably are working out to strengthen. During sustained deep stretching, your muscles are drastically lengthening, which leads to less muscle contractions during your workout.

The result? Less muscle-building capacity.

Your muscles need to contract and shorten during a workout in order to get stronger. Yoga before a lifting session can impair this process.

Reduced Performance in the Gym

Contrary to the long-held belief that stretching reduces injuries, research has also revealed that stretching has little to no effect on the potential for injury.

Yoga actually weakens muscles, fascia, and tissues by extending your muscle fibers for a temporary time period. This can actually reduces the muscles ability to perform during a tough workout.

However, research shows that static stretching such as yoga is super beneficial when used in a separate training session. It can improve your range of motion and reduce muscle soreness. That’s why we recommend yoga on your rest days or a little while after your workout.

Dynamic Stretches are Better Pre-Workout

When it comes to pre workout yoga, it can be a great addition to your gym warm up routine as long as it involves purely dynamic stretches. Dynamic means controlled movements that warm up the muscles, ligaments, and active tissues. No asana is held for too long.

The result is increased blood flow and preparation for the workout ahead. Vinyasa yoga is the perfect option that won’t burn out the muscles before heavy lifting.

Benefits of Yoga After a Workout

We all know that a regular yoga practice can drastically improve our physical and mental health. But what are the impacts of a yoga routine on building muscle strength and endurance?

If you time your yoga session after a workout or on a separate rest day, the potential rewards are pretty incredible.

Faster Muscle Recovery

A gym training program breaks down muscle fibers so they can be built back stronger. Yoga helps muscles recover faster by increasing blood flow and oxygenation into your tissues.

The whole-body integration of small and large muscle groups in most yoga asanas helps deliver all the vital nutrients and circulation to those fibers to help them heal faster.

Improved Flexibility

Tight or stiff muscles is a common problem after exercise. This happens because the interlocking muscle fibers contract and shorten during your workout.

Yoga sessions after your workouts completely stretch those babies out so they can feel better quicker. Consistent dynamic stretching helps muscles heal more effectively by improving the flexibility.

Flexible muscles are also less injury-prone and cause less strain on your joints. Yoga after weightlifting can definitely help reduce the risk of joint pain or arthritis from intense training.

Slow Your Heart Rate

Doing a yoga class at the end of your workout is a perfect way to slow your heart rate and return to a normal resting phase. Think of it like a transition back into calmness.

The deep breathing associated with most yoga sessions activates your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the “rest and digest” state where your body can recover from the stress responses of working out (remember, stress isn’t always a bad thing).

Lowered Cortisol and Stress

Speaking of stress, cortisol is a natural stress hormone that is released during high intensity workouts. High levels of cortisol can lead to high blood pressure, muscle weakness, and even developing diabetes. Fortunately yoga and deep breathing exercises help to activate the vagus nerve (the largest nerve in your body linking your brain, heart, liver, and gut), thus lowering your cortisol. This is one of the many reasons that yoga is so effective for reducing anxiety and chronic stress.

Just remember that the workouts that produce stress responses are not as damaging as the chronic stress so common in our society. A little bit of challenge on the body is necessary for building muscle and endurance.

Incorporating that restorative yoga session in afterwards is the secret to simmering down your stress levels and getting out of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode) activated by high intensity exercise.

Cool Down and Sleep Better

A post-workout yoga practice chills out your muscles and helps your body return to a resting state. Flowing through your favorite asanas and practicing pranayama breathing is proven to cool the body, reduce muscle tension and even help you sleep better. There is also some evidence that a post-workout yoga practice significantly reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Cooling down is an essential part of your workout routine, so why not do some yoga for the added benefits of better sleep quality and less stress.

If you love hot yoga, consider only doing it on your rest days from the gym. Hot yoga after a weight training session could be too much overload on your body and actually slow your progress toward muscle gains or weight loss.

https://unsplash.com/photos/coiWR0gT8Cw

Best Yoga Poses for After a Workout

  • Pigeon Pose
  • Happy Baby
  • Downward Dog
  • Forward Fold
  • Cobra Pose
  • Child’s Pose
  • Warrior Pose

Is It Okay to Do Yoga Before a Workout?

It isn’t dangerous or risky to do yoga before a workout. You certainly can sneak in some asanas before hitting the gym, it just might decrease your performance.

If you must do yoga before working out, opt for fluid movements such as Sun Salutations or a Vinyasa flow. It’s recommended that you avoid anything too rigorous (like Bikram or Ashtanga) that might tire your muscles before lifting weights or doing cardio.

At the same time, you should be sure to stay moving. Static stretching (think Yin Yoga or holding long deep stretches) can actually reduce your performance in the gym without giving you any added protection from injuries.

Though it is ideal to practice yoga after your workout or on a separate day, you can still do yoga before your workout as long as it is dynamic and moderate-intensity. Flowing yoga postures can help raise your heart rate and warm up your muscles before weight training.

Best Yoga Poses for Before a Workout

  • Moderate Hot Yoga
  • Dynamic Cat/Cow
  • Sun Salutations
  • Dynamic Chair Pose (squatting up and down)
  • Goddess Pose
  • Half Wheel Pose

Yoga and Gym on Alternate Days

Contrary to popular belief, yoga can be a great standalone full-body workout. You don’t need to choose between yoga or the gym, rather you can schedule them on separate days for the best results.

There is plenty of evidence that yoga can torch some major calories while building strength, tone, and flexibility. Choosing the right type of yoga is key. Your decision about when to do yoga ultimately comes down to your fitness goals:

  • If you are trying to bulk up your muscle, try doing moderate intensity yoga on your rest days from the gym.
  • If you are trying to lose weight, opt for a more intensive Ashtanga or Power Yoga workout on its own.
  • If you want to use yoga as part of your pre workout stretching, choose dynamic medium-intensity flows like Vinyasa.
  • If you want to stretch out some major delayed onset muscle soreness in the 24-48 hours after your workout, do Yin yoga or deep yoga stretches on your rest days.

If you really want to do a yoga class on the same day as the gym, your best bet is separating them by several hours. For example, practicing yoga in the morning and going to the gym in the evening.

Better yet, go to the gym in the morning and hit the studio in the afternoon. This way, your muscles have plenty of time to recover between your yoga session and your workout.

Moral of the Story

At the end of the day, a yoga class is always going to have mental and physical health benefits. If you want to incorporate yoga into your workout routine to maximize your performance, it’s probably best that you do yoga after the gym or on a separate day altogether.

Research shows that pre-workout stretching isn’t necessarily helpful. But the evidence is clear that post-workout stretching is essential for curbing muscle soreness, improving your range of motion, reducing injury, and helping you build more muscle strength in the long run.

Why not sync your yoga practice with your weight training goals to get the best of both worlds?

Namaste!

FAQs

Is it bad to do yoga before working out?

It is not recommended to do yoga before your workouts. Many yoga poses use static stretching to hold one position for a long period of time. This static hold actually strains your muscle fibers and fascia, resulting in reduced performance during your workout.

If you do yoga after the gym, you are more likely to reap the benefits of both a yoga practice and your gym workout.

Should I do yoga or weights first?

Yoga is best done after a workout or on your rest days. This is because yoga stretches out your muscle fibers and reduces their ability to contract. Contraction is actually what builds muscle, so the weakened body tissues from doing yoga before a workout ultimately reduce your weight training performance.

Always do weight lifting first. If you prefer to stretch before lifting weights, opt for dynamic stretches like Vinyasa flows or Sun Salutations. Just be sure you don’t hold your poses too long or strain the muscles in a way that might reduce performance during your workout.

About Logan Hailey

Logan Hailey is a writer, entrepreneur, and vagabond yogi who lives in an school bus tiny home. She's a regular contributor on The Yoga Nomads. She travels the U.S. teaching about natural living, organic farming & gardening, and wilderness adventure. Keep up with her adventures on Instagram @ramblinfarmers.

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