It’s not surprising to find powerlifters who struggle with mobility and flexibility and so a commonly asked question is whether implementing yoga practice into your training could help.
Should powerlifters do yoga? Powerlifters can take many benefits from poses and stretches that originate from yoga practice, especially when it comes to flexibility and mobility; however, formally practicing yoga on a regular basis is not necessary unless it is something you enjoy and wish to include for yourself.
Yoga practice encompasses many elements, but the branch of yoga known as Hatha Yoga is the one involving long poses along with breathing and meditation. The poses in this style of yoga will get your joints moving throughout many ranges of motion with low stress and impact.
So while yoga may not be your key to winning your next competition, it may help keep you performing at your best long term.
In this article I will go over:
- The benefits of yoga for powerlifters
- Whether you need to sign up for yoga classes
- 6 poses that all powerlifters should do
- Some FAQs related to yoga and powerlifting
How Can Yoga Benefit Powerlifters?
Yoga is often looked at as a good way to improve overall mobility, but when it comes to powerlifting there are some specific ways in which it will translate to your training and possibly even recovery.
Increase Your Bench Arch
Arching for the bench press comes down to one’s thoracic spine mobility.
Often we see those in the women’s division have larger arches because they tend to have better mobility in the thoracic spine.
However, many yoga stretches and poses target the thoracic spine area and would ultimately help you reach that arch you’ve always dreamed of.
To learn more about arching in the bench press check out our article here:The Bench Press Arch (How To Do It, Benefits, Is It Safe)
Improve Sumo Deadlift and Squat Stance
For those who struggle with the sumo deadlift, yoga may offer stretches and poses that target external hip mobility.
This can also translate into squat hip mobility especially if you have a wider squat stance. Yoga also places a lot of emphasis on spending time in certain positions and can help these positions not only feel more comfortable, but also balanced and strong.
For more information on improving hip mobility, check out: How To Increase Hip Mobility For Squats: 13 Drills To Follow
Improve Squat Depth
Poor squat depth can often be a result of poor ankle mobility and yoga can help target your ankles as well as calves to improve the range of motion at the joint.
Squat depth is important for both competitive powerlifters because of the rules, as well as recreational powerlifters who wish to get the full strength and muscle building benefits of squatting below parallel.
For more information on squatting to depth check out this article: 22 Exercises To Improve Squat Depth (That Actually Work)
Help Breathing and Bracing
We often forget that yoga is about more than just stretches and movements, but it has a lot to do with breathing.
Yoga teaches the concept of belly breathing which is about bringing awareness to your belly when inhaling and exhaling, a concept familiar to powerlifters since it is how you initiate bracing your core.
For anyone who struggles in bringing awareness to their breath and coordinating a good brace, slowing things down and learning to control the breath through yoga may prove to be helpful!
Need more information on the importance of breathing? Make sure to read:
- Proper Breathing Technique For Squats (Step-By-Step)
- How To Breathe Correctly In The Bench Press (Step by Step)
- How to Breathe Properly In The Deadlift (Step by Step)
Improve Focus and Stress Management
While this isn’t a physical benefit where you can easily measure progress, being able to improve focus and manage stress is something worth noting.
Yoga is used as a recovery tool by some athletes as it is low impact and just doing what is within your abilities is strongly encouraged. Yoga is a meditative practice at the end of the day and there is nothing quite like a training session where you can have a clear mind and are not being dragged by the stresses of life.
Therefore, yoga can be a great addition for those who find they need to regulate their minds a bit more and manage stress outside of the physical stress being induced by weight training.
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
Do Powerlifters Need Yoga Classes To Get Those Benefits?
In order to reap the benefits of yoga as a powerlifter you may choose to go to yoga classes or you may not, it is ultimately up to you.
It is not necessary to invest in a yoga studio membership or any sort of regular paid instruction in order to get what you’re looking for out of yoga. There are various free resources on the internet to help guide you based on what you’re looking for.
I found this list of yoga YouTube channels to be helpful.
If you are mostly looking for the physical mobility benefits, learning some movements and stretches and just adding them into your warm-up routine or off day activity can go a long way.
Similarly, focusing on your breath and finding time to meditate can be just as helpful for the mental health benefits.
Yoga classes may be a good option if you find it will get you to stick to it, or if you find a benefit of the community aspect and ultimately are looking for something more out of it than just greater ankle mobility.
Yoga For Powerlifting: 6 Yoga Poses Every Powerlifter Should Do
If you’re not sure where to start, here are 6 yoga poses to start including in either your warm up, cool down or on an active recovery day.
Pigeon pose is a great hip opener pose but can be advanced for anyone who has very tight hips, but modifications can be made by removing the forward fold or keeping a smaller angle at the knee.
To perform pigeon you will need to do the following:
- Start in a lunge with your back knee on the ground
- Take the front leg and place it in front of you on the ground with your toes pointing to the side of the room
- Sink into your hips making sure not to twist in any one direction and just stay square to the front of the room
- Place your arms in front of you and slowly in your way down with the goal being to fold over completely on the ground
- Hold for 20 sec then repeat with the other leg
2. Cat Cow
Cat cow is one of those universal movements that many have likely done, not realizing its origins in yoga practice. It is great for the thoracic spine when warming up for bench press and can help give temporary relief to back pain.
To perform the cat cow you will need to do the following:
- Start in a position on your hands and knees on the ground and your legs roughly shoulder width apart
- From this starting point you will curl your back up toward the sky and tuck your chin and glutes inward, hold for a few seconds
- Then do the opposite movement and arch the upper and lower back and bring your head up, hold for a few seconds
- This movement is mean to be done in a dynamic way with just short holds done in both the cat (curled) and cow (arch) positions
3. Downward Facing Dog
The Downward Facing Dog is a pretty common yoga position and is often used as a transition pose for flow-style yoga but it is an incredible position for stretching the calves, hamstrings and back. This one is especially great for those with ankle mobility issues.
To perform the downward facing dog you will need to do the following:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
- Reach for the ground with your hands, palms flat
- Walk your hands out until you feel elongated through both your upper and lower bodies
- Your heels should stay flat on the ground, but if you have tight calves or poor ankle mobility this will be especially difficult
- You may pedal with your feet by raising and dropping the heels and warming up the calves to help make you more comfortable
Tip: To add a hip opening exercise, raise one leg up in the air with the knee slightly bent and open up the hip to the side of the room for what is called the three-legged downward dog
4. Thread the Needle
Thread the needle is a name used for two different stretches, but in this case we’re talking about the upper body twist that will feel incredible for your shoulders and upper back and serves as a great warm up for bench and squats in particular.
To perform thread the needle pose you will need to do the following:
- Start on your hand and knees with feet and hands about shoulder width apart
- Raise one hand off the ground while balancing on the other and out and up for the sky and scoop it
- toward the ground and thread it under the other arm
- The arm that was threaded should be stretched out and resting on the ground
- Your head and should should also resting on the ground as you stay in this twisted back position
- Hold for a few seconds and then switch sides
5. Frog Pose
Frog post is a great post for opening up the hips and is usually held as a static stretch but can be made dynamic if you add a little bit of a rocking motion from front to back. This is great for prepping for squats or sumo deadlifts or just stretching the inner thighs.
In order to perform the frog post you will need to do the following:
- In a kneeling position with legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart, place both palms on the ground in front of you
- From here you can move your knees out if it feels comfortable, until you can feel a light stretch in the inner thigh
6. Forward Fold
Forward fold is a fairly simple stretch that you can use as a recovery tool to release whole body tension or even to stretch out the hamstrings and calves.
To perform the forward fold you will need to do the following:
- Start in a standing position with feet together
- Take in a deep breath and start to hinge at the hip, with your torso coming on to your legs
- You may bend your knees slightly to make this more comfortable
- Take in another deep breath and reach for the ground with your hands and let your head and neck relax
Tip: you can also cross your arms over your head and use the weight of your body to swing gently.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Yoga Good For Weightlifters?
Yoga can definitely be good for weightlifters, if not more so than for powerlifters. This is because weightlifting places higher mobility demands on the athlete especially with thoracic mobility due to the front rack position, holding overhead and ankle and hip mobility for the snatch.
Does Yoga Help Deadlifts?
Yoga can help hip mobility for those who wish to pull in a sumo stance, may be beneficial if you have tight hamstrings for those who pull conventional. For all lifts, yoga can do a good job of teaching us how to control our breath and brace with more power.
Is Flexibility Important For Powerlifting?
Flexibility is not necessarily super important in powerlifting, but mobility is. While you definitely don’t need to be a gymnast, your joints need to be able to move within certain ranges of motion in order to effectively perform various lifts, especially the squat which requires hip and ankle mobility.
Can Yoga Make You Stronger/Build Muscle?
Yoga can to some extent help build and maintain muscle because of certain styles of practice requiring you to hold up your body weight for extended periods of time. However, the purpose of yoga is not muscle building and even if it was it wouldn’t directly translate to stronger total in a powerlifting sense because of lack of specificity.
Elements of yoga practice can be very helpful for many athletes including powerlifters.
This is because the various poses and stretches can help support our mobility as well as help bring awareness to breathing and help with overall stress management.
While your main focus can still stay lifting weights, sprinkling in some low impact activity to help support recovery will likely only help and not hurt your progress.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.