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Cross-Train With Yoga for Power, Flexibility

By Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Looking to add more oomph to your regular workouts? Power up your fitness program by cross-training with yoga.

"Yoga is a wonderful active-recovery workout for non-training days," says Kristin McGee, BFA, a certified yoga and Pilates instructor in New York City. It can improve balance and stability, build strength and stamina, help recovery, lower injury risk, and help you relax, focus, and control your breathing—all of which boost your other workouts.

Your Workout

If you run: Yoga is great for runners because it stretches your quads, hip flexors, and lower back. It improves your posture and breathing, too. Try power yoga, which works your upper body and can offset imbalances from relying on your legs.             

If you swim: "Vinyasa and Ashtanga are perfect for swimmers," McGee says. "Each pose is linked to the breath and flows together just like swimming." These types of yoga also work your muscles, which helps you swim better.

If you bike: Try Bikram yoga, a.k.a. hot yoga. "The sweat factor is high, so hardcore spinners and cyclists feel like they're getting a good, sweaty workout," McGee says. Plus, many poses open up your chest, hips, and upper back, which can offset those hours you spend hunched over a bike.

If you do cardio: Cardio classes can tighten your muscles, so lengthening and strengthening are a good thing. Try Iyengar yoga, a slower style that pairs strengthening with deep stretching.

Your Plan

"I tell my clients to do yoga 2 to 3 days a week to keep muscles flexible," McGee says. Do it at home with a DVD or an app.

"You don't have to do yoga classes all of the time to reap the benefits," she says. Do a few downward dogs, planks, chaturangas, warriors, and lunges before you work out. Post-workout, try static stretches like forward bends, hip openers, and deep twists.

Remember: Cross-training should enhance your fitness program, not harm it. Don't push yourself into poses that don't feel right.

Power Poses

To strengthen specific muscle groups, perform these yoga poses.

Downward dog: By holding this position, you strengthen your arms and legs. It's great for calves, shins, and thighs, and it targets your buttocks and hips.

Locust: The locust strengthens muscles by engaging your lower and rear deltoids, back, hamstrings, and buttocks.

Warrior: This deep lunge uses your front leg to work your quads, hips, and buttocks while engaging your back legs to work your inner and outer thighs, hips, and buttocks.

Chaturanga: The chaturanga is similar to a narrow push-up. It uses your own body weight to improve muscle tone in your pectorals, rear deltoids, and triceps.

Expert Tip

"After I work out, I love to do passive yoga stretches and even meditation to reap the benefits and thank my mind, body, and breath for all it does for me." -- Kristin McGee, BFA

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on November 15, 2013

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