Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Yoga Supersets

My sister discovered this and sent it along.

10-Minute Yoga Supersets

Essentially, instead of moving between poses and then holding them for a single long hold, you alternate between 3 poses that work opposing muscles and do that for multiple repetitions. Technically, this is a tri-set not a superset, or a circuit, but "superset" is a fairly vague term and it can be used to cover tri-sets and giant sets (4 exercises) without confusing things.

This is an interesting idea for a few reasons:

It bridges the gap between isometric holds (yoga poses) and isotonic movements (calisthenics). While yoga does involve movement, it's generally movement into a static posture that is held for anything from a short time to an extended time. Calisthenics are isotonic exercises, in which muscles and joints move through a range of motion against resistance. Some of these poses are quite strenuous to get into, so doing so repeatedly makes them more of a calisthenic exercise than a yoga pose.

It bridges the gap between yoga and gymnastics. Floor gymnastics exercises look a lot like flowing from pose to pose, and so will this. A planche pushup is really just a very difficult pose combined with motion. So is an L-pullup.

It accepts the idea that strength is built in motion against resistance, not just statically in a posture. You'll occasionally hear about yoga lengthening and toning muscles, how you don't strain joints moving weights, or other nonsense. You don't get that here. You get instead the idea that yoga poses are strength training, and it can be done statically for one long rep or repeatedly for many reps to gain strength and endurance in motion and not just endurance in position. You can even add resistance, and the article suggests how for each pose. Hmmm...resisted bodyweight exercises. So a dip with chains or a pushup against bands isn't really that far off from yoga, really. I'm not surprised but it's nice to see that.

You get better at what you practice. So yogi will get better at holding poses if that's all they do. Your body will adapt to that and then it'll stop adapting unless you make it harder. You might be great in postures but have a hard time getting into postures. This is practicing the latter. Additionally, it's forcing your body to adapt to more than one kind of stimulus. Besides static holds you are telling it you want to move with strength and do it repeatedly. It will adapt to this, too, but it's harder, and it's probably easier to load.

The only thing I really twitched at in the article was the end of this paragraph:

"Bodybuilders and exercise physiologists have known about the benefits of the superset technique for years, and it’s time we brought it onto the mat. Supersets are three back-to back sets of 5 to 30 repetitions, each done utilizing opposing muscle groups until you can barely finish the last few moves. This will trick your muscles into creating more muscle fibers to handle their new responsibilities, even if you’re not working out all the time."

The phrase "trick your muscles" is about as correct as "muscle confusion" is - you don't need to trick or fool your body. You aren't doing it, even if you pretend you are. What you are doing is demonstrating a need to your body and it'll respond to that need. It's not fooled . . . it would be fooling your body if you somehow found a way to get it to build muscle without challenging it by doing strength-based exercises. The phrase "creating more muscle fibers" is inaccurate. Muscles grow either by hypertrophy (increased muscle fiber size, and increased non-muscular supporting structures and fluids) or hyperplasia (splitting one fiber into multiple fibers). There is no evidence that human muscles undergo hyperplasia, so "creating more muscle fibers" is just inaccurate. A better way to explain this would be "This will force your body to compensate by increasing your muscular size and strength" rather than "Trick your body into creating more muscle fibers."

All in all, I can't see how adding this would be a bad thing for a yogi's workout. It fills a nice little gap - bodyweight movements/strength training/cardiovascular exercise - that exists in normal yoga. Which isn't to say yoga isn't hard, or won't make you strong, or improve your cardiovascular fitness. But it's not going to work exactly the same was as doing bodyweight exercises in a no-rest superset will, as the (experienced yogi) author notes in the article.

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