Should I do yoga on rest days? Does it help with recovery?
February 10th 2019
In the past, I have done yoga while I was strength training. I wondered if I should do yoga on my rest days and whether or not it helps with recovery?
It depends on what yoga practice you want to begin with. There are many different yoga styles, ranging from very passive, mindful meditation to very active, sweat dripping yoga. For the most part, yoga was not meant to be taken lightly as many poses place huge amounts of stress on your shoulders, wrists, back, neck, hips, and hamstrings.
Do not get my words twisted. Yoga is helpful and for certain people, it is absolutely something they should consider. However, it is important to acknowledge what goals you have and how yoga can help you.
Strength training yoga - Ashtanga
One style of yoga I practiced was Ashtanga yoga, which was a very structured vinyasa style practice. Vinyasa is a style of yoga that is characterized by piecing together poses so that they flow into one another, using your breath.
Ashtanga has up to six series; each practitioner must master every pose of the first series before moving onto the next one. Ashtanga yoga originated from Mysore, India from a legendary instructor Sri Pattabhi Jois.
To learn how intense this practice is, here is a demonstration from six of Sri Pattabhi Jois’s experienced students.
It is a beauty to watch, but what is the purpose of Ashtanga yoga? One of the fundamental purposes of the Ashtanga practice is to purify the body and mind. By constantly moving with accuracy and power, the practitioner develops a strong sense of awareness and growth.
Benefits for doing Ashtanga Yoga
I am sure you have seen the video I linked above by now. You can imagine that this yoga practice needs to be done daily. (You would be correct). The benefits for dedicating time to master this practice is similar to any other yoga practice - flexibility, peace, clarity, and stress management. However, you may have also noticed how physically demanding almost every single pose is in this sequence. Strength gains are another added benefit to consider if you do decide to focus on Ashtanga.
So, there are a couple of choices you can choose from. So, let us analyze each of them fully before we jump to any conclusions.
Practice every day in addition to strength training
Actually, this was what I did when I was back in college. I practiced 5 times a week very early in the morning and I practiced once a week on my own. I managed to get through the primary series and was working on perfecting a few poses that were giving me trouble.
At the time, I did not feel too worn out from the yoga practice. However, it did cut into my sleep. Reflecting back at those times, I did not hit any PRs during that time but I was also doing a strength training block at the time.
So, with hindsight, it did feel good to practice yoga but it did not give me any carryover strength into my main lifts - the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press. It did help with my flexibility but I was flexible enough to get into most of my starting positions. In fact, you could say I made sure I had sufficient mobility for all my lifts.
Would I do it again? Most likely not as I am trying to focus on my goals to strength train. However, my mobility did suffer but it is not been a weakness so far.
This is one strategy I would not recommend for any serious lifter looking to break his/her own personal records (PRs). It could be helpful in a certain period of time where you are building up muscle and working on your mobility if that is a weakness. For long term usage, I really do not see how viable it is for a strength athlete.
You can practice every rest day with a strength training yoga
This would usually mean you have about 3-5 rest days a week. In my opinion, it really depends on what your goals are. If you are a very serious powerlifter or strength training athlete, you may not do yoga at all. You can gain enough mobility by training your movements in the way you want to. For instance, if you have trouble narrowing your squat grip, try to slowly narrow your grip one finger width at a time. Practice your new grip for a week and for the next week, try to get another finger width narrower.
It is not rocket science. It all starts with a plan and making small steps to accomplish that goal. As for doing yoga while strength training, I just do not see the benefits of doing a strength-based style yoga that really pushes you to hit poses.
Restorative yoga during rest days
This is probably the only yoga style I would find helpful. If you are in any yoga class, you may be tempted to push yourself more to get a deeper stretch. If you are thinking logically, this would not help you directly in adding more pounds to your PRs.
Instead, you should think about dialing back and relaxing. Slow movements and resting for long periods of time in zen-like fashion are great signs that this style of yoga may actually help you actively recover. Usually, this involves deep reflection and body awareness to learn and feel when your body is being pushed to its limit or not. Doing modifications and relaxing can do wonders for your psyche.
HIIT on off days
What about HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training? Should you do HIIT on off days? Again, it depends on your goals.
Are you trying to set new personal records in a future competition? You may want to think about maximizing your time to focus on your main lifts rather than worry about what you should do on your off days. Your time will be better spent doing nothing and minimizing stress in order to recover for your next workout.
However, does this mean you can be a couch potato on all your rest days? Definitely not. Taking a brief jog occasionally will not cause you to lose all your gains. In fact, it may help you increase your work capacity and improve your cardiovascular health.
Cardio on off days
What about cardio? Is cardio okay to do on off days? Well, it depends on your goals and what you want in life.
Are you trying to lose weight and stay in shape? If yes, doing cardio on your off days may be one alternative option for you. Why? Because losing weight is about maintaining a caloric deficit. In addition to watching your caloric intake, you can aid the process by burning a few extra calories by doing more cardio. Be aware that you will not be burning a massive amount of calories by doing cardio in your rest days.
Should I do push-ups on off days?
Again, you need to ask yourself what your goals are. If you are just finished two upper body workouts in a row, is it wise to do push-ups on your off days? Probably not.
However, if your goal is to get bigger arms and a wider chest, would doing more push-ups help you gain more size? It will make a difference since the push-ups will help you train your upper body.
Overall, it is difficult to say whether or not you should do push-ups on your off days. How hard are you pushing yourself on your training days? Are you really killing it in the gym? Or are you giving it a lethargic effort? It greatly matters as you will notice significant differences in energy levels and what activities you can accomplish.
What can I do on rest days?
So, what is the best thing to do on your rest days? I have referenced above a video I found valuable from one of my mentors. Elliot Hulse goes over some important tips you can implement in your life to make sure you maximize your training.
Instead of sitting around with poor posture playing video games, Elliot Hulse recommends that you take a long walk, preferably in nature. Wake up a little earlier than you would be and go for a walk in nature. At the same time, you can learn new ideas during your long walk by listening to e-books or practice positive affirmations.
Stretching and Deep breathing
After hard training sessions, your body will tighten up. Doing stretches and deep breathing exercises will allow you to break up muscle knots and release your body from neurotic holding patterns that your body clings onto.
Massage your feet
If your body was a tree, your feet are the roots of your existence. Making sure tension is released from your feet really allows you to be able to train harder, breathe deeper, and be more grounded.
I usually stand on my pair of light dumbbells at home. If you do not have a pair, you can get a 2lb pair here. I wear size 9 shoes so these dumbbells are bigger than the width of my feet. Unless you have size 12+ feet, you may need a bigger dumbbell to use. Anyway, you just stand on the dumbbell one foot at a time and apply pressure to different areas of your foot. Allow the dumbbell to massage your foot and break up the tension.