Kayla, is [yoga, barre, spin] a good workout?
Oh, this question. One of those questions I get asked fairly often by both friends and readers. Today I’m tackling whether or not yoga is a good workout and over the next few weeks I’ll break down spin and barre… and any other reader requests As always, this is just my humble opinion as one personal trainer, new yoga teacher and fitness enthusiast.
So, what even constitutes a “good workout?” Imma make a cruel assumption and say that most people equate a “good” workout with one that supports weight loss. I’m the first person to say that working out is definitely not just about losing weight and aesthetics, but I also know that for many people this is the goal. Not everyone enjoys working out for the sake of working out and that’s cool, so they want the best bang for their buck.
For arguments sake, I’m also going to open up the definition of “good workout” to be one that simply supports overall healthiness — making sure your body moves efficiently so you don’t get hurt in every day life, it keeps your heart healthy, gives you a sweet endorphin rush and yes, supports weight loss.
Yoga comes in many shapes and forms, so I’ll be focusing on traditional vinyasa classes since it’s the most common in NYC and with the gym going crowd. So, is yoga a good workout?
The quick answer- yes, and no, and I don’t think it really matters…
Yes, yoga is a good workout.
Yoga builds strength. Body weight exercises (think push-ups, air squats, plank) are awesome because they help you build strength without the use of an equipment, and yoga is chock full of these movements. Chair pose? Secretly a squat. Chatarunga? Tricep push-up in disguise.
A consistent vinyasa yoga practice can no doubt increase your overall strength.
Any movement is good movement. There’s a reason New Yorkers are secretly so fit (and not just because Soul Cycle was born here)– we walk A LOT. We live in 3rd floor walk-ups. In the same way walking supports fitness in New Yorkers, I like to think that any movement is good movement and better than sitting around on the couch watching Netflix. Yoga gets your body moving in space for 60-90 minutes.
It encourages mindfulness which ultimately supports weight loss. This bullet point might be a little too woo-woo for some, but bare with me.
Yoga encourages mindfulness, the practice is all about focusing on your breath and quieting the excess chatter in your mind. This mindfulness will stay with you throughout the day and in turn help you make healthier decisions (seriously, this has been proven in research).
Eh, yoga is not really a good workout.
It doesn’t burn a ton of calories. Even if you’re sweaty and breathing heavy in the hardest power flow vinyasa class, the calorie burn tends to be surprising low.
Weight loss is all about creating a calorie deficit– you’re burning more calories than you take in. If weight loss is the goal, yoga might not be the most efficient way to create that calorie deficit compared to circuit training, strength training and cardio intervals.
It doesn’t get your heart rate up enough. Sure, your heart might be pounding after a intense round of sun salutations, but it’s not the most effective cardio workout out there, and cardiovascular exercise is important for your heart health. The amount yoga raises your heart rate isn’t enough for it to count as a “good” cardio workout.
You’re missing out on pulling actions. Yoga is a lot of pushing– in a lot of moves you’re literally pushing the floor but lacks any pulling actions (think literally pulling a door, or in the gym a lat pull down). If you’re doing a lot of yoga but no other strength training, you could be creating a muscle imbalance which could ultimately lead to injury.
My rotator cuff injury a few years ago was the perfect example of this– I have a very tight chest and weaker back muscles which eventually left me with tendonitis since I wasn’t using my rotator cuff efficiently.
So, does it even matter?
It probably sounds like I’m hating on yoga and telling you not to hit the mat. That’s definitely not the case. While hitting the mat 6 days a week and doing nothing else might not be the most efficient way to lose weight, there’s certainly benefits beyond calories burned and how toned your triceps will become.
As one of my teachers during Yoga Teacher Training so eloquently worded it “Yoga isn’t about getting a tighter ass, it’s about getting your head out of your ass”.
The benefits of yoga, and exercise, go beyond losing weight and “looking good.” If it makes you feel good, keep doing it. I love this article which explains 38 (!!) benefits of yoga. So yeah, yoga is pretty awesome.
Yoga is a great and in my opinion integral part of any fitness routine. It can be the bread and butter of how you workout but I do still recommend implementing some additional strength training (especially exercises that require pulling) and a cardiovascular component as well.
Photography by Lydia Hudgens