Gwen Lawrence, the yoga coach for the New York Giants who has also worked for the New York Rangers, the New York Knicks, and New York Yankee players including Alex Rodriguez, as well as New York City Football Club and many other athletes and celebrities, demonstrates 8 weight-training moves to strengthen your yoga practice.
As someone who practices yoga and lifts weights (I even created a hybrid workout that combines the two in my book Body Sculpting with Yoga: The Revolutionary Way to Sculpt and Shape Your Body), I believe that weight training can enhance the benefits of yoga. Weight training will increase a yogi’s strength, helping you achieve challenging poses like Handstand and Crow. You will build muscle and burn more fat, even at rest; increase bone density; and see more definition. The following 8 exercises will make you stronger and even improve your balance. I would suggest using 5–7 pound free weights for most of the following exercises, building up to 7–10 pound weights as you advance, and lighter 2-pound weights for shoulder work. Set a timer and do as many reps as possible in 5 minutes so you can listen to your favorite music without worrying about counting reps.
You will need: Two 5–7 pound free weights, two 2-pound free weights, one kettlebell, a yoga mat, and six yoga blocks (or a bench).
1. Triceps Presses
Triceps Presses help you build strength for poses where you need to push up, like Upward Plank and Cobra.
Stack your yoga blocks as shown (or use a bench or a sturdy chair). With your palms flat, walk your legs out so your bottom is hanging. Bend your elbows as deeply as you can on the inhale so they point behind you, gently squeezing the shoulder blades toward each other, and on the exhale, straighten your arms. Hold your belly firm.
2. Biceps Curls
Bicep Curls help you build arm strength for poses like Supported Headstand and Tripod Headstand, as well as strong static postures like Side Plank.
Stand with your free weights in each hand, with your arms hanging down and your palms facing your body. Exhale and bend both elbows fully until your palms are facing your chest. Inhale as you slowly straighten your arms.
3. Lateral Shoulder Raises
Lateral Shoulder Raises will help you build upper body strength for poses like Downward-Facing Dog, Handstand, and Headstand. Note: You may want to use your lighter weights for this exercise.
Stand with a weight in each hand and your arms straight down by your sides with your palms facing your thighs. On the exhale, slowly lift both arms straight out to shoulder height, then lower them down on the inhale.
4. Twisted Root Abdominals
Building strong abs is key for Plank and for all balance poses, especially single-leg balances like Eagle Pose and Tree Pose.
Lie down on your back on your mat with your knees bent and your feet flat. Cross the right thigh over the left thigh (Eagle legs). Put your hands behind your head. As you exhale, bring your knees toward your forehead and your forehead toward your knees at the same time. Inhale, release halfway and repeat. Do it for 2 1/2 minutes, then switch the twist of the legs.
5. Chest Press
Strong chest muscles are key for Chaturanga and static holds utilizing upper body strength like Crow and Dolphin Pose.
Lie down on your back on your yoga blocks as shown (you can also do this on a bench instead of using yoga blocks). Start with your arms fully extended up to the sky, palms facing away from you. Inhale and bend the elbows as much as you can, retracting the shoulder blades. Exhale and straighten the arms.
Lunges build strong quads for Garland Pose and the Warrior series.
Stand with a weight in each hand. Inhale and step the right foot far enough forward so that you can get a 90-degree angle in the right knee as the left knee gently touches the ground. Exhale and push off the right foot and back to starting position. Hold the belly firm for better balance. Alternate sides as many times as you can for the 5-minute period.
7. One-Leg Deadlifts With a Kettlebell
One-Leg Deadlifts build strong hamstrings for Standing Split and balance poses like Eagle and Lord of the Dance.
Hold your kettlebell by the handle in your right hand. Stand on your left leg with your left knee slightly bent. Inhale while you start to bend or “hinge” over from the hip. Keeping your back straight, extend the right leg back behind you. Lower until your right leg, torso, and head are parallel to the floor. Exhale while you return upright. Do 5 minutes, then repeat on the other side.
8. Back Rows
Back Rows build strength in your back for poses where your heart needs to lead your head, like Upward-Facing Dog.
Place three of your yoga blocks in a vertical line on your mat, and place your left knee on top of the bottom block as shown. Place your left hand flat on the top block, and hold a weight in your right hand. Exhale as you bend your right elbow behind you, bringing the weight up to the side of your chest. Keep your arm close to your body, squeezing the shoulder blades toward each other. Inhale, straighten your arm. Do as many reps as you can for the full 5 minutes, then switch sides.