The question will always creep up, in one form or another. Someone may ask how to include yoga into their strength training schedule. Someone else, who’s defined their fitness through bodybuilding workouts, wants to know how to get over the mental hurdle of cutting back on their gym time to start running outside.
It’s a normal maturation to broaden your methods and means of physical health and function after some time focused on one approach. And why shouldn’t it happen? With so many opportunities and the reduction in barriers to as many different experiences as we want, why shouldn’t we try as many things as possible?
But sticking your toe in everything and remaining an amateur in all is different from taking steps to deepen your skill and aptitude in multiple disciplines simultaneously. So, what’s it look like to practice a group of fitness/strength/movement methods in a way that creates a state of balance and familiarity with all sides of physicality while improving?
First, we have to understand that simultaneously doesn’t necessarily mean equal improvement. The quickest path to mastery is to focus single-mindedly on only one practice. There’s value in that—that can be a hero’s path. But if you find yourself to be someone who needs to do many things and not only one, there’s a path for you too.
Choose Additional Disciplines
If you’ve dedicated yourself to one phase of fitness, you can’t add more disciplines haphazardly. You have to decide what is most important, exciting, and likely to keep you engaged and interested now, and then put in the work to figure out how to improve all of them—not just one.
Limit Yourself to 2-3 Disciplines
It’s a good rule to limit yourself to two-three different practices, mainly if they are competing for demands such as high-intensity conditioning and powerlifting. But who am I to put limits on you based on my experience, perceptions, personal standards, or what I’ve read in books? Maybe you’re more powerful and resourceful than I can imagine. Just understand that the more pursuits you have, the more intelligently laid out your plan to practice and improve them must be.
While you must train all these facets simultaneously, you need to make sure you outline which take priority throughout a year. Yes, a year. You have to accept that this is a long game, and you need to set aside your desire for short term gratification.
I’ll use myself as an example because I’m pretty interested in myself. This year I set an objective to compete in:
- Olympic weightlifting
- Muay Thai
I’m pretty competitive.
The Backburner Isn’t Bad
If you want balance in all things physical, you’ll feel spontaneous pulls toward new, exciting activities and practices that you may not have planned in your well outlined year. It’s okay to start these other activities and play around whenever you want. Just concede that you will most definitely not improve past the initial beginning learning curve.
List them all out as they crop up in your mind and then decide what catches your attention. Then start doing it. Accept that you’re doing the new practices for the experience itself and to widen your knowledge and understanding of the learning process.
Also, be careful in picking things that will detract from what you are trying to improve. A one-week long yoga retreat will most likely not inhibit your weightlifting when you return, and it may even help. But training for a fifty mile run through the desert most definitely will affect your weightlifting.
There are sub-categories in each practice that should be labeled when you’re figuring out what you can physiologically and psychologically mesh together. I’ll run through a few to explain the idea.
All running is not equal. The training you complete for a marathon is different than the training you would do to increase your 100-meter time. Pacing for running a marathon will be different from strictly improving your one-mile time.
When identifying these sub-categories, you have to list out all of the demands (both physiologically and psychologically) to see not only what you need for the training but also what you can add. Once you identify the type of training that will be necessary for a 5k, you may decide that your goal of competing in your first physique show is incompatible. So, maybe you decide on a different category or form of fitness that brings you just as much satisfaction.
It’s way too naive to say that yoga, as a whole, will help improve your performance in a barbell sport, assuming you're coming at this from the strength side first and not the other way around. But this is what you hear from every direction.
Yoga helps this, and yoga helps that. But the problem is that there are different approaches in yoga, and even within these approaches, it can differ from studio to studio and teacher to teacher.
Some styles are more of an athletic type of yoga for strength and balance:
While other styles of yoga are slower and more gentle with long holds and focus on positioning:
So, if you were looking at yoga as a workout, you’d want the first types, but if you’re looking at it as a restorative method, you’d be more interested in the second group.
It’s essential to make these distinctions instead of applying a label to yoga as a general, restorative practice when the sub-categories can have so many different influences. If your priority is rock climbing and, you are interested in adding yoga to be strictly a meditative activity to improve flexibility and body awareness and helps you recover, then the proper type needs to be chosen.
With the growth in popularity of MMA, there’s no difficulty finding a place to practice striking or grappling arts. Martial arts have been pretty easily accessible for a long time, but the rise of general gyms that offer boxing or kickboxing classes or small clubs of Brazilian jiu-jitsu renting space out of commercial gyms is much more commonplace than it used to be.
If you decide you want to use your body physically in a new and challenging way that teaches you a different flow, fluidity, and control of movement like many forms of martial arts does take some care in choosing what will fit with your current practices rather than doing what jumps out at you immediately.
Again, that’s not to say that in a few months you can’t change up everything and focus first on that fighting style to which you’re most drawn. When you’re adding a fighting practice to other forms of physical training and not subtracting anything, you need to think about how this new demand will affect your progress in what you’ve been trying to improve.
If you’re a super-heavyweight competitive powerlifter, still concerned with rising in the ranks, with shoulders that have only been used to bench press for many years, Brazilian jiu-jitsu may not be for you. The flexibility in the shoulders, hips, and spine that you’d need to improve in this practice would be compromised if you kept pushing forward in powerlifting, but you’d also probably be injured.
If, however, you’re willing to give up some size, strength, and stiffness valuable to your powerlifting total, then it’s a different story. In that case, you could do both. But if you’re still more concerned about your powerlifting performance, you’d need to consider other options. You are maybe practicing boxing once a week would be an activity with enough novelty to keep your mind engaged and your curiosity in trying new things satisfied.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu could be a more natural step for an Olympic weightlifter or rock climber who has more base mobility and has practiced different whole body coordinated efforts.
Maybe you like to do triathlons and need to opt for an even gentler martial art.
Evaluate and Decide
It is important to remember to evaluate what you think you would like to pursue:
- Choose what makes you happy and prevents undue limitation.
Taking the time to consider your interests, capabilities, and the different modalities that mesh with your current practices will help you select the new disciplines that will keep you engaged for the long game.
Part 2 will explain how to develop a flexible plan to help you integrate these new practices smoothly into your training. The time spent to create your plan will go a long way to prevent problems and injuries later in the year.
Jesse competes in the sport of Olympic weightlifting and he was also formerly a competitive powerlifter. He has been featured in main strength and fitness publications. You can read more from him on his website.