Yoga for Bodybuilders: The Ali Kamenova Interview
This year, I’m turning 40, and after having been engaged in a serious bodybuilding regimen for the last five years, I started thinking about adding flexibility and agility training to my program. I’d never quit bodybuilding, but I felt like I could benefit from introducing some other types of training into my schedule.
Two months ago, I stumbled across a YouTube video titled Yoga for Bodybuilders, and I gave it a try. It was difficult, but I had a feeling it would beneficial—I just didn’t know how beneficial. Of course, my flexibility began to improve, but better yet, the chronic pain in my lower back (which had been with me for years) started to subside.
Although I was taking a chance by introducing the topic of yoga to the Strength Advocate platform, my experience was just too important to keep to myself. I was able to track down the Yoga for Bodybuilders instructor Ali Kamenova, and she was gracious enough to agree to this interview. I’m very happy to share her perspective with all of you.
When did you first consider the advantage yoga could have for bodybuilders? I actually got into weightlifting and bodybuilding before I started practicing yoga, so as soon as I discovered yoga and started practicing it, I noticed the huge benefits it can have on my strength, range of motion, and body awareness in terms staying focused on correct alignment and technique while weightlifting.
Ever since I started teaching yoga, I have seen it time and time again where a bodybuilder is able to take their performance to the next level because of improved alignment, flexibility, and range of motion which is very necessary and a game changer for any professional or amateur athlete.
What are some challenges bodybuilders have with yoga, and how do you help your clients overcome these challenges? The main challenge I see is decreased joint and muscle flexibility. The way I approach this issue is by starting off with the basics and then gradually deepen the poses and exercises that I give to my clients. Another challenge is something less specific. It’s the attitude some guys have towards yoga. It takes a while for someone that is used to heavy lifting to realize the profound effects something as simple and seemingly (only before one tries yoga) easy as yoga has on their actual strength, focus, performance and overall health. One of the main benefits of yoga is that it teaches you how to breathe correctly. It also teaches how to go deep into your breath and coordinate it with your movement, which allows you to focus your strength in a more efficient way. The ability to breath correctly will enhance an athlete’s performance no matter what the sport that he or she is engaged in.
After someone incorporates yoga into their lifestyle, what are some of the most immediate benefits they can expect (physically, mentally, or spiritually)? Ah, I could write a book trying to answer this question, and I wouldn’t be able to scratch the surface. Yoga has multiple benefits ranging from purely physical, to mental to truly spiritual. After a good yoga session, one generally can experience an enhanced sense of calm and wellbeing which is hard to describe. Yoga originally was developed as a system used by monks in order to prepare them for meditation, and that’s the way I can describe one of the most powerful benefits of yoga – it puts me in a Zen meditative state of empty mind for the rest of the day. It’s a feeling of “calm” that is hard to achieve with any other exercises that I have come across. This is a psychological and emotional benefit that, in our crazy, angry, and stressed out world, is of extreme value. Yoga is also great for anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, OCD, rage, anger, or any other emotional and psychological issues and disorders.
Another benefit which is more spiritual is allowing the practitioner to experience a sense of connectedness to higher consciousness or source, if you will. One doesn’t need to be religious or even believe in any type of God or Supreme Power in order to experience this. It’s a sense of quiet realization of the interconnectedness of all and that “it is all within”.
Of course, we are in the west, and yoga is very trendy here for its hormone balancing, weight loss, body shaping, booty lifting and ab building benefits. One of the most common emails I get from people discovering my online classes is that yoga helped them with their body image and self-love, and it has allowed them to build a healthy self-esteem and desire to actually spread the word.
What are some of the longer term benefits a strength athlete can look forward to from making a serious commitment to the practice of yoga? I cannot recommend yoga enough to any bodybuilder. Although a short term commitment to yoga can be of great value as well. A long term commitment is more beneficial to a bodybuilder’s health, injury prevention, and enhanced strength. Yoga can help a bodybuilder overcome muscular and structural imbalances and therefore enhance the musculature in areas where the muscles are not firing up as well as their strong areas.
Overtime, people who do not pay attention to their flexibility end up with severely restricted flexibility and movement, and that can profoundly affect their performance and even their lifestyle. Yoga postures can rebalance the hormonal system and therefore address certain health concerns and even undesirable areas of fat deposits usually due to elevated estrogen levels. So to sum it up, a bodybuilder can expect fewer injuries, better strength and posture, greater musculature, lower body fat, a longer career in the field due to fewer injuries, and better joint health. They will also experience less tightness in muscles which can decrease strength, performance, and affect the alignment and posture. In addition yoga is in essence a bodyweight exercise that can help to introduce or improve any plyometric or bodyweight exercises that are necessary or used in a bodybuilder’s schedule.
Should yoga be incorporated into a bodybuilder’s daily routine? For the best results, I would recommend a 20-60 minute yoga class 3-5 times per week. I always tell people that if they cannot commit to a full 40 minute class, even 20 minutes can be enough to really make a difference. Once a week, or once every 2 weeks is good to go for a longer 40-60 minute class in order to really build internal heat and work on flexibility as well as functional strength.
I will share a funny tidbit with you here. Throughout the years, I have had many bodybuilders come to my classes. They are big impressive guys, and even though I try to be kind and gentle, they all get their ego bruised by the end of the class. They realize that yoga is not at all easy, or sleepy, or god forbid, boring. It is a strenuous and demanding discipline and requires a lot of guts to really commit to it.
Are there any special considerations to be made before a strength athlete begins a yoga program? I have classes for complete beginners, so overall, once you have a mat you are good to go. That being said it’s good to brush up on the foundation poses’ alignment and the basic yoga protocol. Some of the most important things to address are: previous or current injuries, pain, areas with decreased range of motion, and modifications needed for any particular individual. After this, it’s good to address deep breathing techniques although this step may take months to learn. Wear comfortable clothing and no wide pants or shirts which can ride up on you once you are upside down 🙂 and try not to eat a few hours prior to class as deep twisting and inversions can interfere with digestion. Most of all, have fun! Flow with it! The journey will be worth it!
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