Are you looking for a way to get in shape, but wonder whether it is better to do yoga or hit the gym?
Yoga combines physical poses, breathing and meditation. It builds strength, flexibility, balance and calmness. In contrast, gyms offer a modern way to build body strength and endurance in a targeted manner, often using the latest equipment and technology.
Yoga vs the gym: Let’s take a closer look at some pros and cons then help you decide which one is best for you.
Yoga vs gym: the benefits of each
What are the benefits of doing Yoga?
Yoga provides many benefits, many demonstrated at the scientific level. It is an integrated practice that will help you increase strength and flexibility, improve balance, manage stress and anxiety, and find greater inner peace. It influences the body at a physiological level by acting on different body organs, hormones and the nervous system.
Practice usually includes sequences of different yoga poses, combined with focused breathing and meditation. Each yoga pose delivers several benefits – whether it is greater strength, flexibility, balance or relaxation.
There are many different styles and schools of yoga to choose from. The practice of these can range from the very simple to the highly complex, and from very gentle to super tough. It all depends on your aspirations, needs, and abilities. Check out some of our other articles for further detail:
- The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Your Yoga Style
- 15 Essential Yoga Tips For Beginners
- Finding The Right Type Of Yoga For You: A Road Map
Overall, Yoga is more than just physical exercise: it is also a philosophy and a way of life. It promotes greater mindfulness of how we live, the values we adopt, and what we put into our bodies before and after practice.
In short, Yoga is a great way to take care of your body from the inside out, and the outside in.
What are the benefits of going to the gym?
Once the home for bodybuilders, the gyms of today are much more than that. They help people build strength, endurance and flexibility, using modern equipment and sports science.
Gyms usually offer training with free weights, specialized exercise machines, and other equipment such as Swiss balls. Most gyms will provide the services of personal trainers who help members with individual training programs. Many gyms also provide a choice of exercise classes – often including cardio, yoga, and Pilates.
To boot, some gyms offer the use of saunas and pools, and personal services such as massages and physical therapy sessions.
Working out at a gym will help strengthen your bones and muscles, improve balance, flexibility, and endurance, and give you more energy throughout the day. You will likely end up looking more toned, and feeling and looking better. Regular attendance at a gym can have beneficial effects on high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
For many, going to the gym is also a social event outside of the home. You will be able to exercise even when the weather is not good.
Key practical differences between yoga and the gym
Doing yoga is much more than just physical exercise. It will help you develop mindfulness and mental balance. Yoga will also improve your ability to cope with stress and anxiety, and help reduce depression.
Yoga can be practiced in any space with enough room for you to stretch and breathe – including your home. The space and equipment required is minimal. You can easily do some yoga on a carpet or a blanket, in any old exercise clothes you can find, and you will be fine.
You will find thousands of yoga classes online that pretty much cater to all levels and needs – often for free. In addition, most cities and smaller towns offer yoga classes in community centers for a low cost. Equipment is also often available for free.
Available, but not needed, is expensive yoga gear such as mats, clothing, and other accessories. You can also join a yoga studio on a subscription basis or an online paid yoga service. These are helpful if you want to develop your yoga practice more formally, or if you are seeking a more social environment to practice yoga or the expertise of a yoga teacher.
Most gyms provide a host of integrated services including facilities, equipment, classes, and professional staff. This provides variety and interest to gym members and helps prevent exercise fatigue.
Practice is often quite structured and targeted, and based on an individualized personal training program. Together with professional staff by your side to guide you, this can be a key motivator for regular practice and keeping you accountable.
Attending a gym generally involves a membership fee which can be significant, and therefore presents a financial commitment. The extra effort required in attending a gym beyond the exercise itself such as travel, parking, changes of clothes required, showering, etc., can be a deterrent.
Many people handle this issue by setting up a home gym with some basic equipment, including working with free weights.
More detailed comparisons
Yoga vs gym for belly fat/weight loss
Weight gain is an issue for many people. The resulting increase in abdominal fat promotes inflammatory processes and creates increased risks for health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Yoga offers meditative and relaxing poses that help with mindfulness and stress relief. This helps the body reduce cortisol and release endorphins. Both both lead to better regulation of eating and to weight loss. Yoga also helps with posture and flexibility, resulting in better posture and body shape.
Some yoga styles such as advanced Vinyasa yoga of hot/Bikram yoga will also increase metabolism and expenditure of calories, both helpful for weight loss purposes.
In contrast, the gym is a great place for cardio workouts using weights or exercise classes. Regular gym practice will increase fitness levels, metabolic rate, and expenditure of energy. In turn, this can help reduce belly fat, by improving your body’s response to insulin. Gym work will also improve body posture and tone.
As a result, both yoga and the gym can be effective for weight loss. However, irrespective of whether you do yoga or go to the gym, you will have to work reasonably hard to lose weight, without also adjusting life style and eating patterns.
Yoga vs gym for fitness
Fitness refers to the ability to undertake daily chores or exercise activities with ease, endurance and strength. Fitness is therefore an essential contributor to quality of life.
Yoga mainly uses stationary poses that are held for several breaths or minutes. Focus is on strengthening, stretching and breathing. Some Yoga styles are better for building fitness – including Hot or Bikram Yoga, Power Yoga, or advanced Vinyasa Yoga.
In contrast, gyms offer a wide range of exercise opportunities for building fitness levels. These include exercise machines and routines targeting improved fitness levels. In many gyms, you can opt to have a personal training programme set up for you that outlines specific objectives and performance measures – including fitness and weight loss.
Consistent adherence to such programs can be difficult for some. However, when compliance is high, gyms generally are a better way to build fitness levels.
Yoga vs gym for strength
The gym is a great way for building muscle-based strength. It relies on lifting and applying pressure to weights, using tools such as free weights, exercise machines, resistance bands, and more. Strength is gradually built by increasing weight and pressure, often using a personal program combined with dietary changes and also supplements.
In fact, many people join gyms with the specific purpose of building strength and muscle mass. The results are often very visible in muscle growth and definition, and also overall body shape and tone.
In contrast, yoga primarily focuses on building muscular endurance by holding poses for longer periods of time. At the same time, yoga practice also strengthens balance and flexibility, and resilience of mind.
Experienced yoga practitioners usually have a body strength that is not necessarily evident in muscle mass but endurance, leanness and body tone.
Overall, if strength and muscle mass is your key goal, then the gym will likely be a better option. If your goal is building a holistic strength of body, mind, and spirit, and raising energy levels, then yoga is the way forward.
Yoga vs gym for health
Numerous scientific studies demonstrate the beneficial effects of yoga on health. Yoga is an integrated practice focusing on all aspects of physical, mental and emotional health. It even offers a spiritual component to those who are interested.
Many yoga poses directly work on the body’s tissues and organs, resulting in improved circulation, detoxification and elimination. Yoga practice also positively influences the nervous system and stimulates the release of relaxing hormones.
Working out at a gym can also have positive health outcomes. In particular, gym sessions will strengthen and tone the body, while improving cardiovascular health. A good gym session will make you feel great and have a sense of achievement.
However, the health outcomes of gyms are not quite as holistic as those of yoga. This includes the positive effects on mental and emotional health, calmness and stress levels.
Is it OK to do yoga and the gym together?
There are many benefits from doing yoga and the gym together.
Yoga helps with strength, balance, and flexibility when done on a regular basis. It has relaxing, moderating and effects on the body and mind – often much needed to counter the effects of daily stresses and demands.
In contrast, the gym provides the opportunity to build muscle and tone in a targeted manner, while working the cardiovascular system and building fitness.
Doing both yoga and gym sessions will deliver a greater sum than its parts: they both enhance the other. Gym work will deliver greater strength for advanced yoga poses, while yoga will provide the mental and emotional balance that is not part of the gym work.
Can Yoga and gym be done on the same day?
There is no reason why yoga and the gym cannot be done on the same day. However, if you plan to do both, make sure you create a balance between the two. For example, don’t combine a hard session at the gym with an equally hard yoga session.
A gentle yoga class before a workout will stretch and warm up the body – great for gym session soon after. Or, a restorative, calm yoga class after a hard gym session will help you wind and cool down, and gently stretch muscles.
Bear in mind that one of the key goals of yoga is about practicing peace and mindfulness. Switching between yoga and the gym on the same day can therefore be an impediment to this unless they are combined in a complementary way.
Yoga vs Tai Chi: are you ready to make a decision?
Yoga is a great place for those who are keen to build holistic strength of body, mind, and spirit, and find greater calm in a busy life. It’s for those who like to go inward and explore the greater meaning of life.
However, don’t expect to build a muscle-bound body: that’s where the gym comes in. For many people, building strength, muscular bulk, and cardiovascular fitness are at the forefront of their minds.
Carefully combined, practicing both can have benefits that are greater than delivered by each on its own.