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For years, I’ve been hearing claims that fitness methodologies such as Yoga, Pilates, and the more recent Bar Method create “long, lean muscles.” While I realize that much of these claims just amount to marketing terminology aimed at targeting naive women, I can’t help but think that many of the zealots involved in these regimens actual believe their own claims. Let’s examine the facts.

Yoga

1. Muscles Have a Fixed Origin and Insertion Point

You can’t change where muscles begin and end – these are anatomically predispositioned. I suppose that if you badly break a bone, you could end up with shorter muscles after healing. And I recall stories of Russian sports scientists surgically breaking and reattaching muscles at different lengths along the bone with their experimental athletes to see if it altered their athleticism. Longer muscle moment arms have better leverage, can create more torque, and are better suited for strength, but shorter muscle moment arms shorten more rapidly and are better suited for speed, so there is a trade-off (THIS article addresses the relationship). But tampering with attachment points negatively impacts coordination, which is vital for sports performance, so to my knowledge this experimentation was quickly discarded.

muscular system

2. Muscles Stabilize and Protect Joints

Let’s say that you could indeed lengthen muscles dramatically – what would happen? Certain muscles would eventually become too long and certain joints would begin to rapidly deteriorate. For musculoskeletal health, you don’t want extremely long muscles (especially without accompanying motor control) – it further stresses ligaments, discs, bones, cartilage, and joint capsules.

rotator cuff

3. Muscles Provide Force to Create Joint Torque During Athletic Movement

You don’t want a ton of slack during rapid movement. You want muscles to be the appropriate length for the activity in question. There is an optimal length of muscle that maximizes force production. If a muscle is too long, it won’t deliver optimal levels of passive elastic force (and titin, which is really important in enhancing muscle force at longer lengths, won’t kick in – see HERE for more info). A deadlifter shouldn’t want to be able to hug his ankles from a standing position as this would imply that his hamstrings would fail to produce passive tension (like a rubber band stretching) when setting up the deadlift. Sure, a ballerina would benefit from greater flexibility, but still the muscles need to be able to stabilize the joints or else injury will eventually occur.

female Oly

4. You Can Indeed Alter Muscle Length Through Exercise or Immobilization

It is indeed possible to lengthen or shorten muscles. Bedrest and immobilization will cause muscles to decrease in length. Resistance training (particularly exercises that sufficiently stretch activated muscles and eccentric contractions) and explosive training will cause muscles to increase in length. What’s interesting is that concentric only contractions at short muscle lengths might shorten muscle. Here are three studies on rats that illustrate these effects, but we need more research on humans (HERE, HERE, and HERE).

rat treadmill

Savvy strength coaches and physical therapists utilize this knowledge to cause muscles to function better at various lengths. For example, to protect the hamstrings from injury during sprinting, they need to be stronger at longer lengths – therefore Romanian deadlifts, Nordic ham curls, and seated leg curls can be employed. Brughelli and Cronin reviewed this phenomenon 8 years ago, and since then much more research has emerged.

But how much can you lengthen muscle? It depends on the muscle in question (mainly it’s length), the training status of the muscle, and the amount of time devoted. A longer muscle might be able to lengthen several inches in an untrained couch potato if proper training is employed. Some research shows that length changes come to a halt at around 5-6 weeks of focused training.

The question is – does this have any effect on the visual aesthetics of a human being? When looking at the person’s physique, can you even tell that their muscles have lengthened? Methinks not.

5. Stretching Doesn’t Increase Muscle Length

When you stretch your muscles, you increase your flexibility. But you do not do so through increasing the length of the muscles, you do so by decreasing your brain’s threat response – the brain “releases the brakes” and allows the muscle to stretch further. Stretching is a nervous system strategy aimed at increasing flexibility, not a mechanical adaptation inducing strategy. Weppler and Magnusson reviewed this phenomenon 4 years ago, and since then much more research has emerged.

Yoga2

6. Leanness Has More to Do With Nutrition Than Exercise, but Higher Intensity is Better for Achieving Leanness

In general, a Yoga or Pilates practitioner that eats like a rhino will be obese and they will have higher levels of intramuscular fat compared to a normal person, whereas a sedentary person or weight trained person who eats properly will have lower levels of intramuscular fat storage compared to a normal person. Intramuscular adipose tissue is more related to diet and weight than it is exercise, though exercise can indeed help (see HERE). However, the more intense the exercise, the greater the losses in body fat (see HERE). Therefore, higher intensity exercise such as explosive sports and resistance training are better suited for reducing fat storage all over the body.

lean abs

The question is – does stretching and holding poses cause muscles to lean out to a further degree than plain old strength training? The answer is no.

Conclusion

The use of the terminology, “long, lean muscles” is aimed at naive beginners and preys on the fears of women who have been repeatedly told that resistance training will make them overly bulky.

  • Muscles cannot drastically change length, but strength training is more effective for lengthening muscles than stretching. Granted, Yoga and Pilates methods combine stretching and strength training and involve holding poses at long muscle lengths, but proper resistance training involves eccentric contractions and movements that take the joints through their full ranges of motion.
  • Gaining flexibility primarily through stretching is overrated for sports performance and is better off gained through dynamic movements that simultaneously improve motor control and stability at long muscle lengths.
  • Attaining extreme levels of flexibility can be problematic and is overrated for general health and performance.
  • Flexibility, strength, speed, power, agility, stamina, and body composition are all important aspects of physical fitness, and one quality should not be categorically prioritized over the others.
  • Achieving leanness has more to do with diet than exercise, though higher intensity exercise will lead to greater improvements in body composition than Yoga and Pilates.

Pilates

  • Yoga and Pilates are highly valuable forms of exercises. They can enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life (see HERE).
  • Good personal trainers, strength coaches, and physical therapists borrow methods from Yoga and Pilates in order to help their clients, athletes, and patients efficiently achieve their goals.

If Yoga and Pilates practitioners believe that exercise should be based on creating long, lean muscles, then they should be promoting resistance training with free weights since it is better suited for actually lengthening muscles and improving leanness.

fit woman

57 Comments

  • My studio uses heavy lifting fused with Pilates. We use pilates springs and it is some brutal work. Time under tension training is a wonderful complement to body building. I’m happy, in this article you didn’t toss the baby out with the bathwater. Pilates is a fantastic practice that a segment of the bodybuilding community sometimes dismisses readily. xoxo

  • Michelle says:

    While I agree with every point you made here, my brain still goes, “wait a minute.” The fact is, when talking about aesthetics, a body conditioned for yoga looks very different from a body conditioned for, say, Crossfit. I know, because my own body shape changed drastically in just a few months when I went from lifting/HIIT 5 days a week to yoga 4 days a week. While my lifting body was technically “leaner” by BF% (unverified), my yoga body definitely looked more slender, was in fact many inches more slender in the waist, arms, and thighs, and wore smaller clothes. Diet did not change, though stress (obviously) went down – that was the point. In both cases, my baseline strength remained pretty much the same when I periodically returned to the weight room to check it out (3 x 10 reps on squats for example); while my max definitely decreased a lot (though some of it could have been mental/fear). However, I felt that yoga actually improved my lifting form, either from an increase in body awareness, balance, and mobility, OR – my personal theory – an increase in skeletal and stabilizer muscle strength (and possibly joint support?). I know as strong as I was when I first started yoga, those smaller “micro” muscles were not well-trained and that took time and practice to build up. I would be interested to hear what you think about that. 🙂

    • Michelle!

      It sounds like you are enjoying the results of your exercise activities, and I think that is pretty much the most important thing, so… keep rocking it.

      Your word choice seemed to imply that you thought you were maybe offering a counter point to Bret’s references. I however feel like you in fact just proved them.

      It sounds to me like when you switched from resistance training and interval work, you became ‘more slender’ even though your body fat percentage likely rose, while your measurements decreased. This is what we in academia call ‘skinny-fat’. Congrats. Sounds like when you switched from strength training you lost muscle and gained or maintained your current body fat amounts, resulting in a higher body fat percentage.

      Again, if it floats your boat, I hope you keep on sailing! But others who would like to increase their strength and improve their body composition may want to examine your example as a great case of “what not to do”.

      Namaste!

      Jason, BS, CSCS

      • Alicia says:

        Wow that was rude. “Skinny fat” really?! The truth is depending on the kind of yoga you do, you can build more long muscle fibers than hitting the weights. It doesn’t actually lengthen the muscle, just changes the fiber type. A challenging yoga class will give you light weight resistance (using your own body weight) for a longer period of time. So you are working on endurance and building strength and flexibility. Like long distance runners, who have very strong and slender legs due to more slow twitch or long muscle fibers, yoga builds long muscle fibers instead of short fast twitch fibers. She might have gained some fat which is probably good since women need a bit of fat to be healthy, but she probably also lost some short muscle fibers and replaced them with the much more slender long fibers.

        • Chris says:

          Sorry , Alicia, but slow twitch muscle fibers dont build “long, slender” muscles. get a microscope and do a biopsy yourself, this is total bs. Slow twitch vs fast twitch fibers have several differences, building different “muscle lengths” is not one of them.

          Instead, what happens with less muscle building activities like yoga, pilates, running and so on is that they – surprise surprise – simply dont build as much muscle as strength training does. So the result – less muscle, maybe less fat – looks to laymen as if “slender muscles” were built. They were not (have you even read Bret´s article?), just less muscle were built.

          Yoga, pilates, running are great activities for other purposes. Effectively building muscles – what shape whatsoever – is not one of them. You could achieve the same “slender muscles” with a fraction of the time strength training and maybe a calorie deficit if u wanna look slim.

          So no offense on other activities – just explaining the differences and purposes of each of them. 🙂

          • Skaneateles says:

            This makes me conclude you can lengthen your muscle – Source International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy

            “Stretching generally focuses on increasing the length of a musculotendinous unit, in essence increasing the distance between a muscle’s origin and insertion. In terms of stretching, muscle tension is usually inversely related to length: decreased muscular tension is related to increased muscle length, while increased muscular tension is related to decreased muscle length. Inevitably, stretching of muscle applies tension to other structures such as the joint capsule and fascia, which are made up of different tissue than muscle with different biomechanical properties.”
            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/

      • Michelle says:

        Yeah, thanks Alicia. That was rude. I would not describe myself as skinny-fat. I lost about 9 lbs. (prob mostly muscle) when I eased back on lifting. I shrank, but I did not lose any “leanness” – in fact, I got more definition in my arms, thighs, and core.

        He also missed the point of what I was saying.

        The point I was sort of disagreeing with is that “long and lean” is just a gimmick. Physiologically, I trust Bret knows his stuff, but talking about appearances, it’s kind of true. Who looks “longer and leaner” – a female powerlifter, or a ballerina? Just sayin’. I love to lift! I just don’t focus on putting up huge numbers anymore. As a result, I’m not as bulky, and I’m not always in pain. Just doing what feels good for my body and gives me the aesthetic I like – which is a personal thing.

        Mostly, I am just curious if BRET knows anything about the difference in what I felt/saw with regards to my skeletal muscle and stabilizer muscle strength through yoga. I thought I was pretty strong, but some simple things in yoga were HARD until I built that strength up. I was sore for weeks in ways you wouldn’t expect when just working with your own bodyweight. I felt as if my muscles got “denser” and my strength “deeper” while actually taking up less space and appearing more slender. I wonder if there’s an explanation for this. I am aware of the fast vs. slow twitch difference, but if you’re replacing one type of fiber with another, does it actually take up that much less space? If so, that really backs up the “long and lean” thing, I think.

        • Chris says:

          Sorry, again, this is a whole bunch of misunderstanding, bro science or just bs. Have you ladies been successfully brainwashed by quacks like Tracy Anderson to actually believe such nonsene?

          The difference between a “bulky” powerlifter and a “slender” ballerina is mass. Muscle mass, fat mass, water – you name it. Can it be any simpler than that? Im shaking my head in disbelief what you are trying to make out of that, constructing wild theories with different muscle fibers “taking up less space”.

          So if i starve a 6ft powerlifter for half a year and let him only do some strength training once a week – then he will have most wonderful “slender/long/tonic/crisp/defined/lean” look u could ever imagine. Same with you, me or any other person: if u get lean by dieting and only do some to moderate strength training (in what form whatsoever) you will become thin and have some aka “slender” muscles. Its that simple (and its that what you described in your first post).

          To your point about muscle soreness:
          a) If u work with bodyweight in Pilates or Yoga, then often thats a resistance much higher than most female would chose if they took dumbbells in their hands (some fear they would be bulky immediately if they took anything other than the pink 1lbs ones): think of all the positions “frog”-like in yoga (theyre essentially isometric bodyweight dips!) So no wonder these sports can produce soreness. As they cant progress resistance as well as strength training does nor uses systematic dynamic training (e.g. 3 sets with 8 reps) they ofc dont build muscle as well as a strength program.
          b) If you stretch hard, isometrically or even dynamically, that produces DOMS as well. Its above all the eccentric portion of a movement that triggers DOMS.
          c) Pilates and Yoga can attack muscles some people tend to forget to include in their strength training: if youve never done a side plank, a front plank, abduction exercises (monster walks) or hip thrusts – then you probably get DOMS after Pilates and Yoga exactly in those areas.

          So in conclusion: Pilates, Yoga et al can mimic a strength training to a degree, they can provide some muscle hypertrophy, they can provide stability ofc if u practice stability, they can help you preserve some muscle mass (and make you look “slender and lean” if u lose weight at the same time). They serve different purposes than strength training and thats perfectly fine.

          Just dont fall prey to all that bs marketing scams targeted to females (men are targeted differently with other bs 🙂 ) that try to change physics and sports science.

          • Derrick Blanton says:

            Hi Chris, this is a bit of a hijack on a spirited debate, sorry for that, but your last paragraph caught my eye.

            You mention that “men are targeted differently with other B.S.” marketing scams.

            If you have the time, would you mind elaborating a bit on that point, perhaps expounding on some of the dubious marketing strategies that target men?

            Any tips or info that can help me, a layperson, become a sharper critical thinker as I sift through the mountains of information available would be appreciated!

          • Michelle says:

            I get all that, Chris. I’m not brainwashed, and I’m not an idiot. I understand that I lost muscle mass. But even so, I did not lose strength except at a 1-3RM level, and (contrary to the typical belief that you will take up more space with a higher BF%) I actually shrank and got more definition. I simply wondered if there was an explanation for that, when my paleo diet didn’t change (thought I probably ate less as I lost muscle mass).

            Short of a DEXA scan, there is no way to know for sure what was going on inside my body, but I just wondered if Bret knew any factoids, like specifically what different muscles/types of muscles were enhanced through yoga that weren’t being trained by my old regimen. It was more of a sideline question. I know yoga requires more endurance than lifting and different ranges of motion, but that doesn’t explain it all, imo. I could already do bodyweight dips, lunges with 95 lb bar, and squat 205 for reps. Yet yoga made my legs sore…? Not in a stretchy way, but in a “I’m using muscles that are not trained” way that went away after lots of practice. I just wanted to know WHY that was, because it surprised me. The only thing I can come up with is skeletal/stabilizer muscles, but I wanted this confirmed by an expert.

            And once again, my only contrary statement was aesthetically, you CAN say that yoga gives you a “long and lean” LOOK – even if it doesn’t actually make you longer or leaner (though – side point here, it does focus on lengthening the spine, whereas there is a lot of spinal compression with traditional lifting). Bronzer gives you a “healthy glow” even though it doesn’t actually improve your skin’s condition. It’s marketing jargon, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Get my drift? They are selling a different aesthetic and targeting a different market, but that doesn’t make it wrong to call it what it is. Some women want to look slender, some want to look ripped. It’s a personal choice, and neither one is wrong.

            For me, I feel healthier and more fit this way. I can do things I could not do before, with less fatigue, and I am not sore all the time, so I enjoy life more on the whole. Not to mention the mental/emotional benefits, which are HUGE.

            When I lift heavy, I bulk up, despite that you guys say that can’t happen – it DOES. My body needs more mass to lift heavier things, so it adds more muscle (and prob fat too) to my frame. Duh. Lifting less and doing mostly yoga, I still have a rockin’ booty, more defined shoulders, arms, thighs, and a tighter waist, but my quads are no longer trying to split the side-seams of my pants, so my legs LOOK leaner.

            PS: “frog” is a prone (on the floor) pose, so the triceps are not involved. I think you are talking about Bakasana (crane/crow). Just pointing out that if you’re gonna call people out on bro-science and bs, to get your own facts straight.

            PPS: The Seattle Seahawks started doing yoga, and then they won the Superbowl. Proof that both forms of exercise have their benefits, and they compliment each other well, which Bret also pretty much said. 🙂

          • tld list says:

            Fully agree with Chris!! I eat very carefully I.e. no sugar or saturated fats, I do ballet movements every day . I’ve had 5 children, and I have muscle definition and leaness. So easy???

      • Gina Rolow says:

        Thanks Jason, for reaffirming what I’ve been taught through ecercise physiology and my CSCS!!!

  • Michelle says:

    ** sorry, I meant lifting/HIIT 4x a week and yoga 5x a week. I was doing Strong Curves 2 x a week and HIIT with KBs, sprints, and rowing the other two days, and my yoga class is a power/vinyasa with a LOT of core work.

    • Bret says:

      Hi Michelle, great questions. First, I believe you got sore because it’s a novel stimulus. Anything new will do that – new exercises, sets/reps, sports, modes of training, etc. Yes it probably worked some stabilizers and targeted more type I fibers, at least from a TUT perspective. I don’t agree that yoga lengthens the spine, any muscular contractions from the core muscles creates compressive forces on the spine (yes, I have dozens of papers on this topic from the literature). Maybe resistance training causes you to get hungry and eat more whereas yoga doesn’t, which would explain the improvements in body comp. Agree about mood benefits. I don’t agree about the “long and lean” tactics, it pits yoga against strength training and creates a false enemy, which need not be. And most women don’t get a rockin’ booty from yoga. Agree that yoga complements resistance training. Just my thoughts.

    • Michelle H. says:

      Hi,

      I know this is much later than the original post, but just thought I’d share my thoughts since I hear similar comments from many females and used to ponder about this myself.
      To note, I don’t think Chris or Brett intended to be offensive with the “skinny-fat” comment. I think from the body building perspective, it’s a general term to describe/reference differences in body fat composition vs. leaner/more muscular composition. It’s meant to describe that a person carries a bit more body fat percentage as opposed to more lean muscle. I’m not saying it’s the best term, just saying I don’t think it was meant the way it was interpreted. If you look at some celebrities such as Alexis Bledel, Eva Green and Ann Hathaway compared to Marissa Miller, Jessica Alba, or Jen Anistion, they’re roughly the same heigh (5’7” except for Aniston at 5’5”), and ALL of them would be what would deem as having the “lean/slender/long” look. However, Bledel, Green, and Hathaway look to carry a higher body fat composition and less muscle than Miller, Alba or Aniston. Although they’re the same height and all look slender, the latter group look to have more muscle mass and more of a “fit shape/definition to their bodies. In regards to this kind of look, I’d have to agree that it has to do with nutrition and strength/weight training. I used to lift heavy weights (trained 5x/week with 2 personal trainers) and still looked very “slim.” I’m sure this had a lot to do with nutrition. I also used to do Crossfit, and it did seem to build a bit more muscle than my regular training. However, I believe my diet was different and had more calories than when I was training in the gym.
      You state that women can become bulky when lifting heavy (even with lack of testosterone), but that depends on several factors including body type, how heavy they’re lifting and how their diet is. For instance, if someone is lifting super heavy but not eating enough for it, they wouldn’t have the nutrition to get very big, and vice versa, if they’re trying to gain mass, they’d have to eat more while lifting heavy.
      If you were more bulky on Crossfit, perhaps adjusting your nutrition as well as your programming/how heavy you were lifting would change the results.
      I’d agree that you were more lean doing Yoga most likely because the lack of heavier weight training caused a decrease in muscle mass (again, just like the celebs I mentioned in comparison. They’re all slender, but some have more muscles than the others while still looking lean and slim).
      It just depends on what your goals are, and you feel comfortable doing. If Yoga works for you, and you like the results and don’t care to build lots of muscle, then keep doing what you enjoy.
      I think the guys were just saying that weight training is also an optimal way to build the slender/lean shape if you incorporate the right nutrition and training.

      Also, I think “bulkiness” has varying levels and is a relative term to some degree. For example, would bikini level competitors in comparison to Crossfit elite competitors or physique competitors be considered bulky or just right? If you’re comparing to more of the Victoria’s Secret model-esque standard, then most body types more muscular than that may seem “bulky” (would Cameron Diaz be considered so?) I say relative, because it’s based on perception.

  • Geoff says:

    Arthur Jones made the same points about strength training and flexibility several years ago. I’m glad it’s finally catching on. I’ve known several powerlifter and body builder types who can effortlessly do yoga poses on their first try when somebody makes a remark like, “You shouldn’t lift weights so much, you’ll lose flexibility, you should do yoga, like me.” What’s funny is that very few of them stretch outside of full ROM exercise.

    It doesn’t constitute a study, but some anecdotal evidence is very powerful.

  • Barb says:

    First of all, some of those abs made me think of Iggy Pop (now I’ve got Passenger in my head). I also have a question (honest question, not trying to make a point). Is it possible that some of these “long and lean” methods develop smaller muscles that result in a sort of uniform firmness with fewer “features”? Kind of like using collagen injections to smooth out facial features. If so, an additional question would be: of how much use would the development of these “low relief” muscles provide in daily living? Extra stabilization? A funny gait? Just asking!

    • Bret says:

      Barb, I don’t think so. Look at the diagram of the human muscular anatomy pic I posted in the blog. What muscles would be growing in order to “smooth out” the body? I think that’s some stuff that other gurus make up to steer women away from weights and toward their method.

      • Barb says:

        Thanks. I think some of the people who have helped me in ways that support my efforts in the gym don’t understand _why_ or how their modalities actually help people like me.

  • Charles Nankin says:

    This lengthy analysis reveals how men and health favour curves!: http://bonytobombshell.com/bombshell-aesthetics-building-attractive-female-body-imaginable/

    do whatever you want but do lift weights

  • Paloma says:

    As a former devoted to running/yoga/pilates training, I must admit that switching it to free weights has changed my body in a way I didn’t imagine to be possible. My measures changed from 83-69-84 to 87-65-88 cm. I weight 1 kg more and my posture an general body alignment is improving week by week. My booty drives my husband crazy and I am much more strong than before. I still do pilates and my performance has skyrocketed. Thank you hip thrust, squat, deadlift and bench press!

    • Bret says:

      Awesome!!! Thanks for the feedback Paloma.

      • Paloma says:

        Any time! Today my husband said that life was much better with booties! It definitely is! 🙂

        However, there is something that I would like to ask you. Some weeks ago, a very good friend of mine went to an hypopressive exercises workshop. The professor was DR MARCEL CAUFRIEZ (if you are the glute guy, he must be the pu*** guy).
        He explained there that any weight lifting over 15 kg for a women and 30 kg for a man would, on the long run, destroy that person’s pelvic floor. He is treating many women athletes with severe pelvic floor dysfunction.
        Sadly this friend of mine is not into weights, so she couldn’t explain him how to perform S, D, HT and BP, and was very concerned about me and my exercise regime.
        My experience, however is totally opposite: I feel that my PF has strengthened and after my first 6 months of WL, it was confirmed by my physiotherapist.
        I am really interested on your opinion on this matter. Do you have any tips or advise on how to maintain youthful not only the outer part , but also the inside of our hips?
        Many thanks, Bret, the work you are doing is just awesome!

        • Chris says:

          Uh yeah, another world renown “professor”-guru whose publication list as first author is as short as mine (and mine was during a very short stint in science far back when i was yound and dumb 🙂 ). 3 studies in a 20 year time span – how does this guy even get funding? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=caufriez+m%5BAuthor+-+First%5D

          Eric Cressey has just been collaborating with a PT on a study about exactly that topic: pelvic floor and weight training in post partum women. With proper (breathing) technique (maybe they even used hypopressive as the professor would wish), almost all women could lift considerably more weight than 15kg (haha) with solid pelvic floors. He mentioned that on one of Tony Gentilcore´s blog entries (in the comments section) some time ago when it was about weight lifting vs yoga (or something similar) – same topic, same questions and misunderstandings, I guess. 🙂

          Looking forward myself to the publication; Bret, if you know Tony´s blog about the subject (I think you chimed in at that time) and/or a link or date of the publication of Cressey´s study, that would be great!

          Thanks in advance!

          • Chris says:

            Another thing: Anecdotally, I feel that glute exercises stabilize the pelvic floor. And with hip thrusts you dont have that spine stabilization demands that often would require heavy Valsalva. So anecdotally speaking – and maybe Bret could chime in here as well – hip thrusts with an additional pelvic floor contraction in the top position could be an excellent tool for people with PF strength needs!

          • Paloma says:

            Hi Chris!
            Thanks for the feedback! If you could link me to those studies, that would be great.
            The first thing I thought when I was told about the 15 kg limit was that then women are then not meant to carry our own toddlers! And that feels really stupid to me!
            PS: I also feel that HT is a great tool for gaining PF strenght!

          • Linda says:

            I had a pelvic floor reconstruction 8 years ago. The long term consequence of giving birth 3 times. I am approaching my 60th birthday, weigh 49kg and I have have been training with free weights for nearly 2 years. My best squat is 85kg; deadlift 110kg and bench press 43kg. I train 5 times a week. I’m told my technique is good, so I think that helps along with being very ‘body aware’.
            I was a professional ballet dancer. I train vocational dance students and so I’ve always been in ‘good shape’, physically active and taken regular Pilates classes over the years. Since weight training, however, my body has changed dramatically!! I’ve worked hard and I’m thrilled with my muscle definition and tone. I eat more, my body fat is low and my self-confidence is much higher than before. I only wish I’d started years ago. Still, it’s never too late.

        • Bret says:

          Paloma, that’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. If this doctor is really saying this, then he’s doing a real disservice. Do you have any links where he states this? I have a hard time believing that anyone in such a position could make such a claim. Not only does he broadly lump all weight training exercises together (can a woman calf raise 33 lbs and not get pelvic floor dysfunction LOL? some exercises create large spinal torques and therefore subsequent pelvic floor contractions for stabilization with no external resistance at all, whereas others don’t even if external loads are utilized), he also ignores the fact that the majority of general fitness enthusiasts and also competitive female strength athletes do not have pelvic floor dysfunction despite their regular usage of weights, and he ignores the research pertaining to pelvic floor dysfunction showing that proper function is teachable/learnable with most women. Anyway, please link if you have articles/videos. Thanks!

  • nancy says:

    hmmmmmmmm…..
    just some thoughts as I am not sure your info about Pilates training is correct
    -the pilates I do is resistance training. (ever been on the chair?)
    -Pilates focus is not on holding stretches so not sure why that was said.
    -Yoga and Pilates are very different so can not really compare that
    -eccentric, concentric, isometric contractions are all used in pilates
    -pilates promotes stability needed to do all the things you want to do-
    -balance of stability and mobility is the focus-not ‘stretching”
    -of course mixing it up with other modalities is good as with all types of exercises
    maybe you need a new pilates experience and then revisit your thoughts?????

    • Bret says:

      Nancy, I’m not highly familiar with Pilates but I’ve looked in on some sessions and done some preliminary investigation. I should have elaborated and I shouldn’t have lumped the two together (Yoga and Pilates). I’m definitely not a Yoga or Pilates hater – I’m all for different forms of exercises. Thanks for your input.

    • BCC says:

      I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I think the reference was for Pilates mat, NOT for a Pilates apparatus (spring based). Obviously, even fully loaded, a Reformer will not compare to lifting heavy, but you certainly can’t compare Pilates mat to Pilates on an apparatus. It’s a different animal, imo.

  • CAPSLOCK HUSTLA says:

    BRET, I’M AFRAID I CAN’T TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY ANY LONGER AFTER SEEING YOU COMPLETELY OWNED AS GLUTE GIMMICK GURU IN THIS VIDEO BY JASON “KLINEFELTER” BLAHA.

    HOPEFULLY EVERYONE WILL STOP HIP THRUSTING AND JUST SQUAT AFTER WATCHING THIS DEVASTATING EXPOSE.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmFuNxQWMzM

  • Aaron M says:

    I wouldn’t bother responding to Blaha. He likes to pick fights with research-informed folks like yourself and Layne Norton for the publicity. Just another tool that should go back to his shed.

  • Michelle says:

    Hi Bret,

    Please don’t let the “spirited debate” where I felt I had to defend my decision to lift less keep you from addressing my actual question(s). Let’s take the leanness and aesthetics out of the equation.

    Do you know anything about the differences with basic heavy lifting versus other types of training like yoga/gymnastics, pertaining specifically to skeletal muscles or stabilizer muscles? For example, I thought maybe it is the barefoot factor? The balancing? The difference in postures and angles? I had always thought that there was no need to worry about it because that is why free weights are better than machines, but I found that was not the case.

    How could one who does not want to do yoga/pilates/etc. incorporate more of this type of training into lifting? Working more single-leg stuff? On a bosu ball? Work where you are unbalanced and forced to use core to correct, etc..? And how important do you think it is?

    It FEELS like it has made a huge difference, not just in day-to-day life, but in my ability to perform my old lifts as well. I think my body was so trained into certain motions that I was missing a whole other level of strength that was developed through yoga.

    And the whole conversation above sparked another question, about spinal compression with heavy lifting. Have you done any research on this? I definitely felt a difference there as well. But maybe I was just lifting too much for my frame without the proper supporting muscles?

    Thanks.

    • Bret says:

      Hi Michelle, I answered some of this stuff above. But Yoga will build improve certain qualities over strength & conditioning. For example, you will improve balance and flexibility rapidly due to the increased amount of time devoted to these. If you wanted to try to reap the benefits of both without actually going to yoga class, then I would perform single leg RDLs and perform some of your favorite poses/drills in the warm-up or after the workout. I don’t think you use more core when off-balanced (if you used weight on stable ground you’d use more core). So no Bosu needed IMO.

  • Maureen says:

    Hi Bret,

    I have always mixed things up with spinning, pilates, yoga and weight lifting. However, at 51 with all those lovely changes that getting older/menopause bring I have found that my body has changed a lot and I have to work harder to “stay ahead of the game”. About 6 months ago I started to concentrate more on lifting with progressively heavier weights and with a concentration on compound exercises. This has made all the difference in the world. I do find that pilates is great for de-stressing but I think people really underestimate the psychological impact of lifting weights. For me it guided me away from the usual “change” feeling of being a dumpy old crone to feeling (and starting to look) like a badass warrior. To get back on target, is it true that older women should shift to heavier lifting as they age in order to maintain/gain muscle mass and keep their metabolism efficient? I still see the benefit of pilates and think that difference types of workouts complement each other but I think there are “emphasis” changes to make as you age. Everyone has their idea of a “look” they aspire to but personally I want to look like Tosca Reno (a fellow Canadian over 50) instead of Mrs. SpongeBob SquarePants.

  • Cheryl says:

    My experience is a bit of a reverse of Michelle’s (except with Pilates vs Yoga). One year ago I switched from doing a combination of mostly Pilates (apparatus work using springs for resistance), some Barre Method, and Gyrotonic — to lifting weights 3-4 times/week. In my case, I have been far happier with the results I have gotten from weightlifting. I don’t think there is anything wrong with those other methods, they just didn’t produce a body that I was happy with. I have an ectomorph body type that the yoga/pilates people would probably describe as “long and lean”. I am small framed and thin with long limbs and have always had a challenge putting on even a small amount of muscle. My years of doing pilates did very little to develop any muscular definition and I just looked very thin — I would say (I’m now in my 40’s) I looked “skinny-fat”. I also have hyper mobility in certain joints (shoulders being one) and that work just seemed to exacerbate those problems when I really needed to develop stability in those areas. I had an instructor who would look at me sadly and say “you’re so skinny”, while at the same time warning me against lifting weights as it would give me that undesirable “bulky” look. This seemed wrong to me but I still stuck with it for two years, believing she was the expert (even without anything of substance to back up her claims). My experience with her and many other pilates instructors was like this and I think they truly believed those claims. I finally decided to make a change and started working with a trainer who created well designed progressive strength training programs for me. When he tested me using the FMS, my core was very weak. That was very surprising to me as I thought pilates was supposed to develop a strong core. I have been strength training for a year now and I look healthier, more filled-out (in a muscular way), have developed a strong core, greater stability, better posture, and it just feels good to have a strong body. As someone who is getting older (and already has a body type that makes gaining muscle difficult), developing and maintaining muscle mass is essential for me. For my body type and concerns, Pilates (and the other methods) didn’t work well. There are women who desire a thinner less athletic/muscular look , and pilates or yoga may help them achieve that. I don’t think a method like Pilates is bad. A little bit could nicely complement a weight training program, and I’m sure there are instructors out there who are not anti-weightlifting. What I do think is bad, and to Bret’s point with this article, is making claims with little or nothing to back them up and making women feel that picking up a weight greater than 3 lbs. is bad for them.

  • Val says:

    Not in any means scientifically qualified, but I’m going to chime in as a female lifter who grew up around dance. Those slender women who dance, do yoga, pilates—anything that claims to build long lean muscles–tend tk have genetics for longer and thinner limbs. I have seen a fair amount of dancers and yogis who definitely are thicker. Ballet is a very tough sport and produces very muscular legs, so don’t compare–ballerinas just have longer and leaner bodies because those are their genetics…you have to be born with a ballerinas body and feet to do it. I know many many fantastic dancers who could not pursue ballet cause their bodies are not proportioned right for it.
    I’m a clear example. I have a solid background in dance and figure skating and have always been on the thin side, but genetically am short all around. I do not have long and slender limbs…I can reduce size by lowering my body fat but no amount of dance/yoga/etc will affect my body’s capacity to be long and lean. Back when the only form of strength training I did was skate and dance, I had very muscular legs…they looked great but are not very different from how my legs have been progressing since I started lifting heavy weights. How my body looks from strength training is based on how I was programmed genetically.
    As far as difficulty, Brett is definitely very right about needing to develop balance for certain poses. Yoga and dance require strength but are also skills based—the more you practice the more efficient you become. Weightlifting is the same but most of us progressively load to make sure we are continually challenged.

  • Wednesday says:

    As a dedicated yoga practitioner and teacher, I can’t agree with this article more. It is spot on!
    I stopped lifting to focus more on my yoga practice. Everything went well for several years. But after a while hours of practice completely depleted my muscle. This made my practice much more dangerous, and I ended up with a back injury.
    Using hip thrusts and glute bridges and lifting heavy restored my muscle mass and has brought my practice more into balance and pain free!
    I still think yoga is a valuable tool for stilling the mind and learning how to talk to your body and use it, but without the muscle moving the joints through their range of motion, yoga can cause joint injuries. Especially as we get older I think it is important that we do the work to preserve muscle and use yoga as a way to preserve the mind as well as lowering stress levels.
    I love your work, Bret!

  • Karl says:

    Maybe this is an explanation for the observed “long and lean” effect of yoga: It improves posture and makes you stand taller. Like the old saying goes: “Want to lose 10 lbs. and 10 years in one second? Stand up straight.”

    Yoga can’t really lengthen bones and make you taller, but it can help correct poor posture that’s become habitual and physiological.

  • Paula Batt-Rawden says:

    perfect article, perfect timing as always Bret!!
    I’ve just been asked to submit a regular piece for the gym where I work and of course I want to promote strength training for women!! they’re all asking for the return of Pilates classes that were cut. so based on what you have written, I can confidently attempt to persuade them that weights and fat loss are best – but we always knew that 😉

  • Carrisa says:

    Um heaps of yogis have thick bodies; it completely depends on what your body type is. In most yoga classes, what you see are either fattish thick bodies or thin type of bodies without many of the lean curves that strength training will give you. Yogis generally have a higher body fat percentage than women who lift weights. I do both, so I see all types. I do yoga once a week and Pilates once a week and strength training/high intensity conditioning three times a week. Go to a yoga class any day of the week, and tell me if you honestly think every woman in there has a long, lean body? That’s bullshit. It completely depends on your body type and genetics. The good thing about strength training is that you will build muscle and improve your body composition no matter what your natural body type is. Come on girls, we need to stop accepting everything we hear and start to think more rationally about all these things.

  • Carrisa says:

    Those who only ever do yoga are also very often ass-less! You need strength training to build the glutes and give them shape.

  • Tim says:

    I have had this possible explanation floating in my head ever since I heard Nick T. address this issue a couple years ago. It may have merit, may not (makes no diff to me). But, those culprit activities you mention (yoga, pilates, etc.) to supposedly creating “long, lean muscles”– could it be possible that the thickening of tendons from long period of time under tension (i.e. from holding certain bodyweight poses) could create an appearance of longer muscles- due to a markedly bigger appearance of tendons in line with the ends of the muscle, creating a visual muscular ‘elongation’. … ?

  • yo says:

    Well, this doesn’t sound right. I go to a gym and yoga class a couple times a week each. The women in yoga absolutely look “leaner” and with that far more physically graceful; the ones in the gym carry themselves in such a way that it looks as though they’re carrying something heavy in their hips — not really in a good way (and this is coming from a fellow ass-man!). Sure, squatting & hip-thrusting will put some more meat into that tush, but without a doubt the women I know that do yoga/pilates look and carry themselves around better (less rigidly for certain) than the ones I see at the gym.

    Speaking from personal experience as someone who lifts free weights and recently began yoga, the benefits of the latter are that you’re acutely increasing kinesthetic awareness. In lifting weights, I find this makes me go “deeper” into a lift and helps me kinesthetically focus on the muscle I’m trying to work. I guess this is the “lengthening” or “toning” effect? At the end of the day, these are abstract signifiers of muscular awareness, so you’ll have people decrying their veracity-or-not to the end of time. Point being, yoga has made me more flexible — which has carried over to weightlifting — and my muscles far less rigid.

  • Georgia says:

    A google search led me to this discussion – I didn’t have time to read all comments unfortunately, but the ones I did read were quite surprising. Especially from the men, they made me laugh. As a professional slender dancer, trained as a professional ballerina, I can tell you, a ballerinas body isn’t just simply a wittled away version of a body builders. Professional dancers are strong. Period. Anyone who thinks they aren’t are complete fools. There is definitely a difference between body builders appearance and a dancers appearance and it is NOT, because they are weak. Dancers build strength without bulking up muscle, we use our bodies differently, we use muscles body builders would not even be aware of. We need to produce fluid movements, so we use many muscles as opposed to just bulking up specific groups over and over again. The author is clearly an expert in what he knows. But he does not know much about the slender body at all!

  • lisa breaux says:

    Ok..boys and girls that posted on this lengthy examination of what leans the body out……No lifting weights at a gym will definitely not be a lean looking technique …yes, it may give you muscles where you may not have ever thought possible, but really, gym routines and what they yield are not ” slim lean” bodies… open up a muscle and fitness magazine and show me Slim/ lean… lordy no way….I will further say that POWER Yogis are not LEAN bodies either ..look around what constitutes lean bodies like back in the 60s 70s 80s…this my friends was tge ERA of lean bodies – slim waist – toned kegs – flattest cores — fit muscular profiles…not like TODAY a confused fitness industry…promoting a ” buffed up” so called ripped core …. .swollen breasts ( or better yet fake boobs) ….horse racer thighs…..inflamed torsos etc….Seriouslt- is this healthy!!! ..Let’s see to achieve a toned slim lean muscular body one should first get the kegs moving walk walk walk briskly .. next flow the body ( see Art of Motion – Pilates dance yoga) …next follow Martial Arts type workouts to lengthen and move muscles..do yoga flow and stretch…if your mindset is still hearing a mantra ” got to lift weights- got to lift weights” then use small weights and circle out your arms as you do exercises to lengthen not bulk up…yea bulk is what happens when you lift …and lastly put tge fork down..eating ten so called small meals a day is simply a fad and no one needs to eat like that ..yiur body doesn’t require all these meals…3 a day keep it simple .. …( ps- How do I know this ??? Well, I’m beyond age 50 …learned to keep lean even after having 6 natural birth kids…promote natural holistic techniques to keep longevity …don’t drink protein powders or enhancements for energy and Been in the fitness industry over 3 decades))….have a good day!

  • Elena Rodríguez del Bosque says:

    Hi bret,
    Im a female 20 years old. So2 years ago I started doing resistance training, i actually started to follow your program but I got too bulky, my arms got really really big. Later on, I stopped doing heavy weights and I started doing only cardio and light weight, I´ve always loved cardio. Today I have an athletic body but I would like to be more shredded, I don´t know if I should start lifting weights again and consume less calories so i dont get bulky or if I should do cardio and lift weights? My ideal body would be an skinny athletic, not bulky or curvy.

  • Hello Bret, Thank you for your article. As a passionate yoga practitioner, I totally agree with this article. I stopped weight lifting to focus more on my yoga practice. However I had back injury after hours of practice that entirely depleted my muscles. It would be quite dangerous to continue with my yoga practice. Then I started hip thrusts and glute bridges and lifting to bring back muscle mass. Eventually my practice is more balanced and pain free. I think it is crucial to have balanced between muscles preservation by doing lifting muscles stretching by practicing yoga.

  • Naomi says:

    Hi there, reading this with great interest, albeit a few years later! I am looking for the “right” exercise program, having not been much of an exerciser most of my life – found most sports boring & the ones I liked too expensive.. not a runner, not a swimmer. I tried boot camp for over a year a few years ago & did not lose any weight, body shape changes yes but no weight off, plus sore knees/feet. I am hypermobile which means I am overly flexible in my tendons, meaning any high impact exercise is damaging my knees & feet. I also have varicose veins, bunions & have just turned 40. Weight has crept on over the last few years due to at times crappy diet & no exercise although my job is very physical. I am also someone who can whip out 50 squats no issue, big calves etc but cannot run for my life. I also am not into the ripped, wrinkly look of the average triathlete or runner over 40. I have no idea what I do wrong in my diet & over the past few days am trying not to snack or succumb to the late night nibbling.. I barely drink, do not touch junk food or soft drink, do not smoke etc etc. Anyway! I am very please to read dance was raised in the above comments – I am a dance photographer & totally admire the bodies & strength, love the art form & grace of the dancers. I checked out with a physio & podiatrist to see if I’d be ok to start & have. I do one dance class a week (tap) which is all I can do at the moment time wise. I plan to incorporate some classes from a yoga studio near me who also do barre (hard!) and start ballet classes. I do want the long leaned tone & grace & strength of a dancer & wonder just how much I can reduce my bulky legs, I really hate them! I was looking for low impact effective exercise – tried Curves (hopeless) and thinking yoga, pilates etc is the best for me, plus dance – I love the idea of dance being my exercise, it is far more emotionally satisfying.

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