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Yoga vs. the Gym: Which One is Best for Weight Loss?

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Although both can help shed the extra chunk we’ll eventually gain during the holidays, a lot of people still debate on what’s better for weight loss, yoga vs. the gym. In reality, though, the best way to lose weight is a combination of both, and a healthy diet.

Of course, no one wants to hear that, but that’s the sad fact. However, there are ways to do both yoga and a gym workout without feeling like you want to give up halfway through your first pushup.

Cardio workouts are one of the best ways to lose weight fast, whether it’s sweating it out on a treadmill or jamming out in a spin class. On the other hand, Vinyasa Yoga has been the weight-loss yoga choice of many a yogi out there.

A lot of misconceptions about both have created confusion about either weight loss abilities, with some people even creating some kind of weird rivalry between yoga vs. gym workouts. But if done properly, you’ll be maximizing your weight loss regimen easily.

But first, let’s talk about weight loss and burning calories:

Weight Loss and Calorie Burning

Calories have had a negative connotation the last few years, but thankfully, scientists have started clearing things up. Back in the 90’s, diet fads were all about “zero calorie” foods and burning off as much calories as you can. Nowadays, we know differently: calories, in its most basic sense, is a unit of energy that our body uses up. It’s the fuel our body needs to do things like walk, digest, and most importantly, live. When not in use, calories are stored in our body as fat.

Putting aside individual differences in metabolic rates, lifestyle, and daily activity, weight loss is all about one thing: calories going into your body vs. calories going out of your body. We gain calories through the food and drink we consume; if we consume too many calories and don’t use up that energy, it turns into fat, which makes you gain weight.

Conversely, if you go below your recommended calorie intake, you lose weight. In general, doctors agree that in order for a healthy person to lose one pound of fat in a day, they need to go on a 3,500-calorie deficit. For reference, the recommended calorie intake for a 5-foot-5 inches tall woman is 1,200.

This means two things: one, you can lose weight by going on a complete calorie deficit, but it’s neither healthy nor efficient. And two, the only way you can sustain weight loss without dying is really a proper diet and exercise regimen that, ideally, puts yoga and gym workouts together.

Benefits of Yoga for Weight Loss

A lot of people assume that yoga is easy because it’s slow-paced, relaxed, and more concerned about doing poses and stretching. These people cannot be more wrong. As someone who’s only started doing yoga regularly for about a year, I’ve seen major improvements in both my weight loss and muscle building journey over the past few months.

In particular, Vinyasa Yoga has been highly effective in helping me with my weight loss efforts. Vinyasa Yoga focuses on synchronizing breathing patterns with traditional yoga poses. These yoga poses don’t just help you stretch your muscles, it builds them up because it is essentially body weight exercises.

This physically straining activity takes up a lot of your calories, which, in essence, burns up a lot of your fat, not to mention strengthening your core and other major muscle groups. It really is one of the best ways to develop lean muscles, i.e. muscles that aren’t surrounded by fat.

Yoga Vs. the Gym: Cardio and Poses

As for yoga vs. cardio, both are able to burn off calories at an impressive rate. In Vinyasa Yoga, a 150 lbs. woman like myself can burn just under 600 calories in a 60-minute routine, provided, of course, that I’m actively flowing the whole time, with rests in between kept to a minimum (or none at all). This is impressive, especially when you compare it to ‘traditional’ cardio exercises and how much calories they burn in a regular 60-minute workout:

Brisk walking: 297 calories per hour

Moderate spinning: 450 calories per hour

Moderate jogging: 684 calories per hour

Elliptical trainer: 800 calories per hour

Of course, you don’t have to go all-out every single time you do cardio or yoga; it’s best to keep things at a moderate pace, just enough to get you sweating and elevate your heart rate but not enough to complete gas you out.

Combine yoga with a gym workout involving cardio, and you’ll be burning double the calories for half the effort.

Not Just for Burning Fat

Like we mentioned earlier, Yoga isn’t just about losing weight; it’s also a great way to strengthen your core and build your muscles. Yoga is a very holistic approach to body building because it puts your body’s welfare front and center; it’s not about pushing you to the limit, it’s about elevating you one step at a time.

In its most basic form, yoga is body weight training: all the poses and stretches yoga programs as you to do are designed to help you carry your weight and engage as many muscle groups as possible, with your core constantly getting strengthened to support everything else. Because of this, regular yoga workouts will help build your muscles to be stronger, longer, and more toned. It might not exactly bulk up like a body builder, but over time, you’ll notice that its easier to do physical activities like lifting weights or running.

Weight lifting at the gym, of course, is the way to go if you want bigger muscles. While an improper weigh training regimen can create an imbalance in body composition, a proper, well-regulated weight training program can help you get bigger and stronger while burning off fat in the process. As you lift weights, your body strains and requires more energy to move, leading to your muscles consuming the fat surrounding it for sustenance.

Over time, both yoga and gym workouts will boost your metabolism as your body starts getting used to the idea of sequestering most of your calorie intake specifically for your workout regimen.

Proper Diet is Essential

But, of course, the best way to lose weight is still a proper diet program. There’s no two ways about it: put down the Twinkie and eat some broccoli. A person can exercise as much as they want, lift all the weights and do all the yoga poses, but if they keep eating junk food, they’re never going to lose weight (and will probably develop some kind of heart disease in the process).

Nowadays, we know that there are good fats and bad fats: bad fats are the ones that don’t burn off easily and hang around in unfortunate places like our liver or inside our arteries. Bad fats usually come from processed foods like sugar and processed meats. Good fats, on the other hand, are the kind of fat that our bodies benefit from the most because they provide both energy and other essential nutrients. These good fats can be found in unprocessed foods like chicken, pork, beef, and fish. Vegetables, fresh fruits, and whole grains are also a great source of healthy fats, and a balanced, calorie-deficit diet involving whole, unprocessed foods isn’t just a great way to lose weight, it’s essential to living to a ripe old age.

Here’s how you can leverage both yoga and gym workouts to your advantage: choose a gym workout regimen that involves mixing cardio and weight lifting on separate days: this will help your muscles recover and give you more strength in the process. Meanwhile, keep your yoga sessions light but flowing to help your muscles get toned and stretched out in between weight lifting sessions.

In Yoga, mindfulness is just as important as the physical activity: use this idea of always being mentally present in your weight training: as you lift heavier weights, pay attention to your body so that your form is always perfect, which in turn, will help you avoid injury. Outside of working out, use your mindfulness to be aware of the kind of food you eat. Remember: garbage in, garbage out. Stick to whole foods and healthier alternatives, and try to go for a calorie deficit if you must to burn off more fat.

Above and beyond that, always remember that there shouldn’t be an argument about whether yoga vs. gym workouts is better: use both and approach your fitness in a holistic manner.

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