09/08/2011 08:06 am ET Updated Nov 08, 2011

I Love Weight-Lifting And Yoga

By Mary Henslee for

The feel of cold steel in your hand. The heft of a barbell across your shoulders. In my opinion, these are the makings of a great workout. The benefits of weight lifting are countless, from increased fat burn and better posture to muscle definition and increased confidence. Simply put, it makes you feel like one tough chick.

On my path to losing 80 pounds (and counting), I discovered my love of weight lifting. I have gotten a lot of satisfaction from growing stronger and conquering challenges at the gym. So how did a self-avowed weight lifting junkie find herself trying a hot yoga class, more specifically, a hot yoga class in summer in Texas? I’m glad you asked.

I started my weight loss journey at 257 pounds. When you want to lose weight, you join a gym, right? So I did. Everything was hard at the gym. Everything hurt at first. I worked with a personal trainer, Candice, who designed a program for me, balancing cardio and strength training. Her plan allowed me to gain strength and confidence while knowing she was there to support and coach me.

I started slow and simple with basic movements, lifting manageable weights that helped me see how to isolate and engage different muscle groups, how to build strength and how to challenge myself.

As time passed, I was dropping pounds and inches. I was rising to the challenges Candice put before me. For a very petite woman, she was tough. She’s like the world’s tiniest drill sergeant, but I showed up like a good cadet should. In fact, I looked forward to it. I craved the satisfaction of completing a task I never thought I could do. I won’t lie. I gained some swagger. I liked the playful competition in the weight room. Between the preening meatheads and the girls lifting Barbie weights, I felt right at home.

More importantly, the persistent back pain I struggled with was gone, after incorporating rows and lower back extensions into my routine. And the pain in my knees walking up stairs? It was gone too, after I learned proper stretching and foam rolling techniques to get my supporting musculature in the right place.

This gym rat wasn’t likely to be found lying on a mat doing a bunch of contortionist stretching and meditating to find my inner om. How hard could yoga really be anyway?

You can probably guess where this is going.

My niece (and very close friend) Joy is a yoga instructor. She is one of those perpetually perky and absolutely adorable girls who can seriously rock the yoga pants. If I didn’t love her so much I might secretly hate her. “You should try yoga,” she would tell me. “I really think you’d like it.” Sure, some day, I’d think, but for now, I’m going to pick up heavy things, thank you very much.

Time passed and I hit a weight loss plateau. You know the kind I’m talking about: endless, long and frustrating. I needed variety, and I knew it. Joy’s words were echoing in my ears. “Yoga gives you such awesome benefits, it will help your flexibility and reduce your stress.”

I knew I needed to mix things up. I decided I didn’t really have much to lose by giving yoga a try. I also decided that yoga probably had a hand in Joy’s perky backside (that, and youth). After much contemplation, I took the plunge and attended my first hot yoga class.

While my timing is questionable, (hot yoga in the summertime) I loved it. I learned quickly that it can be pretty hard, and rewarding in new ways.

I love the way yoga pushes you to align your body, to lengthen and open your back, chest, hamstrings and everything in between. Those places that tweak and tingle with the stress you carry throughout the day are blissfully relieved. That tightness in your hip flexors and shoulders loosens its grip. Yoga gives you an opportunity to clear your mind and get in a good healthy sweat.

I also like how welcoming and friendly everyone seems to be. No judgment (outwardly anyway) and no comparisons. Everyone is sharing their practice and growing together. I expect a round of Kumbaya to start at any moment.

As it turns out, yoga is the perfect yin to my weightlifting yang. They couldn’t be two more different disciplines, or serve different purposes, but combined together deliver powerful fitness results. My week now consists of a blend of weight lifting, cardio (usually spin class) and yoga. This new exercise cocktail has jump-started my weight loss again and provides the much needed variety that keeps me energized and focused.
The muscles I push and grow in the gym are stretched and loosened in yoga. The balancing postures I work on in yoga help strengthen my stable foundation for weight lifting. Perfect harmony.

I’m a convert, and yes, Joy and her perky backside can take the credit. I haven’t succumbed to the stereotypical hippie lifestyle, and I’m not even sure I know what Namaste means, but I do know the benefits I get from yoga are worth the investment. Just don’t make me give up my barbell squats.

Mary Henslee is a weight loss success story, losing 80 pounds and maintaining it for over two years. As she continues on her path to losing 100 pounds, Mary seeks to learn and share fitness and nutrition information, and she blogs about it all at An avid weight lifter and yoga student, she is currently pursuing her Personal Training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is working to become a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member.

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