Yoga with Weights: What You Need to Get Started

By Larry Payne, Georg Feuerstein, Sherri Baptiste, Doug Swenson, Stephan Bodian, LaReine Chabut, Therese Iknoian

To get started with Yoga with Weights, you need a little willpower, an open mind, and a sense of adventure; at least, those are the only intangibles you need. Taking the first step in any new activity is usually the hardest part. As for the tangibles, you need some equipment to get going.

At minimum, you need a quiet and comfortable place to exercise, hand weights, and ankle weights. A yoga mat, the right clothes, and good shoes (for warming up) are also beneficial. The good news for you? These items don’t cost a bundle.

Read on for more information about the gear and equipment you need for a Yoga with Weights workout.

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Credit: Photograph by Bonnie Kamin

Choosing hand- and ankle-weights

You need two kinds of weights if you want to incorporate weight resistance into your yoga workouts: hand weights and ankle weights. Most sporting goods and athletic stores carry these weights. Here are some guidelines.

Investing in weights of different sizes

Opt for three sizes of hand and ankle weights: a pair of 1-pound weights, a pair of 3-pound weights, and a pair of 5-pound weights.

Why not lift weights heavier than 5 pounds? Using 5-pound weights — in addition to the yoga poses — gives you a very solid workout. The 1-, 3-, or 5-pounders stretch your muscles, release tension in your muscles, and engage the muscles in the deep core of your body that you use for balance and stability. This added resistance from the weights forces your deep-core muscles to spring into action.

Lifting weights heavier than 5 pounds may make you too top- or bottom-heavy and upset the balance and distribution of your body weight.

The amount of resistance you want is up to you. Experiment with the different weights, and choose the size that gives you the best workout. Always start with the lightest hand or ankle weights and work your way up. Doing so allows you to start from your comfort zone and work your way into the weight that gives you the most fulfilling workout. If you start with the heaviest weight, you run the risk of straining yourself and pulling a muscle.

Knowing which size weight to use

How do you know which size weight (1-, 3-, or 5-pound) to use in a particular exercise? The size is ultimately up to you, but if you find yourself straining as you do an exercise, consider using a lighter weight. Some telltale signs that you should switch to a lighter weight include grunting, holding your breath, or experiencing shaking or cramping muscles.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Keep different sizes of weights at your side and test the different weights until you find the pair that engages you the best in an exercise. You may find yourself using different weights for different exercises. The surest way to know whether your choice of weights is the right one is to see how you feel after a workout.

If your body feels weak and shaky, or you’re too sore the next day, you need lighter weights. If you finish a workout with the feeling of “comfortable discomfort” — a feeling that you’ve met the challenge and given yourself a good workout — you know that your choice in weights was the right one.

Settling on the right yoga mat

You need a solid, supporting surface to exercise on, and for that reason, using a yoga mat is a good idea for your safety. Mats give you padding, comfort, and protection, especially for your knees and spine. However, it isn’t necessary to have a yoga mat when you do Yoga with Weights exercises. You can exercise on a solid, non-slippery, close-weave type of carpet or clean, dry floor.

If you’re taking a Yoga with Weights class in a gym, bring your own mat for hygiene purposes. Most gyms offer yoga mats, but they can get very sweaty. Rolling around in your own sweat is much more agreeable and hygienic than rolling around in a stranger’s sweat.

When you shop for a yoga mat, look for one that stretches a little and gives you good support. Mats range from a fraction of an inch to an inch deep, but depth isn’t the real issue — cushioning is. The idea is to get some relief from the hard floor, and although comfort is fine, a spongy mat can be a nuisance because it doesn’t give you a solid base to work on.

For your purposes, a quarter- to half-inch-thick mat is best because it offers comfort and stability; if you’re uncomfortable sitting on the floor or on your knees, get a mat that’s on the thick side. Also, the mat should be as long as you are tall plus about 6 inches; in other words, if you’re 5-feet-6, find a 6-foot yoga mat.

Don’t select a foam mat; they’re too thick and too short for Yoga with Weights exercises. Foam mats are made for aerobic exercising.

Wearing clothing that preserves modesty and movement

Don’t wear shirts and pants that restrict your movements in any way or drag on the floor, and never wear a belt; the waistband of your pants must be loose so your breathing isn’t constricted or confined. For the sake of comfort, wear clothes with natural and breathable fibers. You can find these clothes in many sporting goods stores, outdoor outfitters, and yoga retail stores, as well as on the Internet.

Follow these guidelines when choosing your undergarments:

  • Women: Women should wear an athletic or spandex bra that lifts their breasts and presses them into their bodies. For top-heavy women, this factor is important for balancing as well as for comfort.

  • Men: Men should wear tightly fitting — but not too tightly fitting — underwear from which no, ahem, items may escape and see the light of day. Spandex running shorts are excellent for Yoga with Weights. They support your muscles and keep them warm, and they permit you to move without restriction.