I once got a dream job thanks to the latissimus dorsi muscle.
I kid you not. It happened during a beginner inversions class that opened with the mechanics of downward facing dog and ended with a fun, partnered half-handstand at the wall. This was supposed to be one of those classes that makes everyone, including the aged and sedentary, feel like yoga rock stars when they do something they haven’t tried since they were kids; and so I noticed right away when the only male student in the room—an athletic looking guy in his late thirties—seemed to be struggling to get his arms into position during our early exercises. By the time we reached the half-handstand, he had given up altogether and was sitting dejectedly on his mat, watching the rest of the class in their poses.
“The problem isn’t weak muscles,” I countered when he suggested that he needed to put in more hours at the gym. “In fact, you might actually be too strong for your own good.” What I meant was that overdeveloped muscles may actually limit range of motion and make certain poses inaccessible. For example, powerful lats may allow one to execute a chin-up with the greatest of ease, but those same muscles may make it difficult or impossible to raise the arms into enough flexion and external rotation to safely bear the body’s weight in handstand and even downward dog. Repetitive contraction of a muscle or group of muscles in one direction with no variation can inhibit the opposite movement at a joint – in this case, the shoulder.
Well, the explanation must have struck a chord because the student—who it turns out was the CEO of a luxury travel company—hired me on the spot to teach yoga to his international managers. He then went on to charge me with the design of gorgeous yoga retreats to remarkable destinations around the world. This was many years ago and he still tells the story of how the incident allowed him to save face with the ladies at the studio and kept his interest in yoga alive.
If tight lats are wreaking havoc with your downward facing dog, try boomerang – I’ve included it below, and you can also find it on the 10 Minute Quick Fix for Lower Back video.
Read our post about relieving lower back pain.
Discover our lower back pain solutions.
Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.
I have the opposite problem of the CEO mentioned in this article – my body is highly mobile, making most poses accessible to me, but I struggle finding balance in advanced inversions (like handstands) because my back is too flexible. I’ve been working on strengthening my core and shoulders in order to hold a handstand, but I still have a long way to go. This post is a great example of how yoga reminds us of the importance of balance in all things.
What a great article! I really like how you explain what repetitive movement can do to a body. I used to practice ashtanga yoga, but I see now what that did (and still does) to my body and my way of moving. Your article and the Yoga Tune Up helped me a lot to explore my body blind spots and made me move in different ways. Thanks for that!
I love your story,it is inspiring.it highlights how you never know the effect you may have on a student.you communicated so well the reason for his limitation.what a wonderful outcome!
Thank you Yumee!!! So true! Stronger doesn’t always equal better. Balance and diversity to keep things flowing AND strong!!!
Thanks for an entertaining (and helpful) story YuMee!
I appreciated the reminder that it is doing movements too often and forgetting about switching it up that is the problem, not the movements themselves necessarily. Variety is the key to any movement practice.
I have always participated in sports that defined strength as compact and bulky; that’s where the power came from. The full expressions of many yoga poses are inaccessible to me because of that. Your article has opened my eyes to the fact that strength can be defines in other ways. I’m looking forward to developing a long, lean, supple, and more flexible body as I continue my yoga practice.
Thanks for sharing this story, it’s tricky finding the balance between the flexibility and strength. I like how you were able to take a student who seemed disappointed in himself and help him realize what was really going on. And boomerang, I love that pose! Great read.
What an excellent story – thank you for sharing. I often see well developed (more accurately overdeveloped) guys at yoga classes struggling through the poses and you can see the frustration clearly on their faces. It is so true that we need to balance our muscle definition. Boomerang is an excellent pose.
Great story!! It is so hard to find that perfect balance between strength and flexibility in our bodies. This really shows the importance of being a student of your own body. Very thankful you were able to help him make that connection in his own body so he didn’t walk away from his yoga practice forever!!
What a great story. I think is so important to consider a pose from the perspective of different body types recognizing that the challenges we experience are not as simple as being inflexible, weak, strong, and/or fit.
It is nice to see that your weaknesses don’t necessarly means that we are weak, but makes us realize that our training isn’t as diverse as we tought…
very informative. i teach several classes at a gym and i’ve noticed the super-buffed male population decreasing in my classes because of this same issue – not being able to ‘perform’ certain poses. i think that is a great way to explain to students that every BODY cannot perform the pose how it looks . . . but CAN eventually through retraining. i think this boomerang exercise is so helpful in many cases and I’m excited about incorporating it! thanks YuMee!
I love this story! Reframing this student’s experience is often what we have to do as teachers. Walking a path of balance between strength and pliability of a muscle speaks to its true health. It’s so important to recognize that there are parts of ourselves that can be too strong for our own good!
And Boomerang…one of my faves! Got me to awaken a lot of underused and overused muscles in my body 🙂
Thanks for sharing, YuMee!
Not only does releasing the lats improve the overhead mobility of poses, but it will also improve the pulling power in the pull up. Bonus for both mobility and strength.
Boomerang- what a great pose to showcase what muscles aren’t being used in the upper back and shoulder area. Definitely woke up underused muscles in my body!
I see this many times especially in men. They’re strong and muscular and no mater how strong you are you cannot muscle your way into downdowg if you have these liimted flexibiilty. Thanks so much for sharing.
This share is very much appreciated. I find as I currently undergoing the YTU training that I may need to balance my own fitness regimen. I am the opposite where I engage in little or no other activity. I am flexible and bendy so yoga is easy for me but I am discovering that strength training and core building using the yoga tune up inspired poses have helped tremendously. Thank u.
I fully enjoyed this story as it awakened me to how muscles can work in so many different dimensions and that not only strength can play a part of movement and stability but the mobility around the joints and how they are used. Thank you for the light bulb 🙂
Great story!! Even more amazing thought process on how mobility of the body is so important. This gives me insirpation to communicate clearly to those I work with who are always trying to get stronger, and leaving their mobility practice to the side. (Meaning their practice is heavily weighted to one side when they clearly need to include more mobility) I feel the balls will be a fantastic introduction for that.
It is great that you were able to re-frame this mans experience in a way which allowed him to stay curious about his body. As a professional dancer I have become so frustrated at the lack of anatomical expertise within the community. Many dancers and choreographers have an instinctual sense of the body and it’s movement but they often lacked the technical understanding to identify imbalances. This is very difficult in a technique such as ballet where there the anatomy is often in contradiction to healthy alignment. I have had the reverse experience where my perceived strength turned out to be my weakness. For year I walked around stuck in external rotation of the hips not realizing that that was contributing to a lack of strength and stability for my knees hips and lower back. No dance instructor was able to tell me that my external rotation could be causing the problem because they were too busy complimenting me on the extreme rotation. Luckily yoga and other fitness modalities made me much more aware that “business as usual” was actually limiting my range of motion and power as a performer. Yogatuneup has further illustrated this awareness and I am truly grateful for the knowledge and time left to become a better mover all round.
I 110% agree with you Yumee!! I really struggled with down dog and many other poses because of overworked and over strengthened muscles. Learning to open up through breath and time prat icing has done wonders! Aloha
What a story! A perfect example of why you should connect with your students. I am an athlete and always struggled with yoga because I was limited by my muscle mass. It was not until I did my first yoga tune up class that I was really able to understand and begin to over come my limitations.
This is great example of why yoga tune up improves your performance in so many other modalities, and is so important for everyone from athletes to those with a perviously sedentary lifestyles. Yoga tune up is so unique because it teaches you the why. Why can you not do this? What should you be working on? A traditional yoga class just runs through the flow and you just have to fake it until you make it, which could be frustrating for students who have difficulty with certain poses and don’t know what to work on to improve. It’s the mark of a good teacher to keep a students confidence up and be able to educate them on the “why.”
This is just a small piece of what I see over and over again in my classes, where students try to go the distance when they shouldn’t, or feel like complete failures when they can’t even get close to where they feel they should be. I find it 10x more difficult to explain to some that it is ok to be where they are at in the present moment than to tell someone to ease up or stop altogether. I’m learning that not everyone is made for every position, that it’s always a work in progress, and that its ok, Now just to get everyone else on board.
as a guy who’s rockclimbed and bouldered quite a bit, I’ve felt the downside of strong pulling muscles more than once and stretching out my lats has often been the solution to my limited range of motion overhead problem!!
I also love how you get rewarded for the kind actions you took.
Have a nice evening … or a good day if it’s not yet evening in your part of the world.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the Moksha sequence after having worked with Moksha international. After taking the YTU Lv 1 training, i’ve started to on occasion switch our crescent moon with boomerang. I personally feel the muscles better in this variation, and hope that translates to the students as well. I find it’s also easier to get them to maintain alignment when on the foor as opposed to standing and curving. Just shows how well YTU integrates into regular yoga classes.
This is a wonderful description of strength that can be so prized and yet can slo be so humbling in a Yoga class. I love the Yoga Tune Up Boomerang Pose to get into those tighter side muscles. Also, encourage shoulder flexion and external rotation important to Handstand, we can YTU Shoulder Flossing and Blockhead.
Your post really illustrates the power of proprioception in one’s own body! Up until your encounter with Mr. CEO, it sounds like his idea of strength relied on a lot of concentric contractions with the free-weights. Man can not survive on strong lats alone!
The language you use here is so clear:
“overdeveloped muscles may actually limit range of motion and make certain poses inaccessible. For example, powerful lats may allow one to execute a chin-up with the greatest of ease, but those same muscles may make it difficult or impossible to raise the arms into enough flexion and external rotation to safely bear the body’s weight in handstand and even downward dog. Repetitive contraction of a muscle or group of muscles in one direction with no variation can inhibit the opposite movement at a joint – in this case, the shoulder.
Ability to do a handstand depends on SO much more than just lat strength. (flexion, joint stacking, integrated tubular core….and so much more…!)
Reading your article reminds me as the where I was, just a few months ago.
Growing up, playing all the traditional “Jock” sports, I developed what I call broad shoulders.
Fast forward to my late twenties and my first Yoga class. Boy those warrior poses made me realize how “not a warrior” I really was. Keeping my shoulders in abduction for a period of time was impossible, extending my shoulders into tree pose with elbows extended… Equally impossible. Oh yeah, I will also not forger on how those poses were equally painful to both my shoulders and my ego.
Long story short, the introduction of YTU balls and techniques have allowed me to regain my ability to “raise my arms above my head?” Wow! Double wow!
The human body is simply elegant. YTU is a wonderful tool that I’m learning to use to help me discover how beautiful the human body really is..
“The problem isn’t weak muscles,” I countered when he suggested that he needed to put in more hours at the gym. “In fact, you might actually be too strong for your own good.”
Thanks for this post YuMee. I have tight pecs and lats and they definitely inhibit shoulder flexion (and handstands). I have been practicing ‘holy cow at the trough’ and ‘go to wall Squat Arms with a Block” and they are helping.
I have also switched up dolphin supinate for down dog.
This was a great example of changing one’s perspective on a “problem!” Great explanation of what was happening in the body and, as you said, a great way to save face and feel good. Plus, I should mention, it’s reminding me to pay a little more attention to my own lats. Wall boomerangs, here I come!
I love this way of responding to many men who attend my class that are shocked to find they can’t do a handstand. They look so perplexed when holding poses like downward facing dog cause them to exude massive amounts of sweat. Rather than having them be discouraged they can simply be rest assured that they are indeed very strong. It’s introducing the concept of training new neuromuscular pathways that bring an overall balance to their bodies!
As a personal trainer I see this all to often. Tons of strength and virtually no flexibility. Too much heavy weighted pushing and pulling. Although I see much more pushing than pulling. Intellectually if one sits at a desk the unaware body will tend to reinforce the days “work-load” and habitual daily movements. I love to take one of these people and put them on two bolsters one at the base of the cervical vertebrae and one under the lumbar spine. Then have them lay down and externally rotate the shoulders. Then leave them for 5-10 min. Then I ask them to get up….the reply is always, “NO!” It just feels too good to counter all of that muscle tension!
Thanks for this cueing tip! It’s so hard to break through the “shame” associated with “failing” at a yoga pose and you spun this in an amazing fashion. Im going to keep this one in my back pocket!
I am almost half way through my 200 hour TT and hope to be teaching by the summer. My brother owns a kickboxing gym and I am going to see if I can teach some yoga classes there. A lot of the students will probably be in similar situations as you explained in your story (both the men and women). This story definitely inspired me and gave me some insight on how to handle situations that may arise like this.
My first official job teaching yoga was at a gym, and I ended up having a good number of super buff guys taking my class. They always were incredibly humbled — and they all kept coming back. I think they started to see the benefits of finding a little more openness and in their bodies (while being incredibly challenged). Like the willow, you need to bend so you don’t break. 🙂
Oh those Lats! Always upto something. This is very true and can also affect poses like Downward dog as the action with the arms is the same. This is a great article to keep men motivated to continue their yoga practice.
I knew of this but could never seem to put it into a simple explanation like that. A lot of men with larger type bodies are discouraged in class, including my boyfriend. Thank you for sharing this information!
This story is a great example of the the inverse relationship betwen strength and moblity. Greater strength, less mobility. The key is to find the middle ground whern there is full range of motion, but also integrity with in the joints. Its also a great example of how humbling yoga can be to those “super fit” burley gym guys. One of the greatest joys in life is getting a muscle bound guy on the mat and showing them new things to work on the will help improve thier body mechanics.
I’ve experienced very similar frustrations as the guy described in this post – although perhaps not as extreme. I have very muscular traps and lats – great for strength in arm balances – but makes poses like handstand, forearm stand and especially wheel very difficult because of the lack of range of motion. But thanks to the wonderful adaptability of the body and yoga practice – I am steadily developing the balance of strength and flexibility.
This is such a great example of how yoga really is all about balance. Plus, that stretch looks delicious!
This is so symbolic about how balance is key in our lives. Too much of something, even as wonderful as yoga, or running, can hinder our bodies. I have learned a great deal recently about how too much flexibility can lead to harmful hyper-extension and sitting in the joints, and conversely, too much strength leaves us stiff and less mobile. I love how you explain that the students first reaction was that he needed to be stronger; he wasn’t working hard enough. When in fact it was backing off and switching things up that the body truly needed. Knowing your anatomy and being able to explain it to your students is so crucial. Thanks for sharing!
Like many others, I have had this “too strong” student walk in my class and try to power through everything, then realize that you just can’t rely on the strength of your muscles to get you through a yoga class! Then the wave of defeat washes over their face! But with encouragement and education they regain confidence!
I cannot tell you how many times I see people walk into class with this same scenario. It is great to put a positive, factual spin on things, especially a situation like this! You often see that discouragement in their faces after they feel ‘defeated’ by the practice and by their bodies…this is definitely the way to handle it!
Enjoyed this article and the comments above. I agree with most that well rounded workouts and lifestyle lead to a well balanced body and mind. I see many people who have flexiablity but no strength and vice versus. What people don’t realize is that switching up there exercise regime may help them perform better and also prevent injuries. I loved how you shined a positive light on this for him and that he continued his practice and gave you a dream job to boot!
This is a great tip! I actually have men in class that have this problem and can not extend fully through their arms in Downward Facing Dog. Men seem to feel they will never gain flexibility and seldom stick with the yoga classes. Perhaps, I can use this exercise to help with tight lats.
Awesome tip! Most of my yoga students are 20-25 year old men who LIVE in the gyn lifting weights. After just one yoga class, they are surprised at how inflexible they are, thinking that hanging out in the gym all day WAS good for them. I always tell them that lifting weights is great, but that they need to also do cardio work, yoga (for flexibility, balance and breathing).
This blog makes a great point about the importance of counterbalance, and how for every act we perform on our body, there is some reaction to it as well. If we contract one muscle, it stretches another at the same time without our even being conscious of the action of the muscle we think we are not ‘using’. By pointing out to the student that flexibility and strength can complement each other and do not have to be mutually exclusive, YuMee also makes a greater point here of the give and take that harmonizes the system that is our body, and further, the unity that defines yoga. Bringing awareness to those parts of our body or of our lives that may be in use even when we are not consciously putting them to use can be a very empowering tool.
Such a great example of how a teacher can impact and change a persons outlook–and understanding–of what the body can do and-most importantly–why. Its not too often any fitness professional will tell someone they actually may have too much strength to do something. It seems like the common mentality it “more is better”; more strength, more repetitions, longer hold, going deeper. All these have their place but when we can’t get there is a sense of failure and frustration–as the gentleman in this post expressed. I love how concisely you were able educate on how his strength was hindering his ROM due to an isolated and over used movement of a specific muscle, in such a way as to empower him to see him body differently, but not negatively. Thank you for sharing!!
This story is a great example of how training in a smart, balanced, and diverse manner keeps the body working in unison without unnecessary obstacles getting in the way. I believe it is extremely important to incorporate both strength and flexibility training on a weekly basis. If you have an equal balance within your fitness workouts the chances of discomfort or any type of injury taking place are definitely lowered. When I first started yoga my flexibility overpowered my strength, but since I started adding resistance training my body adapted and evened out! You can always have to much of a good thing… even in terms of yoga!