Combining Bodybuilding and Tai Chi: What it Means to Your Health

Sunset Tai Chi on a beachWhen we were children we quickly learned to deal with stress and conflict by stiffening up our bodies.

As we aged, we continued to react, even tensing up and making ourselves look bigger. We also learned that, by having physical muscle strength, we could handle any conflict. This usually worked well when we were children, because the stronger person usually prevailed. Although we carried that learned response into our adult daily lives, we find that we can no longer use physical force to solve stress.

Human Nature and Knee-jerk Reactions can be altered with Tai Chi Training

There are consequences for our actions. This learned response from childhood is ingrained in our subconscious, and is used in dealing with other stressful situations that come about. This results in physical and emotional tension in many of life’s conflicts.

When we react to a stressful situation by stiffening up, we are not only wasting energy but we can also add symptoms of anxiety. This causes our body to release adrenalin which bounces around as though it were inside a cup surrounded by the oceans water.

Fear strikes, Adrenalin Takes Over: What does this mean to you?

The extra adrenalin being released causes feelings in us that we don’t understand and fear is the result. In addition we experience feelings of light-headedness, our pupils dilate and we may even feel like passing out because our breathing has slowed. This frightens us even more.

In studying Tai Chi we learn to relax and rely on structure without muscle tension. By practicing a form that is a series of postures that flow together seamlessly, we are able to stay centered and balanced throughout the form.

Push Hands and Why Bodybuilders Need to Practice Tai Chi

Tai Chi Pushing Hands is also known as Senseing
Tai Chi Pushing Hands is also known as Senseing

As our Tai Chi practice progresses we also learn Push Hands, which is a two person exercise. This can either be fixed or restricted step. In the restricted or fixed step Push Hands, you quickly realize that, if you stiffen your body you are more vulnerable to being pushed over. When one person pushes, the other person neutralizes the push by relaxing and keeping proper balance and structure. The force comes in, but you only use the muscles or joints necessary to neutralize the push. This exercise repeats until someone stiffens and is unable to neutralize the push. They are then pushed off-balance. This teaches the Tai Chi practitioner that when we stiffen and try to use muscle strength, we actually are more vulnerable to being pushed off-balance. One of the benefits of Push Hands practice is to reverse the stiffness reaction we have done all our lives. Then we are able to merge this newly learned reaction into our daily lives, by relaxing when we feel threatened or when a stressful situation occurs. This technique of relaxing enables us to realize that we actually become stronger, both mentally and physically, and can deal with any situation.

Practicing Tai Chi has enhanced my weight training and made me more aware of my body alignment. It has helped me cut unnecessary muscle tension during my workout. If my body is not aligned correctly, I am not grounded, and force is not directed properly. It’s good to remember when performing any exercise, that if your body is not aligned correctly, you are not maximizing to your full potential. If I am doing a bicep curl, there is no need to overly tense muscles I am not using to curl the weight. I have learned through my increased body awareness, that I may be exerting and wasting energy I am overly tensing for no reason.

Proper form is essential when doing any exercise

In the book ARNOLD: The Education of a Body Builder by Arnold Schwarzenegger he recommends visualizing the physique you want to achieve when you are performing any muscle-building exercise. Focus on your goal and most importantly, be mindful of the muscles you are training.

Tai Chi is highly regarded as the elixir of life. It brings the daily practitioner so many wonderful health benefits like strengthening the immune system and increasing bone density. It also reduces high blood pressure. “Bodybuilding is the closest we have to the fountain of youth” – Lee Labrada

What better way to reverse aging and promote better health, than to combine natural bodybuilding, weightlifting or any other physical training activity with Tai Chi? 

Leave your comments below.

joe cavaliere bioAuthor Bio:

Joe Cavaliere has been weight training since he was 13 years old. He has spent the last 22 years practicing Yang style Tai Chi and earned his Shodan in Aikido. He along with his nephew Natural Pro Bodybuilder George Greene and sons created Muscles on Porpoise® – Better. Because you want to be.™, an online fitness apparel company that promotes a healthy lifestyle, natural bodybuilding and online training.

Check out his great blog – the Tai Chi Daily

Muscles on Porpoise Inc. donates 10% of profit from apparel sales to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Connect with them online at, or on their social channels at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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  1. Hey Joe, great article. There are probably more practices I would be interested in picking up than there are days of my life. Today I will think about how I should practice Tai Chi. Any cross-disciplinary work is should have impact on each of our main fitness dogmas. I would go so far to say that if we are not taking away from auxiliary learnings, then we are either pursuing a practice of little value, or more likely not paying attention.

    • Heather Donaldson

      Yes my first tai chi instructor told me not to mix disciplines–like yoga—so as to confuse the body. But I actually do yoga once a week and it has its own benefits like great for opening up tightness around scapula. Also find that the sense of balance and grounding I get from tai chi translates well in my yoga practice to enhance it. I do some weight training as I get older to keep up my muscle mass and its a bit of an esthetic thing too (yes, I admit it) So I guess I don’t need to buy
      EVERYTHING my tai chi instructor tells me. I’m not doing bad for 55 I think..

    • Hi Heather! What style of yoga do you do currently? It’s been a number of months since I was consistent with yoga — looking to start again. Suggestions?

    • Heather Donaldson

      Careful what you ask for…but I recommend Forrest style yoga. It will make you sweat, grow, massage and open your joints from the inside, lubricate you, maximize your ROM, posture, alignment and strength in those little places you are missing it, It will challenge you in ways you never imagined. It’s serious stuff. Charles Pentland at Chief Yoga here (who also climbs and is super strong and soft all at the once…I love him) will put you to the task. I don’t know who in Vancouver. Founder Ana Forrest will be at Wanderlust this summer. Once introduced, I noticed some audio classes on website which would allow you to follow up at your convenience. !special-events/c1z0f

    • I strongly consider the advice of others, especially if they’ve traveled great distances to give it to me. Then I do what I feel is best. When it comes to fitness, superlatives trigger my spidey senses. In my experience, unless you are performing your practice for competition level performance, like martial arts, then blending practices will only marry the best of each practice.

    • Tai Chi is on my bucket list of things I want to incorporate into my lifestyle. Joe’s post definitely has convinced me I need to get on it… 😉