If you’re an experienced yogi, you know how challenging certain poses can seem, but is yoga strength training? Poses like tree pose, crow pose, and scorpion pose certainly require a lot of skill, and while we know that yoga can be great for improving balance, easing stiffness, and relieving stress, many of us wonder if our muscles benefit when we fight on the mat.
Before you start your yoga practice, make sure you have the essentials sorted. It means addition best yoga mats in your cart with all the necessary equipment on hand, like yoga blocks and straps, and make sure you’re wearing a pair of yoga-friendly stretchy leggings.
To find out if there is a link between regular yoga practice and muscle gain, we asked some experts. They looked at whether yoga is strength training, what exercises you should do with yoga, and what you can do to make your poses more challenging. Read on to learn more.
Is yoga considered strength training?
“Whether or not yoga is considered strength training often depends on individual needs, fitness goals, and current fitness level,” says a physical therapist. Kathy Knapton (opens in a new tab)the founder of Physio Fast online (opens in a new tab).
“If you’re not currently exercising, then the answer is yes. Introducing yoga can be part of your strengthening regimen. But if you’re already doing significant resistance training and have a good baseline level of fitness, then yoga is unlikely to affect strength.”
Knapton qualified at King’s College Hospital in 1991 and then worked at Guy’s Hospital in London. Specializing in musculoskeletal injuries, she then worked at St George’s Hospital where she worked as a specialist physiotherapist alongside orthopedic consultants. Since 2002, engaged in private practice.
Studying in Journals of Gerontology (opens in a new tab) showed that while regular yoga three times a week may lead to some muscle gain, it is not an effective full-body strength training exercise in the long term.
“Yoga has a lot of pushing and not much pulling,” says a senior yoga teacher Laura Pierce (opens in a new tab). “In order to find a greater balance of strength, I like to find ways to maximize the strength of the posterior chain and upper back (muscles typically involved in pulling).
“One of the best ways to do this is with active backbends. Variations of Locust Pose are a great back extension. They require you to actively engage your back in the back extension, which is usually held for quite some time. You can also try bow pose without holding your feet, just actively reaching for them – it’s great for strengthening the whole back.”
Should you do strength training with yoga?
“In general, I would recommend doing both strength training and yoga as the combination benefits both the targeted muscle strengthening of resistance/strength training and the balance and flexibility of yoga, so overall it’s a win-win situation,” says Knapton . “To maintain an optimal training regimen, it’s really important to have variety and avoid plateaus, so a combination of the two allows for that.”
It’s a good idea to train two to three times a week to achieve strength gains, Knapton says. “Strength training is great for age-related muscle weakness, strengthens bones and can help flexibility. When you combine this with yoga, you also add more flexibility and balance to the mix. Certainly, as you progress, regular strength training will be very beneficial.”
What are the best postures for increasing strength in yoga?
“There are many yoga poses that can help strengthen the core,” says James Brady, a yoga instructor at OriGym (opens in a new tab). “Yoga poses like the ones below can target specific areas of the body depending on what muscles you want to strengthen.”
- The Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) is great for strengthening the arms and shoulders.
- Side plank pose helps build arm strength.
- Reverse Table Pose (Ardha Purvottanasana) can increase core, arm and leg strength.
- Boat pose (paripurna navasana) is another great one for core strength.
- A high lunge helps strengthen the legs.
- The forearm plank increases arm, core and leg strength.
“Inversions like forearm balances (pinchas) and handstands are the best power poses in yoga,” adds Pierce. “They require strong upper body and core strength, as well as good shoulder and hip mobility, which is why many people find these poses so challenging. They are difficult for beginners to practice, but there are ways to modify these inversions. Practicing holding yourself upside down against a wall is great strength training, and there are also props you can buy to help you get upside down more easily.’
How to make yoga more difficult?
“If you want to increase your time on the mat, there are a few things you can do to help,” says Brady. “Listed below are some ways to enhance your yoga practice.”
- Practice in a hot room – A hot room makes the muscles warmer and more flexible, allowing you to achieve a deeper stretch that you cannot achieve in a cooler room.
- Increasing the amount of time you hold each pose – Although it sounds simple, it can make a big difference in your training. By doing this, you will spend more time improving your strength and flexibility in a particular pose. It also gives you more time to focus on your breathing.
- Incorporating Deep Breathing into Your Practice – You can use this as an opportunity to improve your respiratory system by slowly inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Deep breathing also allows you to focus on your breathing, preventing you from getting distracted during the session.
- Practice with a friend – Another great way to make yoga more challenging is to pair poses with a friend or partner. This can be both fun and a source of motivation as they can encourage you to try new poses and reach your fitness goals.
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