Many equate “strength training” with the bench press, dumbbells, and weight machines.
But if you’ve ever had sore muscles after a yoga session, you might have wondered if you could just do yoga instead.
Many yoga practitioners look toned, as if they go to the gym and lift weights. And they do: their own body weight. Quite simply, yoga poses require positions and orientations that engage our muscles.
And let’s face it, we know that strength training of any kind has obvious benefits, such as building muscular strength, fat loss, improved metabolism, and increased bone density.
Yoga for Strength
Yoga from the East doesn’t emphasize how yoga can sculpt one’s body, but they focus on the mind-body connection and building strength. Originally, yoga was a way of life and being, rather than a way to look better in clothes. Yoga is the original form of mind-body fitness.
Nonetheless, when I look at the typical yoga-crafted* body, I can’t help but admire their physique.
“Yoga can be just as effective as weights when it comes to building a stronger, more impressive physique,” says Nicholas DiNubile, M.D. Experts agree that whether or not yoga can be your sole form of strength training depends on your goals.
“If all you’re looking to do is build muscle, weight training is the more practical approach,” advises DiNubile. In fact, the American Council on Exercise defines strength training as “exercising with progressively heavier resistance for the purpose of strengthening the muscular skeletal system.”
With weight training, your muscles adapt to the resistance and get stronger, with one weight no longer being a challenge.
Then you have to add more resistance/weight to achieve greater results as time goes on.
Strength that’s developed from yoga doesn’t quite work that way and is more of a functional strength.
But what if we combined the two? Raw power with functional agility. More details on that in a moment…
Yoga as Strength Training Offers Balance
Many believe that yoga, however, is a more balanced approach to strength training. For one, it conditions your body to perform things you do every day: walking, sitting, bending, lifting. Your body moves in the way it was designed to move.
Yoga also tones both large and small muscles all over your body in balance with one another, while weight training isolates one muscle group at a time – like the back and forth of a bicep curl.
More technically, yoga relies on eccentric contraction, where the muscle stretches as it contracts, giving it a sleek, elongated look. Weight training relies on the opposite principle of concentric contraction, where the muscle gets smaller as it contracts. Muscle fibers heal close together, with a compact, bulging appearance.
Because the practice of yoga encourages your mind to focus on just one thing at a time, it’s a wonderful tool for building focus and concentration. These are essential qualities to have when you are strength training to maintain proper form, reject distractions, and stay motivated.
Yoga poses also build stamina through extended holds and challenging postures. Stamina is an essential part of any exercise routine, whether you’re running, lifting, or taking a workout class.
If you’re new to lifting weights or slowly ramping up your capacity, you know what it feels like to have excruciating soreness and stiffness after your workout.
Yoga is also great for reducing pain by strengthening and stretching out overworked muscles. Preemptively, it’s a smart idea to do yoga on a regular basis to reduce your risk of muscle strains and soreness before they happen.
Yoga Poses for Strength
Without a doubt, some yoga moves are better for strength-building than others, so let’s look at a few specific poses to help tone and train your muscles in extraordinary ways.
- Chaturanga Pose – This is an excellent alternative to pushups that strengthens your shoulders, biceps, and chest.
- Chair Pose – Strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and calves with this common yoga pose that’s harder than it looks.
- Boat Pose – Build up that six pack with this pose that works your abs and also strengthens your hip flexors.
- Crow Pose – This upper body and core strengthening pose can be tricky at first, so place a pillow under your head to protect yourself as you gain confidence.
- Warrior Poses – A flow of Warriors 1, 2, and 3 will strengthen your upper and lower body while challenging your balance.
Combining Yoga and Strength Training
If you’re looking to maximize your gym time, consider doing a hybrid practice of yoga with weights. Many gyms offer yoga sculpt classes that start off with one- to five-pound weights to build strength while holding complementary poses. You should definitely master the basics of yoga before bringing weights into the mix, but the two practices work surprisingly well together.
Also, try doing yoga as a warm-up before aerobic exercise or as a cool-down after going for a run. It’s an incredibly versatile practice that can easily be incorporated into what you’re already doing for your body.
Yoga increases muscle endurance, since you typically hold a given pose and repeat it several times during a workout.
This can add another dimension to your overall strength.
By holding positions longer, doing more repetitions, and learning new poses, yoga can become more challenging. Before you try advanced poses like arm balances, start with the basics, use a yoga DVD, or consult videos online.
The best of both worlds is to practice yoga and weight train.
This has been my path. In fact, I throw some jiu-jitsu into the mix for good measure.
But if you’re not into lifting weights, you can use your bodyweight (pushups, squats, etc.). Mindful strength training is another option to consider. Many studies have shown that the more variety in your routine, the faster you’ll see results.
Yoga strength training, alongside martial arts and CrossFit, offers a more functional form of strength than traditional weight training. You can definitely get stronger by practicing yoga, but strength training with heavy weights offers its own unique benefits.
The cool thing is we don’t have to choose; we can combine yoga and strength training to get even more benefits.
The most important thing is to find a way to work with your body that makes it stronger and more flexible. And for extra credit, integrate mindfulness into the practice for good measure. For some, it’s martial arts; for others, it may be mindful strength training or yoga.
Take time to explore and find something you really enjoy, so it can become a lifelong habit.
Go out there and get physical, work with your body, and move your body. Your body will thank you later, I promise.