Is Yoga Strength Training? Overlaps & Differences + 8 Effective Strengthening Yoga Poses


A student recently approached me after class asking if I could recommend a type of strength-training exercise to complement her yoga practice.

My initial reaction was to suggest nearby gyms with weight training equipment but when my student mentioned Pilates as a muscle-strengthening exercise I deliberated: is yoga considered strength training?

Unlike different styles of exercise, the main objective of Yoga is to calm the mind and connect with the self through heightened consciousness of the body and breath. This may explain why we associate yoga more with meditation, breathwork and flexibility for seated postures than with physical strength.

However, a regular yoga practice that incorporates both dynamic sequences and holding postures can certainly help to develop physical strength- not to mention mental and emotional endurance!

Motivated by my curiosity- and keen to better advise my student – I set out to explore types and techniques of strength training and the health benefits this discipline shares with yoga to answer the question: to what extent is yoga strength training?

Read on to discover

a man doing yoga and a woman doing strength training divided by a white lightning dash

What strength training involves

Strength training is also known as resistance training. It is an important component of overall fitness and health for people of all ages because it helps us to build and preserve muscle mass as we age.

Strength training involves performing a variety of physical exercises with a gradual increase in the effort exerted by muscle groups.

There are five main types of strength training, each with their own objective:

Muscular endurance

Developing the ability to perform a movement or exercise, such as rowing or running, for a prolonged period. Training involves engaging the slow-twitch fibers with a high number of reps using light weights or body weight.

Muscular hypertrophy

Stimulating muscle growth and increasing the amount of lean muscle to prevent age-related muscle degeneration and assist weight loss. Training is performed with moderate to heavy weights.

Circuit training

A sequence of various exercises performed with little to no rest between each to condition the whole body.

Muscular strength

Increasing muscle fiber size to achieve maximum strength for lifting heavy weights such as in bodybuilding and powerlifting.

Explosive power

Performing powerful movements quickly such as jumping and leaping by engaging fast-twitch muscle fibers to improve athletic performance.

a woman holding a weight doing a bicep curl

Examples of strength training

Weight training

A system of physical conditioning involving a range of movements (lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying) and the use of free weights such as dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells or weight machines.

Body weight exercises

Exercises that target different muscle groups to develop strength, stability and endurance using body weight as resistance. Examples include push-ups, squats, lunges, planks, abdominal crunches and single-leg deadlifts.

Resistance band training

Rubber bands of varying resistances replace heavy equipment to work the muscles and develop strength. Closed loop bands can be placed around the legs or arms, while open-ended bands can be fixed in the middle and pulled from the sides. Stretching the bands requires similar muscular force (output) as using free weights and weight machines.

Suspension training (Total Body Resistance Exercise)

Resistance exercises using a variety of ropes, straps and cables suspended from a surface or lever. Leveraging your body weight against gravity develops strength, balance and coordination.

Isometric exercises

A series of exercises that generate static contraction of a muscle without a noticeable change in muscle length or in the angle of the affected joint. While these exercises improve stability, they only improve strength in one specific position.

Plyometrics (or jump training)

A high-impact, high-intensity system of explosive movements including jumping, hopping, and squatting. Alternating between the muscle contraction caused by jumping and the stretching caused by landing tones and strengthens muscles.

a man doing a pullup on a bar in a park

7 Benefits shared by strength training and yoga

Like my student, more and more yogis are showing interest in resistance training and in the variety of ways it can make us stronger.

Despite the differences in techniques, practicing yoga also offers a range of health benefits that contribute to overall strength.

In parallel, health experts claim that both strength training and yoga help to improve our quality of life.

Let’s explore some of the benefits for physical and mental health that strength training and yoga share:

1. Strengthened and toned muscles

Resistance training strengthens and tones muscles by contracting them against a resisting force.

Isometric resistance involves contracting muscles, without them changing in length, against a non-moving surface such as in plank pose and isotonic resistance involves the shortening and lengthening of muscles in movement as a bicep curl.

Holding and asana (yoga pose) is an example of isometric contraction while moving into and out of asanas involves isotonic contraction.

There are around 640 muscles in the body and a varied physical yoga practice helps to strengthen and tone them all.

2. Sustained bone and joint health

Muscle strengthening exercises help preserve muscle mass which is essential to sustain bone and joint health. High-intensity resistance and impact training have also been shown to improve bone density

Yoga also helps to support joint and bone health. Moving in all directions while performing different postures increases joint flexibility and weight-bearing poses activate osteoblasts; the cells that strengthen bones.

Yoga has also been shown to minimize wear and tear on joints, which can help delay the onset of osteoarthritis.

3. Sustained weight loss

During strength training, the more effort you exert, the higher the energy demands on your body. This means more calories are burned during a workout.

Resistance training also helps you stay lean because muscle mass is a more active tissue and it is more metabolically efficient than fat, meaning you continue to burn calories even while resting.

Yoga has been shown to control lipid fat levels and body fat composition and although relaxation techniques slow metabolism, they also reduce stress levels which prevents the body from holding onto fat.

5 people practicing yoga on a beach at sunset

4. Improved balance, coordination and posture

Resistance training increases lower limb strength which improves core stability. The stronger our leg, abdominal and back muscles, the better our balance.

Developing core stability is important for improving posture and reducing the risk of falls.

Strength training exercises that involve lifting, pulling and pushing weighted equipment also help to develop overall coordination.

Practising yoga heightens our body awareness and improves spine health which contributes to improved posture.  

Balancing poses such as Tree, Eagle or Half Moon, together with strengthening poses such as Boat and Side Plank have also been proven to improve balance, stability and coordination.

5. Better heart health

Strength training has been shown to help reduce blood pressure and levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), therefore decreasing the risk of heart disease. 

It also improves circulation by strengthening the heart and blood vessels.

Research has demonstrated that yoga also has profound benefits for cardiovascular health. Practicing yoga regularly can improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels and cardiovascular resilience, all contributing to a reduced risk of heart disease.

6. Improved mood and mental health

All forms of exercise increase endorphins, the hormones that are produced in the brain to relieve pain and improve mood.

Resistance training has been reported to boost self-confidence because overcoming the physical challenge of exercise gives a sense of achievement and increasing physical strength makes progress visible.

Strength training may also contribute to improved body image which can increase overall self-esteem.

Similarly, perceiving our physical progress in asanas can build confidence and practicing yoga regularly increases levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and prevent depression.

7. Better brain health

People who perform resistance training may show signs of improved brain health, helping to prevent the onset of cognitive decline associated with aging.

Strength training has been shown to increase blood flow, reduce inflammation and increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which, in combination, are thought to improve memory and learning.

A physical yoga practice can also increase BDNF, which encourages nerve growth and connections. Varying our yoga routine is an effective way to re-wire neural connections and improve neuroplasticity.

Though not a physical activity, meditation encourages the grey matter in the cerebral cortex to develop and can strengthen new neural connections.

8 strengthening yoga poses

1. Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing four limbed staff pose

Benefits for strength:

  • Strengthens biceps, triceps and forearm muscles
  • Develops wrist strength and flexibility
  • Strengthens pectoral muscles
  • Builds strength in shoulders and scapula stabilizers
  • Develops core stability: strengthening abdominals and spinal extensors
  • Builds strength in the quadriceps

How it works:

You use your own bodyweight as resistance to develop strength.

Lowering into and lifting out of Chaturanga are isotonic exercises; lowering into Chaturanga is the eccentric phase while lifting into Plank or Upward Facing Dog is the concentric phase.

2. Crow Pose (Bakasana)

annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing crane pose

Benefits for strength:

  • Builds strength in the arms and shoulders
  • Develops wrist and hand strength
  • Strengthens and tones the chest, core and back muscles
  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Refines mental focus

How it works:

Crow pose is usually an isometric bodyweight exercise and some styles of yoga incorporate jumps into and out of the pose, which further strengthens the muscle groups through dynamic contraction and stretching.

3. Raised Leg Pose (Uttanpadasana)

Benefits for strength:

  • Strengthens abdominals
  • Strengthens lower back
  • Strengthens pelvic and perineal muscles
  • Strengthens leg muscles

How it works:

Each leg is raised and held for a few seconds before being lowered and the cycle is repeated up to 10 times with each leg. This builds muscular endurance through repetition and strength through isotonic movements and isometric resistance.

4. Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)

an annotated image of a man wearing black yoga clothes doing a boat pose

Benefits for strength:

  • Strengthens back muscles
  • Strengthens the core
  • Develops mental endurance

How it works:

Lifting and lowering the legs to come into and out of the pose are isotonic movements while holding the posture (for the recommended 30 seconds) is an isometric exercise.

In Ashtanga yoga, Navasana is performed 3-5 times with Scale Pose performed in between each repetition. This is an example of muscular endurance using body weight as resistance.

5. Sarpasana

Benefits for strength:

  • Deeply strengthens the back muscles
  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens the heart muscle
  • Strengthens the adrenal gland

How it works:

Sarpasana is held for as long as possible, making it an isometric exercise.

6. Triangle pose (Uttitha Trikonasana)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing triangle pose

Benefits for strength:

  • Strengthens core
  • Strengthens hamstrings, sartorius, calf muscles and ankle muscles
  • Engages adductors to improve leg stability
  • Helps strengthen bones by bearing the weight of the torso and limbs

How it works:

Uttitha Trikonasana is usually performed isometrically.

7. Crescent Lunge Pose (Ashta Chandrasana)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing crescent lunge pose

Benefits for strength:

  • Strengthens leg and foot muscles
  • Strengthens and stabilizes hips
  • Strengthens back muscles
  • Develops stability and balance
  • Keeps joints and bones strong
  • Gives a sense of mental stability and increases self-confidence

How it works:

Crescent Lunge is often used as a transition pose in Vinyasa sequences making it a dynamic isotonic movement.

8. Dynamic Energy Pose (Druta Utkatasana)

Benefits for strength:

  • Builds strength in the hips, thighs and ankles
  • Strengthens and stabilizes knee joints
  • Strengthens the back and spine muscles
  • Develops core strength
  • Improves balance
  • Develops endurance and mental strength

How it works:

Like Chair Pose and Revolved Chair Pose, Druta Utkatasana uses body weight as resistance to develop strength across different muscular groups.

Similar to squats, eccentric contraction occurs when lowering into the pose as the quadriceps lengthen and concentric contraction occurs when extending the legs as the quadriceps shorten.

So, is yoga considered strength training?

In short, to a degree.

While yoga has nothing in common with muscular hypertrophy, muscular strength or explosive power training, nor will you ever use dumbbells, resistance bands, or suspension cables in your practice, there are some similarities with strength training.

Repeated vinyasa sequences such as sun salutations improve physical endurance, while challenging poses develop mental endurance. Yoga offers a range of body weight exercises such as planks, leg raises, arm balances and all asanas involve isometric and/ or isotonic resistance.

Although yoga on its own won’t give you big biceps and thick thighs, regular practice undeniably strengthens and tones muscles in all parts of the body while developing bone and joint strength.

Evidently, yoga and strength training share many health benefits and both disciplines have been shown to improve heart health, mood and mental health all contributing to an overall better quality of life.

So, the next time a student asks me for some strength-training exercises, I’ll explain all the ways yoga can make you stronger before sending them to the local gym!

Not convinced this is a strong argument? Discover more strength-building yoga poses and find out whether yoga counts as cross-training!

Photo of author
Yoga teacher from the UK based in Madrid. Combining the ancient wisdom of Yoga with modern health sciences (physiotherapy, osteopathy) and holistic health. Hatha-Vinyasa and restorative classes in English and Spanish. Trained in India and Madrid (400 hours) // FisiOm // Yoga for Hormonal Health

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