The first thing that comes to mind when many of us think of the benefits of yoga is usually its ability to increase your flexibility, or perhaps the power of yoga to reduce stress and leave you feeling centered and balanced.
While these are indeed excellent benefits of practicing yoga, yoga can also be an effective means to increase your strength.
Whether yoga is your primary form of exercise or you like to incorporate yoga into your overall workout routine as a supportive adjunct to other types of exercise, many people would love to capitalize on the potential for yoga to increase strength.
In this guide, we will look at using yoga for strength training and the best yoga poses for strengthening your core, arms, legs, back, chest, hips, glutes, and legs.
We will cover:
- Benefits of Building Strength
- Does Yoga Count As Strength Training?
- Which Type of Yoga is Best for Strengthening Muscles?
- Using Yoga for Strength Training
- Best Yoga Poses for Strength
Let’s get started!
Can Yoga Make you stronger?
Unfortunately, not all styles of yoga and not all yoga poses will necessarily help you get stronger. For example, while you might find deep relaxation and mind-body centering benefits, no matter how long you hold Corpse pose, you won’t be increasing your muscular strength.
The good news is that while there are plenty of yoga poses that will do little to increase your strength or build muscle, there are also many yoga poses that will help you get stronger.
Benefits of Building Strength
Obviously, we all want to have sufficient strength to handle the physical demands of everyday living, such as climbing stairs, carrying groceries or children, squatting up and down out of a chair, and doing yard work and household chores.
Moreover, if you play a sport or like to work out, you also are bound to appreciate the athletic and fitness performance benefits of getting stronger.
While there are all veritable goals and benefits of building strength, strength training provides additional benefits that we often overlook. For example, increasing lean body mass increases your metabolic rate, allowing your body to burn more calories throughout the day, even at rest.
Strength training also increases bone density, which can reduce your risk of osteoporosis, and helps stabilize joints and prevent injuries. Finally, strength training can boost your confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.
Does Yoga Count As Strength Training?
According to the CDC, in addition to accumulating 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, adults should aim for a minimum of two weekly total-body strength training sessions,
Many people want to know if you can count your yoga workout as strength training. In other words, can you do yoga instead of lifting weights and still get the same benefits? The short answer is, it depends.
There are so many different styles, poses, and ways to practice yoga, so it’s possible to get a good strength training workout through yoga, but it’s also possible—and frankly more likely—not to.
While yoga poses where your muscles are under tension or load-supporting your body weight or have to work against gravity can build muscular strength (and muscular endurance if the poses are held for an extended period of time), using external resistance, like dumbbells, kettlebells, and resistance bands are more effective at building muscle than working with body weight alone.
To increase muscle mass, also referred to as hypertrophy, your muscles must work against heavier loads.
Which Type of Yoga is Best for Strengthening Muscles?
When it comes to choosing a yoga class with the goal of building strength, the natural inclination is to assume that the primary factor to consider is the level of difficulty of the class.
However, just because a class is rated as “Advanced” rather than “Beginner” or “Intermediate” doesn’t mean it will necessarily be physically challenging enough to actually serve as a strength training workout, as the difficulty levels are usually more of an indication of the flow of the class and lack of pose instructions (and skill required by the poses, to some degree) rather than the muscular strength the poses require.
If you’re looking to build strength with yoga or want your yoga class to serve as your strength training workout, it’s more important to consider the style of yoga class over the difficulty level.
Although you might use your muscles and develop some strength through nearly any type of yoga class, the following types of yoga are particularly effective at strengthening your body:
If you’ve ever taken a Vinyasa class, you’re well aware of how this style of yoga links poses to your breath, and can leave your muscles quaking by the end.
A Vinyasa yoga class is active, dynamic, and usually a total-body workout.
Even though poses aren’t held for an extended period of time, the constant movement and flow from pose to pose can be a great muscular workout.
Like Vinyasa, poses in Ashtanga aren’t held very long but the vigorous pacing, and reliance on many upper-body poses, make this a great style of yoga for strengthening your core, arms, shoulder, chest, and upper back.
Ashtanga yoga also emphasizes the importance of daily practice, which ultimately can provide the consistency you need to really see improvements in your strength.
Iyengar is a style of yoga that relies on props to facilitate holding challenging poses for long periods of time. These long holds can build muscular strength and endurance.
Power Yoga can be a challenging total-body workout, increasing your cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and strength.
Power Yoga often includes poses that require a lot of balancing and core control, and inversions, which are also common, increase upper body strength.
Many of the sequences in a Power Yoga class link poses back to back that use similar muscles. This can build muscular endurance and train your muscles to develop force and stability when fatigued.
Using Yoga for Strength Training
Even though yoga might not be the most effective form of strength training, it’s possible to get stronger from yoga.
Choose poses that require your legs, arms, or core to hold the position or support your body, such as the Warrior poses, Plank pose, and Dolphin pose. Increase the duration of the pose or complete numerous reps in a flow of several strengthening poses. For example, flow continuously between Downward-Facing Dog pose and Cobra pose for 15 cycles.
8 Best Yoga Poses for building Strength
Among the vast library of yoga asanas (poses), you can find yoga poses to strengthen nearly every major muscle in the body.
There are yoga poses that strengthen the core (diaphragm, abs, obliques, transversus abdominis, pelvic floor, and lower back muscles), yoga poses that strengthen the lower body (calves, glutes, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hip adductors, hip abductors, hip rotators, and ankle stabilizers), and yoga poses that strengthen the upper body (traps, rhomboids, lats, pecs, deltoids, biceps, triceps, and wrist muscles).
Some yoga poses target specific muscles while others can be considered total-body moves. Here are some of the best yoga poses for strength:
#1: Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
While stretching the chest and hip flexors, Bow pose strengthens your glutes, upper back, hamstrings, shoulders, and chest. Focus on squeezing your glutes to lift your legs up into the pose, rather than passively grabbing them with your hands and pulling them into place.\
#2: Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Plank pose strengthens your core and shoulders. Be sure to squeeze your glutes to relieve strain on your low back and support optimal form.
#3: Warrior Poses (Virabhadrasana)
Warrior II and Warrior III poses are great for strengthening your quads, which are one of the largest muscle groups in the body.
With Warrior II, you’ll also strengthen your shoulders and core, and improve your balance.
Warrior III pose is nearly a full-body pose, as it strengthens your glutes, quads, arms, and core. Keeping your core tight will not only help strengthen your abs, but it also will help you balance and maintain the pose.
#4: Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)
Boat pose is a static, isometric hold that requires tremendous core control as it strengthens your abs, quads, hip flexors, and spinal stabilizers.
It’s important to keep your back straight and shoulders back, as this will help build core strength and balance while also encouraging good posture and the synergistic support and control from the lower abs and lower back.
#5: Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
Dolphin pose will strengthen your shoulders and upper back, and is a great preparatory pose for difficult inversions.
#6: One-Legged Chair Pose (Eka Pada Utkatasana)
This variation of Chair pose is basically like holding a single-leg squat. It’s a great yoga pose for strengthening your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core.
#7: Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Facing Dog pose utilizes your shoulders, glutes, calves, core, hamstrings, and back. Squeeze your quads to increase the intensity of the pose.
#8: Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)
This is one of the best yoga poses for strengthening your obliques (side abdominal muscles), shoulders, and core in general.
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