Want a strong core? Lean, strong, and muscular arms and legs? Well, you don’t need to look any further than yoga. When most people think of yoga, they almost always think of flexibility. But a good yoga practice often requires equal parts flexibility and strength, making it one of the most well-rounded practices there is.
But first, what is strength training?
Let’s define what strength training (a.k.a. resistance training) is before seeing if yoga checks all the boxes. Strength training is defined as any form of movement that involves using your own body weight or tools, like dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, etc, to build muscle mass, strength, and endurance. People often associate strength training with lifting external weights. And, what better way to build strength than lifting your own bodyweight? That is exactly what a yoga practice trains one to do.
So, how does yoga fit the bill?
There are several reasons yoga is a more balanced way to do strength training:
- Yoga reduces your risk of stiffness-related injury by making the body more mobile and improving your range of motion.
- Yoga helps condition the body to perform better at the things we have to do every day, like walk, sit, twist, bend, and lift heavy items (kids, groceries, etc). It is a form of functional fitness. Yoga practice moves your body in the ways it was designed to move, to help ensure that it keeps functioning properly.
- Yoga relies on eccentric contraction, where the muscle stretches as it contracts, building strength while increasing flexibility in the muscles and joints. Weight training relies on the opposite physical principle of concentric muscle contraction, which means the muscle gets smaller as it contracts. This is also a great way to work the muscle, so long as you stretch extremely well beforehand. Unfortunately, many of us skip this step!
- Yoga increases muscle endurance because you typically hold any given pose for a period of time and repeat it several times during a yoga practice.
- Yoga is very effective at reducing cortisol levels — a stress hormone linked to weight gain which can increase as you work out. Deep breathing, stretching and lengthening of the muscles through the practice, and a deep relaxation post every session can help reduce cortisol levels, which leads to better sleep, improved muscle recovery, and improves your overall energy levels. That means you’ll be able to recover faster and keep coming back and building strength
Your go-to yoga routine for building strength
Now let’s look at what kind of yoga postures are best to develop strength and build muscles:
- Upper Body — Arm balances and inversion poses are a fun and challenging way to effectively build muscle strength in the upper body and the core.
- Lower Body — Standing poses such as the warrior pose, side angle pose, and triangle pose are fantastic for strengthening both the legs and the glute muscles, especially when you hold these positions for longer periods.
Here’s a typical yoga strength flow. It takes about 45 – 60 minutes based on how much time you spend on each posture — beginners should hold each asana for 5 counts, while advanced practitioners can hold them for 10 counts each. We recommend trying this with a teacher first if you are not familiar with the practice.
A typical strength flow
- Utthita Trikonasana
- Virabhadrasana 2
- Uttitha Parsvakonasana
- Ardha Chandrasana
- Prasarita Padottanasana A, B, C
- Utthita hasta padangusthasana A, B, C
- Parivrtta janu sirshasasan
To sum up
Yoga is more than just a way to stay flexible, it has the potential to make you stronger at your very core. And it’s a practice you can take up anywhere at any time — whether you’re attending classes at the gym or working out from home. So roll out that mat, inhale, and say namaste to a stronger you.
Credits – Divya Rolla