When most people think of the primary benefits of yoga, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the improvements in flexibility that can come with this type of movement practice or perhaps the stress-relieving mental health benefits of a yoga flow workout.
Among other benefits, improvements in flexibility and stress reduction are indeed valuable benefits of yoga, but does yoga build muscle? Is yoga strength training?
If you don’t love the idea of going to the gym and lifting weights and would rather roll out your yoga mat, you might wonder if you can build muscle with yoga instead.
In this article, we will discuss if and how you can build muscle with yoga and how to do yoga for strength improvements.
We will cover:
- Can Yoga Build Muscle?
- Is Yoga Strength Training?
- How to Build Muscle With Yoga
Let’s get started!
Can Yoga Build Muscle?
So, does yoga build muscle? Although yoga can be a good way to strengthen your muscles, actually building muscle through yoga is very difficult.
Building muscle, or increasing your lean body mass, is referred to as muscle hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy requires a specific exercise stimulus and then the right kind of diet to support muscle growth.
In many cases, yoga isn’t enough of an exercise stimulus to build muscle to an acceptable degree unless you are very untrained and have a large body size.
The process of muscle growth is facilitated by myofibrillar protein synthesis, often called muscle protein synthesis for short. Although some amount of muscle protein synthesis is always occurring in your body to repair your muscles, in order to trigger significant muscle protein synthesis, you need to actually induce some amount of damage to your muscle fibers.
This damage comes by way of microtears in the fibers, which stimulate the body to begin repairing the tissue.
Through the reparative muscle protein synthesis process, the size and strength of your muscles increase because new proteins are assembled and inserted along the muscle fibers in the areas of damage, reinforcing these weakened spots.
In doing so, the fibers thicken, building bigger muscles.
However, unless you have enough structural damage to enough muscle fibers, the amount of muscle protein synthesis and muscle building that occurs after a workout will be minimal.
The reason that yoga is not the most effective form of strength training to build muscle is that performing yoga poses only involves holding your body in a given position without adding additional resistance in the form of dumbbells, resistance bands, weights, etc.
When you are only working with your body weight, you will not overload your muscles all that much because they should be relatively accustomed to supporting and moving your body throughout the day unless you are highly untrained.
Therefore, your muscle fibers should already have most of the requisite strength they need for a yoga workout, with a mild degree of overload.
Without really overloading the muscles, the fibers should maintain their integrity without incurring microtears, so there is little stimulus to trigger muscle protein synthesis.
Therefore, the amount of muscle you may build by doing yoga is likely going to be significantly less than if you do traditional resistance training with weights.
With that said, yoga can build muscle, but the process will probably be quite slow, especially if you are already fairly fit.
Is Yoga Strength Training?
Building strength and muscle mass is important for not only improving exercise performance but also supporting healthy mobility and functional movements for everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs, carrying groceries or children, etc.
Studies show that strength training also increases bone density, and research has also found that strength training can reduce blood pressure, improve blood sugar control, and reduce triglycerides and cholesterol.
Although most people tend to focus on the need for aerobic exercise, doing consistent strength training workouts is also necessary to optimize health and reduce the risk of injuries and diseases.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.
Given these recommendations, it’s helpful to know if yoga counts as strength training. Can you do yoga instead of lifting weights and still get the same benefits? The short answer is it depends.
Because there are so many different poses, styles, and ways to practice yoga, it may or may not be possible to get an adequate strength training workout from your yoga routine.
With that said, jumping back to the discussion on how to build muscle, in most cases, yoga will not be as effective at increasing strength and building muscle as lifting weights will be.
However, any poses that involve supporting your body weight under tension, especially for an extended period of time, have the potential to increase muscular strength and endurance.
Yoga poses that utilize multiple major muscle groups at once, or those that isolate specific muscle groups but are performed numerous times in one yoga workout, are the most effective for a yoga strength training routine.
Examples include planks or Chaturangas, all of the Warrior poses, Chair pose, and Bow pose.
Even in a more demanding yoga workout where you are really utilizing all of your major muscles and holding the poses long enough or doing enough repetitions of the pose throughout your flow, yoga might be a workable substitute for traditional strength training but again, not as effective at building muscle as lifting weights would be.
Furthermore, if you are doing more of a restorative yoga flow or not tackling particularly taxing yoga poses in your routine, yoga will not “count“ as strength training.
How to Build Muscle With Yoga
It is not easy to build appreciable muscle with yoga, but certain styles of yoga are more effective at increasing muscle mass and strength than others. Examples include Vinyasa yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga, and Power yoga.
If your goal is to build muscle and get stronger through 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 length of time that you hold each pose or complete numerous reps in a flow of several strengthening poses. For example, flow continuously between the Downward-Facing Dog pose, and Cobra pose for 15 cycles.
Additionally, make sure that your yoga workout includes poses that strengthen all of the major muscles in the body.
This entails finding yoga poses that strengthen the core (diaphragm, abs, obliques, transversus abdominis, pelvic floor, and lower back muscles), lower body (calves, glutes, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hip adductors, hip abductors, hip rotators, and ankle stabilizers), and the upper body (traps, rhomboids, lats, pecs, deltoids, biceps, triceps, and wrist muscles).
Here are some of the best yoga poses for building muscle and increasing strength:
#1: Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
This plank pose strengthens your core and shoulders. It’s important to squeeze your glutes to support your lower back while performing it.
#2: Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Bow pose strengthens your glutes, upper back, hamstrings, shoulders, and chest while stretching the chest and hip flexors. Squeeze your glutes to lift your legs up into the pose instead of using your hands to pull them into place.
#3: Warrior Poses (Virabhadrasana)
Warrior II and Warrior III poses are great for strengthening your quads and improving hip stability and balance. With Warrior II, you’ll also strengthen your shoulders and core.
Warrior III pose is nearly a total-body strengthening yoga pose, as it works your glutes, quads, arms, and core. Make sure to keep your core tight to strengthen your abs and help you balance.
#4: Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
Dolphin pose will strengthen your shoulders and upper back muscles like the lats, traps, and rhomboid.
#5: Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)
Boat pose is a static, isometric hold that strengthens your abs, quads, hip flexors, and spinal stabilizers.
Keep your back straight and shoulders back to challenge your core and prevent strain on your lower back.
#6: One-Legged Chair Pose (Eka Pada Utkatasana)
This variation of Chair pose is essentially the same as holding a single-leg squat, which makes it a great yoga pose for strengthening your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core.
#7: Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)
This is one of the best yoga poses for strengthening your obliques (side abdominal muscles), shoulders, and core in general.
#8: Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Facing Dog pose strengthens your shoulders, glutes, calves, core, hamstrings, and back. Squeeze your quads to increase the intensity of the pose.
Keep in mind that although yoga is not the most effective form of exercise for building muscle, there are so many other benefits of yoga so it is certainly not a type of exercise to eliminate from your routine.
With that said, if your goal is really to increase lean body mass, try to squeeze in at least two weightlifting workouts per week.
If you are focused on gaining muscle mass and want to accompany your strength training with a specific diet to gain muscle, check out our article on your Ultimate 7-Day Meal Plan For Muscle Gain.