Yoga can be a great adjunct to running. It is a movement practice that complements running well because it’s nearly the yin to the yang so to speak. Where running is cardiovascularly demanding, yoga is generally low intensity when it comes to the aerobic workout.
Running is high impact, and yoga is a low-impact activity. Running tends to cause muscles to tighten up, while yoga promotes flexibility and increased range of motion.
Yoga is also an excellent way to increase your mind-body connection and kinesthetic awareness, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.
But does yoga count as cross training for runners? Can you do yoga instead of swimming, cycling, rowing, or aqua jogging, for example? Does yoga count as strength training for runners? Can you do yoga instead of lifting weights?
In this guide, we will look at using yoga as cross training and using yoga as strength training for running, and the best yoga poses for runners that want to strengthen the core, arms, legs, back, chest, hips, glutes, and legs.
We will cover:
- What Is Cross Training for Runners?
- Benefits of Cross Training for Runners
- Does Yoga Count As Cross Training for Runners?
- Best Types of Yoga for Cross Training
- Using Yoga As Strength Training and Cross Training
- Best Yoga Poses for Strength Training and Cross Training
Let’s get started!
What Is Cross Training for Runners?
In the context of running, cross training can be thought of as any type of exercise other than running. Cross training for runners is usually categorized as cardio or strength training.
Cardio, or aerobic exercise, is physical activity that conditions the cardiovascular system and increases your heart rate while still being performed “with oxygen.” Your heart rate and respiration rate increase, though you can still breathe and carry on a conversation to some degree.
Generally speaking, the aerobic exercise zone is 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. For example, if your maximum heart rate is 180 bpm, a cardio workout would ideally put your heart rate in the range of 126-144 bpm.
Strength training increases muscular strength, size, power, and/or endurance.
So, does yoga count as cross training? Before we get into that, let’s check out the benefits of cross training:
Benefits of Cross Training for Runners
Whether doing cardio or strength training, cross training offers many health benefits to runners.
Cardio or aerobic cross training provides the cardiovascular benefits of running, such as strengthening the heart and lungs, improving lung function and tidal volume, reducing blood pressure, reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases (e.g., obesity, diabetes, and atherosclerosis), and improving the elasticity and capacity of blood vessels.
Studies also show that aerobic exercise like low-impact cross-training activities reduce blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity, reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and strengthen the immune system.
Finally, cross training burns calories, helping manage weight.
Strength training for runners builds muscular strength and endurance, helps prevent muscle imbalances, and can reduce the risk of running injuries.
Strength training increases lean body mass, which 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 stress injuries from the high-impact forces from running. Finally, strength training can boost your confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. But which is better for runners, yoga or lifting weights?
Does Yoga Count As Cross Training for Runners?
So, does yoga count as cross training for runners? In other words, can you count your yoga class as the cross-training workout on your training schedule, instead of doing something like the elliptical or swimming?
Similarly, does yoga count as strength training? Can you do yoga instead of strength training with weights?
The short answer is, it depends.
Unfortunately, not all styles of yoga and not all yoga poses will necessarily count as cross training for running or will 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 heart rate or muscular strength.
The good news is that while there are plenty of yoga classes and specific yoga poses that will do little to increase your strength or build muscle, there are also some yoga classes that can provide a good workout for runners and many yoga poses that will help you get stronger.
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.
It’s also even less likely that you’ll get as good of a cardio workout with yoga as cross training activities like rowing, elliptical, or aqua jogging.
While yoga poses where your muscles are under tension, load supporting your body weight or working 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. Therefore, when asking yoga or lifting weights, weights may have their advantage.
With a few exceptions, most yoga classes are also sequenced slowly, so that you’re holding poses for a period of time, keeping your heart rate below the target aerobic zone to count as cardio cross training.
Best Types of Yoga for Cross Training
When it comes to choosing a yoga class with the goal of getting a hard workout or having yoga count as cross training for running, 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 necessarily mean it will be physically challenging enough to actually serve as a strength training workout.
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, burn a lot of calories by increasing your heart rate, or have your yoga class to serve as your strength training or cross training workout, it’s more important to consider the style of yoga class over the difficulty level.
Although you might increase your heart rate, 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:
Vinyasa yoga can potentially serve as cross training for running as it is active, dynamic, and usually a total-body workout. This style of yoga links poses to your breath, and can leave your muscles quaking by the end.
Poses aren’t held for an extended period of time, so the constant movement and flow from pose to pose can be a more conducive way to increase your heart rate while still increasing muscular strength.
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, if you’re looking to have yoga count as strength training.
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 which 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 can condition your muscles to develop force and stability when fatigued.
Bikram or hot yoga can increase your heart rate, largely due to the environmental conditions in the room as well as the intensity of the class. Be sure to stay plenty hydrated.
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, so Iyengar yoga can potentially be used as strength training, but not aerobic cross training for runners.
Using Yoga As Strength Training and Cross Training
Even though yoga might not be the most effective form of strength training for runners, 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.
If you want to use yoga as your cardio cross training, it’s important to sequence poses together in a constant flow with little to no rest and very little static holding. It can be beneficial to wear a heart rate monitor to ensure your heart rate is getting high enough.
With that said, it’s rare to get your heart rate up into the aerobic zone with yoga, so yoga typically isn’t a good substitute for cardio cross training. However, yoga can potentially count as strength training for runners. Among the vast library of yoga asanas (poses), you can find yoga poses to strengthen nearly every major muscle in the body.
Best Yoga Poses For Strength Training And Cross Training
Some yoga poses target specific muscles while others can be considered total-body moves. Here are some of the best yoga poses for building strength:
#1: 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.
#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: 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.
#4: Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
Dolphin pose will strengthen your shoulders and upper back, and is a great preparatory pose for difficult inversions.
#5: 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.
#6: 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.
#7: 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.
#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.
So, have we answered your question, does yoga count as cross training?
Ultimately, adding yoga to your fitness routine is a great way to support your training and focus on different aspects of fitness that complement running. Yoga isn’t a great substitute for cardio exercise, but it can definitely strengthen your muscles.
Depending on your fitness goals, yoga can count as strength training, and can work wonders for helping you feel better physically and mentally.
If you are looking for other cross training alternatives, check out our cross training guide.