Can You Build Muscles with Yoga?

Can You Build Muscles with Yoga?


Can You Build Muscles with Yoga?

When you think of strength training, you‘ll probably think of weightlifting at the gym, doing a lot of exercises with heavy dumbbells and working on those abs with numerous reps of crunches, situps and mountain climbers. But as yoga rapidly grown in popularity and a lot of young people are giving it a go, you have probably asked yourself one or two of these questions:

Does Yoga count as strength training? Can I get fit and form my body with it?

People who have never tried yoga before may think of skinny men in their new hemp clothing collection from the third world shop. Of course they sit in a circle singing the „OOOOOMMMM“ and doing crazy things with their breath, right?

Well, yes, some yogis do sing the "OM“ and yes, they can do crazy (and super cool) things with their breath. BUT this is not what every type of yoga is about. There’s a huge variety of types, which do not all include meditation and singing mantras at all. I made the experience that most gyms offer a body shaping type of yoga such as Vinyasa Flow or Bikram Yoga, which is performed in a hot room. And I also made the experience, that my muscles were so sore after a good session!

After a year of regular training with two to five yoga sessions a week I can feel and see how my core, my arms and my legs got stronger and stronger.

So my answer is "Yes!“, you definitely can build muscles with yoga.

Let me explain how:

Yoga is both, body weight training and muscle regeneration. You bring your body in to positions and orientations where your muscles need to support you, such as the downward dog, triangle pose or handstand. Indeed there are a few postures which require advanced strength to even try them.

See? You are lifting weights – your own body weight! The great thing about yoga is, that you also activate those little muscles you may not see, but which make you stand tall and hold all the poses and on top of this your muscles will heal faster because of the stretching you do while training.

Of course there is a limitation of weight when you only lift your own. It may take time and more skill and determination to move forward with your muscle progress. So if your only goal is to build bigger muscles, weight training could be the faster way.

But there are a few reasons, why yoga is the more balanced way to get strong:

  • You train all muscles well balanced, the smaller and bigger ones, while with weight training you often only train one muscle group and mostly just the bigger ones.
  • Yoga helps you to perform better the whole day: walking, sitting, bending, lifting heavy things and even sleeping. You move your body in all directions with twists and rotations and not only back and forth. This mobilises your muscles and joints and keeps them strong and prevents pain.
  • It increases muscle endurance because you hold the poses for a longer period of time several times each yoga workout.
  • You’ll build slim and long muscles with yoga while they will get more bulky with weight training. This is because the muscles contract in a stretched position doing yoga. With weight training it’s the opposite: Your muscles get smaller as they contract and therefore the muscle fibers heal closer together. This is what gives them the bulging look.

As you can see, yoga is a good way to build strong and defined, but not bulky muscles. It strengthens your whole body and connects it with your mind, which – to me – is the most important thing.

I picked out my favourite strengthening yoga poses for you:

The wall facing handstand

This is a killer exercise for your shoulders. Start with the downward dog and walk up the wall untill your legs are parallel to the floor. Then walk as close to the wall with your hands as you can and hold as long as you can. Don't forget to breathe!

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The sideplank with a raised leg

This exercise strengthens your core and your hips. Start with a usual plank on your hands, then move on to a side plank. Your arms should be in a line and your hand is under your shoulder. When you stand solid, raise your leg and hold this position as long as you can.

Utkatasana or the chair

This exercise activates your back and legs and forms your booty. Start with a forwardfold. Then raise your arms and bend your knees gently. Keep your spine long and your chest lifted. If you feel save in this position, you can lift your heels to activate your calves. Hold as long as you can, then fold forward again.

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