When you think of strength training, lifting heavy dumbbells and barbells or swinging kettlebells comes to mind. While these iron-clad workouts definitely help you build muscle, they aren't your only route to stronger muscles.
Yoga may be considered strength training, depending on the style you practice. A rigorous version that moves you through multiple Chaturangas — a yoga-style push-up — lunges and core work definitely taxes your muscles. Don't expect yoga to give you a bodybuilder physique, but it can offer the stress on your muscles and bones required to keep them healthy.
Why Strength Training?
Strength training offers substantial benefits, besides just making you look firm and toned. The weight-bearing aspect of strength training builds strong bones, which wards off osteoporosis as you become older. Building muscle boosts your metabolism and improves daily function, meaning tasks such as carrying groceries to taking out the trash become easier. Strength training also improves your energy levels and offsets the natural 3 to 7 percent loss of muscle you experience per decade in adulthood.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that you participate in at least two, total-body strength-training workouts per week. These should address every major muscle group in your body: the chest, back, thighs, hips, arms, shoulders and abs.
Yoga as an Option
An active yoga class, such as Power or Vinyasa, could fulfill the CDC requirements for strength training. The key is to find a class that requires you to lift and support your own body weight.
Poses such as warrior I and triangle strengthen your legs and buttocks. Boat pose activates your abs and back, while chaturanga trains your upper body. Lunges and horse pose get at your hips and buttocks. Advanced arm balances, such as handstand and crow, use your arms, back, shoulders and core.
Not All Yoga Counts
All yoga classes aren't going to count as strength training, however. A Restorative or Yin practice, consisting mostly of deep breathing and floor stretches, offer value in de-stressing your system, but aren't really going to help you develop muscle. Even a slow-paced Hatha class may not quite offer the strength you need, especially if it includes more seated poses that require flexibility rather than strength-building postures.
If you want a shortcut to a sculpted bod, yoga may not be the way to go. It takes skill, practice and patience to build muscle with yoga. Advanced poses may take years to master.
Yoga can be your only form of strength training if your goal is to gain the health benefits of added muscle. But, if you want muscle bulk that pops in the mirror, you'll need to also lift weights and do classic weight-training moves such as back squats, deadlifts, chest presses and rows.
Muscle grows in response to resistance. When you start a yoga practice, your body serves as this resistance. Once you become proficient and stronger, regularly going to practice at least twice a week — preferably more often — will help you maintain muscle mass. But, to keep building muscle you have to progress up in resistance. You can do this by adding more challenging yoga poses, but at some point, you will plateau.
Theoretically with dumbbells and barbells, however, you can keep challenging your body with heavier and heavier resistance so your muscles continue to get bigger and stronger. If that's your goal, you have to hit the gym floor — not just the yoga studio.