How Long Does it Take to Get in Shape With Yoga?

Jessica Biel, Adam Levine and Matthew McConaughey attribute their fit bodies to yoga. If you've just started classes, how soon until you reap similar fitness results?

Yoga complements mass-building resistance training. (Image: Aleksandar Todorovic/Hemera/Getty Images)

So many factors come into play when you're trying to get into shape:

  • What does "in shape" mean to you?
  • What's your starting point: coach potato or somewhat fit?
  • What type of yoga do you practice: gentle or rigorous?
  • How often per week are you practicing: once, twice or multiple?
  • Is yoga the only exercise you do?

You can see that the answer is really: It depends. You'll likely feel a difference in flexibility and calmness after just a few weeks of practicing several times per week. After two to three months, markers of fitness — such as strength and flexibility — may improve. But, whether these improvements get you to your definition of being "in shape" is another matter.

What Does It Mean to Be in Shape?

Being in shape means different things to different people. You might consider being in shape as meaning your daily stamina has improved, you don't get winded going up the stairs and you keep up with your kids on vacation. For others, being in shape means having visible muscle, as well as the ability to run a 5K or jump in on a game of flag football on a moments notice.

Yoga can help you achieve both degrees of fitness, but it will take longer — likely several months — to get to the latter, more athletic level. How much longer, depends on your answer to other questions, such as your starting point and the intensity of your routine. And, to get a lean, ready-for-anything body, you'll likely need to do additional workouts such as weight training and cardio, as well as conduct a dietary intervention that ditches processed foods and focuses on fresh vegetables, proteins and whole grains.

What's Your Current Level of Fitness?

If you'd describe yourself as a non-exerciser, it's going to take you longer to get into shape, regardless of your definition. Novices should ease into a regular yoga practice schedule to avoid burnout and injury. The more rigorous, "shape-creating" poses and faster pace of an intense class requires a process of building; just like in running, you don't start with a marathon; in yoga, you don't start with handstands and jump-throughs.

Augment yoga with other fitness activities. (Image: den-belitsky/iStock/Getty Images)

You can expect improvements in your flexibility, balance, muscular endurance and aerobic capacity after eight weeks of three hour-long Hatha classes per week, showed a 2005 study published by the American Council on Exercise. No guarantee those improvements get you to your definition of being "in shape," however.

What Style of Yoga Do You Practice?

A rigorous, flowing style of yoga that pushes you through Sun Salutations, includes standing and balancing poses and concludes with some long-held stretches is going to get you into shape more quickly than a slow, methodical practice. These active styles hit all the components of fitness defined by the American College of Sports Medicine: cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility and nueromotor.

A quiet, meditative practice can't get you into physical shape. (Image: EpicStockMedia/iStock/Getty Images)

All types of yoga have value, but if being fit is your goal No. 1, then Ashtanga, Power or another vinyasa style will be more likely to help you reach your goals than a gentle introductory class or slow-moving Hatha. How long it will take depends on your level of dedication and how seriously you take the practice when you're in class.

How Often Do You Practice?

The American Council on Exercise study had people practice three times per week for eight weeks to achieve improvements in fitness markers. Practicing more will likely give you faster results, but also puts you at risk of losing your enthusiasm quickly. But, if you practice less often each week, or only intermittently, it's unlikely you'll make big strides toward getting in shape.

Varying your practice throughout the week gives you a mental and physical break. Take an intense power vinyasa one day, head to restorative the next, and then opt into a gentle Hatha, for example. You may not get results as quickly, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

Although some yoga advocates do say yoga is all you need to get in shape, you would benefit from cross training with a number of different activities. Hiking, dancing, gardening and lifting weights are ways to complement your yoga practice and get "in shape" faster.

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