People have practiced yoga for thousands of years, and there’s a good reason why it has prevailed. Yoga helps benefit the mind and body in many ways.
Some of the most known benefits of yoga stretches and breathing include relieving stress, improving flexibility, and supporting your cardiovascular system. More and more athletes have embraced yoga to improve their sports performance since it enhances several elements of fitness.
However, can yoga build muscle? Well, in short, the answer is yes, it can. However, it all depends on the type of yoga and your diet. Here’s what you need to know:
Yoga and Muscle Building
Yoga uses your body weight to create resistance. For some people, yoga training is challenging enough to stimulate muscle growth. According to one study published in 2015 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, yoga enhances muscular strength after 12 weeks of practice.
The isometric exercises practiced during yoga help build strength. That’s because the muscles contract but don’t lengthen, and the longer you hold a pose, the more the muscle contracts and strengthens.
Concentric contraction might build strength, but research has shown that eccentric contraction (which lengthens the muscles) builds muscle faster, and yoga practice includes plenty of these. For example, Chaturangas (planks) and lowering into the Warrior 3 posture entail eccentric contractions.
Tonal uses the example of a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research to show the effectiveness of doing several Chatrurangas. The 2015 research found they are as effective as using a bench press to increase upper-body muscle mass and strength.
Finally, stretching forces resistance in muscles and connective tissues, a force that helps strengthen and shape them.
Yoga for Strength
Building strength and muscle physique is essential for improving exercise performance and supporting the mobility required for everyday activities, from walking to climbing stairs and carrying things.
Even though most people believe that aerobic exercise is more important, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocates a weekly combination of aerobic and body strength training for optimized health and reducing the risk of injuries. According to their directive, people should aim for two sessions of strength training and either moderate aerobic exercise for 150 or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise weekly.
Based on these recommendations, can yoga help you build muscle? Yoga can count as strength training, but this depends on the style of yoga practiced and the poses in your yoga routine. However, it cannot be as effective at building muscles as lifting weights.
Yoga poses requiring you to support your body weight with resistance for some time have the potential to increase muscular endurance and strength. The most effective poses for strengthening muscles use many muscle groups at once. However, even poses that isolate muscles are good. Both these are most effective when performed several times during the workout. Some examples of the most effective yoga poses for building muscles are Chaturangas, all 5 Warrior poses, Chair pose, and Bow pose.
Remember, yoga cannot be as effective as lifting weights for building muscles. However, if you want to include some strength training, try more demanding yoga workouts that utilize all muscle groups, hold poses for longer, and do more repetitions.
Building Muscle through Yoga
Can yoga help build muscle? So far, we know that building considerable muscle with yoga is not easy. However, some styles of yoga are more effective at bulking up muscles and building strength than others. These include Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Power yoga.
The poses that best build muscles and strength use the legs, arms, or core to support the body and hold the positions. These include planks, the Warrior poses, Cobra, the Downward-Facing Dog, and the Dolphin pose. Besides including poses that strengthen all the major muscle groups, you must keep a constant flow between poses, hold them for up to 10 seconds, and repeat them several times.
These are the essential muscle groups you want to work on:
- Core – includes the diaphragm, abs, obliques, transversus abdominis, pelvic floor, and lower back muscles
- Lower body – includes the calves, glutes, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hip adductors, hip abductors, hip rotators, and ankle stabilizers.
- Upper body – includes the traps, rhomboids, lats, pecs, deltoids, biceps, triceps, and wrist muscles.
Yoga’s Muscle-Building Benefits
Yoga has many fitness benefits, including muscle gain and building overall strength. Asanas offer more than relaxation and flexibility. The challenging postures also engage various muscle groups, and holding them activates and strengthens these muscles.
Additionally, yoga creates body awareness, balance, and stability, encouraging you to keep the proper form during exercises. Yoga also delivers more oxygen to the muscles by encouraging correct breathing techniques, meaning optimized muscle performance and quicker recovery after a workout.
While yoga is not the quickest way to build muscle, studies have shown it does have advantages over other muscle-building exercises.
Functional strength – The natural movement patterns of yoga rely on functional strength rather than isolated movements.
Balanced workouts – Most yoga asanas are compound movements based on sequences designed to balance everything by working on equal and opposite muscle groups.
Maintain muscle health while building strength – Stretching after a workout is good practice, and yoga does just that.
Increase flexibility and muscle mass – Greater muscle mass reduces flexibility and mobility. Yoga does the opposite.
Low-impact exercise– Adding more weight to the gym bar eventually causes joints and tissue issues. Yoga’s low-impact movements are ideal for preventing these types of issues.
Yoga: A New Approach to Muscle Growth
The answer to the question: “Can yoga help you build muscle,” is yes. But only if your practice meets conditions like regular practice, increasing difficulty, ensuring metabolic stress with long vinyasas, pose variations, etc.
Yoga is a new approach to muscle growth, and many prefer it to resistance training. Yogi Goals creator Dan says that muscle growth through yoga requires progressive overload using pose progression, creating metabolic stress (muscle burn), and using eccentric overload to cause mechanical damage.
Progressive overload is familiar to people lifting weights. In weightlifting, it entails adding more weight, but in yoga, it’s not always possible. However, you can use pose progression to achieve the effect by modifying poses to make them more challenging with time. Dan gives the example of the Chaturanga variation for someone wanting to build their arm muscles. The Knees-Chest-Chin Pose is the easiest version, but you can graduate to the Half Chaturanga, Chaturanga, and then do Chaturanga pushups.
However, if you are already practicing the most challenging variation, you should increase the volume of the poses.
Metabolic stress or muscle burn is very effective for muscle growth. Therefore, you should aim to gradually increase your repetitions to ensure you are feeling your muscles scream for you to stop. Of course, not all types of yoga can generate the same metabolic stress. Look for classes with a vigorous flow, like Ashtanga or Vinyasa, for the most effective metabolic stress.
When exercising, little tears in the muscles, also known as mechanical damage, help them increase as they heal. With lifting weights, these tears are caused during downward repetitions where the muscles lengthen, known as the eccentric phase. In weight training, increasing weights causes eccentric overload.
Yoga can effectively build muscles by creating mechanical damage because most poses require eccentric contractions. Yoga requires your body weight to move into poses, creating eccentric training. Your body can generate the intensity needed by going slower into poses or changing the angle at which you support it to increase difficulty.
Yoga Poses for Muscle Development
Yoga has many great poses for muscle development. The best yoga poses for muscle development use large compound movements while targeting the biggest muscles.
These are some of the most powerful poses:
Chair Pose – It uses nearly all the leg muscles, the body’s biggest muscles. You engage the glutes, quads, and core when holding a solid chair pose. Try the One-Legged chair pose as a variation.
Warrior II – With Warrior II, you use all your muscles simultaneously with everything going on as you sink into your hips while tightening the glutes and core.
Chaturanga – You must engage your core while your arms hold your weight in a Chaturanga. It comes up often in yoga, allowing you to utilize all three muscle-building mechanisms with this pose.
Bow Pose – The Bow pose engages your glutes, hamstrings, upper back, shoulders, and chest. It also stretches the chest and hip flexors. Get the most out of this exercise by squeezing your glutes to lift your legs into the pose instead of pulling them in place with your hands.
Dolphin Plank Pose – The Dolphin pose strengthens your shoulders and upper back muscles ( lats, traps, and rhomboids).
Boat Pose – In this static, isometrical hold, it’s essential to hold the body correctly to prevent strain on the lower back. At the same time, your abs, quads, hip flexors, and spinal stabilizers benefit from the pose.
Strengthening Muscles with Yoga
Yoga may provide relaxation and flexibility, but can it help you build muscle? We have established that you can incorporate strength training principles into yoga to build muscle and increase physical fitness.
Besides incorporating flowing sequences, pose progression, and more repetitions, you can use resistance techniques like bodyweight exercises and resistance bands to intensify the positions and stimulate muscle growth.
Yoga that uses flowing and dynamic poses you hold is best for stimulating muscle development. Therefore, it’s best to practice Power or Vinyasa yoga instead of Yin yoga.
Furthermore, props like blocks and straps help to create resistance and increase the workload on your muscles during poses, encouraging increased activation and growth.
As with any exercise regimen, constancy and progressive overload are the only ways to maximize yoga’s muscle-building benefits.
Yoga: A Surprising Route to Building Muscle
Can yoga help you build muscle? You can build muscle with yoga without hitting the gym unless you want to enter a body-building competition. For those wanting bigger muscles, yoga can provide added support by improving their range of motion, motion, and stability.
However, you must practice yoga regularly if you want to rely on your body weight only to build strength and muscles. That’s because of the eccentric contractions of the muscles when lowering into or lengthening a pose. Studies have shown these contractions create a stimulus for muscle growth and may provide better results than concentric contractions, like when rising out of a position.
Consistency, practicing challenging yoga, sustaining postures, and including protein in your diet are key but don’t expect immediate visible results. However, the physical changes occur almost immediately, as your sore muscles will attest.
Of course, some yoga types work better for building muscles because they are more challenging to the muscles, as they stimulate them and force them to adapt. Therefore, the yoga you should prefer for muscle growth includes Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Power, and Sculpt yoga.
- Ashtanga is fast-paced and demanding because you quickly move into postures that are always practiced in the same order.
- Vinyasa is a dynamic yoga style that progresses from one posture to the next in a connected way while unifying the movement with breath.
- Power yoga has Ashtanga intensity but varies the poses to resemble a fast-paced Vinyasa.
- Yoga Sculpt uses resistance and cardio training based on Vinyasa yoga.
Yoga helps nurture your mental well-being and overall health. You can also embrace yoga’s fitness benefits to build muscle while gaining strength, balance, and a resilient body. All it takes is embracing the techniques advocated by experienced yoga practitioners.