When most people want to build muscle, they gravitate toward free weights and machines. After all, nothing stimulates muscle growth quite like lifting weights. But, sometimes the most effective tool for the job is your own body. That’s where yoga comes in. Yoga is a lot more than just glorified stretching. When performed correctly, certain yoga poses can target your muscles, torch your core, and aid in functional strength gains. We turned to yoga instructor and Aaptiv trainer Ceasar F. Barajas to share how to build muscle with yoga.
Regular yoga practice, Barajas says, is an excellent way to build muscle and both lengthen and tone the body. “Think of it this way: holding certain yoga poses is still tearing muscle fibers, [while] using body weight as tension,” explains Barajas. “The body’s response is to build more muscle, as a backup.”
Rather than employing anyone act as your everyday go-to, Barajas like to couple yoga with weight training. He emphasizes that it’s important to incorporate multiple disciplines into your workout regimen. “Practicing yoga is an amazing additive to your strength training,” he notes. “It helps you ease the mind and come into more consciousness about breathing, which in turn is going to help you push/pull more weight.”
Yoga Poses to Build Muscle
Yoga is a diverse and comprehensive practice, which means that you’ve got a lot to choose from. So, to narrow the field and get you started, Barajas shares five of his favorite yoga poses for building muscle and gaining strength.
This single-leg pose helps the body root through the ground and establish balance. It works all those little stabilizer muscles around the ankle, knee, and hip of the planted leg while giving the other leg a good groin stretch. To keep your body steady from beginning to end, the core must remain engaged.
Barajas likes this classic pose for many of the same reasons he likes tree pose. The single-leg nature of warrior three requires balance and engages your core. But, unlike tree pose, warrior three has a forward-leaning orientation. It puts even more weight on the standing leg and works the entire backside of the body. Expect to build strength and endurance in your calves, hamstrings, glutes, back, and shoulders.
“This pose requires the body to squeeze through the legs, glutes, core, and lower back, and is a great lower body strength building exercise,” says Barajas. In addition to its muscle-building benefits, bridge pose also opens up the chest and shoulders, while giving the spine and hip flexors a good stretch.
Similar to bridge pose, chair pose engages the legs and glutes, and requires a strong core and lower back to hold yourself steady. With your feet together, you will feel your quads and glutes burn as your legs support your weight in this narrow-stance, half-squat position.
“The plank pose is an amazing upper body strength builder, plus a killer way to fortify your core,” says Barajas. To keep things interesting, mix up your planks with multiple variations. Barajas suggests practicing high planks on your hands, low planks on your forearms, and also side planks. The latter puts more weight on one arm while working the entire side body, from your legs to your obliques.
If you’re new to yoga, the above poses will be challenging. But, the more you do them, the easier they will get. Soon, your body will be stronger than when you started as you build muscle with yoga. This will translate to more than just getting a good workout on the yoga mat. Yoga builds functional strength while lengthening and stabilizing the body, which is noticeable both inside and outside of the gym. So whether you’re lifting weights or just carrying groceries, you’ll reap the benefits of those newly-fortified muscles.