If you’re seeking ways to increase flexibility, build muscle, lower stress levels, and become mentally and physically stronger with each workout, a solid yoga practice is just the ticket. Learn how yoga can complement strength training, add power to your fitness purpose, and energize your whole body.
Yoga uses body weight to build endurance and strengthen muscles.
Many trainers suggest bodyweight exercises as an effective way to build strength, and yoga provides the perfect opportunity to do just that. Yoga instructor and wellness expert Jeannine Morris notes yoga builds both strength and endurance. Despite differences in types of yoga classes, she says all muscle groups in the body are engaged throughout asana, the sequence of postures in yoga. This means, “the longer you hold each pose, the more strength and endurance you’ll build.”
Aaptiv trainer Amanda Murdock agrees. “Yoga uses your own body weight to strengthen muscles as well as improve mobility and flexibility. It also uses all muscle groups equally rather than isolating one muscle, which can happen in regular weight lifting. This helps keep the body in balance, especially if you do the more rigorous forms of yoga.”
Each individual’s practice is different
Yoga can also be customized to each person. Linsey Birusingh, RYT 200 and Owner of Yoga Thrill Adventures, explains “It takes immense physical strength for some people to even hold their weight in downward facing dog, let alone balance on their hands.” No matter your level of fitness, yoga can enhance your strength in new ways.
“Strength doesn’t always mean having the biggest muscles or being able to lift the heaviest objects,” says Annika Peick, RYT 200 and director of marketing and social media, Power Life Yoga. “Your practice can help you build long, lean muscles and tone your entire body. Sometimes people discount the benefits of doing bodyweight exercises in addition to lifting heavy weights. But, yoga is all about being able to support your body using your muscles and joints.”
“Also, everything is relative,” mentions Murdock. “Certain—more rigorous—forms of yoga may help with strength building. But it depends on the type of strength you are looking for. It will never give you a body builder’s physique. However, it will help you lose body fat and build muscle mass, if that is your goal.”
Yoga postures offer a different type of challenge.
Chair pose, warrior lunges, balancing on one leg, touching your fingertips to the ground in a forward fold—yoga both invites you to explore new sensations in the body, but also pushes you to your edge.
“In a vinyasa class, there are usually a lot of chaturangas (basically a form of pushups), planks, lunges, inversions, arm balances, and balancing poses. These require you to muscularly engage,” explains Murdock. “Also, a flow class moves quickly, meaning you will repeat most of the poses several times or do a large quantity of poses for the length of the class. Most poses require several muscle groups to be engaged. This builds or strengthens muscles while you practice.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean yoga should cause you pain or force your body past any physical limits. For example, if you have knee issues, there’s no reason to see how long you can hold hero’s pose. And if your shoulder twinges in an arm balance, that’s your body telling you to pay attention and to find a different variation or invite a modification into your practice.
Yoga is all about compassion and exploration—seeing how you react to and handle discomfort or the unexpected, both mentally and physically.
“Some people have the misconception that yoga is ‘easy,’ or simply stretching. But that’s just one aspect of the practice,” says Birusingh. “I work with professional athletes who keep coming back to vinyasa for the endless ways it challenges them to grow mentally and physically. Each pose is like a little experiment: Can you find your edge and breathe through it?”
All types of workouts benefit from a regular yoga practice.
While yoga does not replace strength training as a whole, it certainly complements it as well as many other workouts. “I’m a huge proponent of yoga as a form of cross-training,” says Birusingh. “Cyclists, runners, Crossfit enthusiasts, and others need musculoskeletal elasticity, multi-lateral range of motion, and mindfulness yoga provides—not only to counteract the negative bodily impacts of their sport, but to prevent future injury.”
Morris suggests adding yoga to your workout regime to not only enhance other exercises, but also to help prevent injury. She says, “The goal is to stretch and strengthen at the same time. In any given posture it’s easy to sink into your flexibility. But, engaging certain muscles while others are stretching is the key factor that helps to build strength.”
Not sure how to add yoga to your usual workout habits? Murdock recommends seeking the opposite of what you normally do. For instance, if you like high-intensity workouts, a restorative or slow flow could be a nice complement. And if you’re a long-time runner, a hot vinyasa class could “help you move through full range of motion and strengthen stability muscles, which are harder to strengthen with just running.”
Your secret to a strong, healthy mind and body.
Peick adds that a regular practice can benefit every single part of your body, “from your muscles to your joints to your lungs to your mind.” While some workouts are targeted for specific parts of the body, like hips or abs or hamstrings; your entire body gets a workout each time you show up on your mat.
“Yoga is designed to care for every part of your body. It can prevent disease and optimize even the parts of your body you can’t touch: the nervous, circulatory, and cardiovascular systems. It may also increase flexibility, suppleness, balance, memory, range of motion—the list is endless,” shares Birusingh. “But only if you commit. Like any activity, you’ve got to do the discipline to reap your reward.”
Additionally, the mental benefits of yoga may take your workouts to the next level on a daily basis.
“Yoga makes you aware of your breath and increases mental strength,” says Peick. “I also occasionally fall into the trap of thinking my body can’t handle a workout. Or, I think I’m too weak to try a new type of exercise. But, the time I spend on my mat proves my ego wrong every single time. It helps me stay cool, calm and collected, and reminds me I’m stronger than I think.”