Yoga may be one of the most misunderstood forms of exercise in the Western world.
Some people think yoga is more of a type of meditation than an actual exercise. Others think its only benefit is flexibility. Chances are that those people haven’t done yoga more than a few times.
The reality is that yoga is a healthy workout in many ways, including strength training . If you’re focused on building muscle, there are even ways to optimize your yoga for strength training.
How Does Yoga Help with Strength Training?
The 300 million yoga practitioners around the globe are getting more than flexibility and zen. They’re building muscle — and burning calories along the way.
Yoga is a strength training exercise because you use your muscles to hold up your body weight in various positions. Each pose concentrates your weight on a different set of muscles, making it a full-body strength workout as well.
Yoga will also help increase the flexibility of your shoulders, knees, hips and other muscle groups in ways that traditional weight training just can’t match.
In fact, yoga is often a more comprehensive strength training choice than lifting weights. Getting the right mix of yoga poses can target muscles that many weight lifting and weight training regimens do not.
How to Optimize Yoga for Strength Training
If your primary goal with your yoga practice is to strengthen your muscles, there are several ways to reach that goal.
First, choose poses that focus on the muscles you want to target. This may involve trying a few different flows until you find the right combination.
Second, you need to find ways to increase difficulty. To keep building strength with yoga, you need to keep pushing and challenging yourself.
There are ways to modify most yoga poses to make them more difficult. The easiest way, though, is to hold each pose for longer. The longer your muscles are supporting and controlling your body weight, the more you’ll challenge them.
Best Poses in Yoga for Strength Training
As any yogi knows, there are limitless ways to customize and adjust your yoga practice to focus on what you want to accomplish (which is why yogis exercise even when they aren’t doing yoga). The best way to do this is by choosing the right poses for your flows.
If strength training is your goal, these are some of the best strength yoga poses to incorporate into your yoga practice.
If you want an intense way to strengthen your core, look no further than the boat pose. For the more experienced yogis, this is also called navasana.
You’ll start this pose by sitting on your mat with your legs bent. As you balance on your buttocks, lean back slightly and start lifting your legs. Keep your knees bent at first.
The goal is to create a tight V shape with your torso and your thighs. As you’ll see, this is all supported by your abs as well as your back muscles to a lesser degree.
As you get stronger, you can make the pose more difficult by trying to straighten your legs. Only do this if you can keep that tight, controlled V in the process, though.
Plank is one of the most well-known yoga poses, and it should come as no surprise that it’s a powerful one for building muscle. It’s so effective, in fact, that a wide range of other workout programs use the plank pose as well.
The plank pose is most effective for your core muscle group, including your abs and your lower back. Your shoulder muscles come into play as well.
To perform a plank pose, you’ll essentially get into the top position for a push-up. Your arms are straight, you’re up on your toes, and your body forms a straight diagonal line from your shoulders to your heels.
If the traditional plank pose isn’t enough to a challenge, there are plenty of plank variations that will push you further. Some of these yoga poses and variations even work additional muscle groups like your obliques.
Awkward Chair Pose
This pose may not look like the most graceful thing you’ve ever done; but trust us, it’s a powerful workout for your quads.
Start by standing up straight on your mat with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly start bending your knees and moving into the way you’d sit if you were sitting in a chair. The difference is that, in this case, there’s no chair and your quads are supporting all your weight.
As you do this, bring your arms up in front of you while keeping them straight. Keep raising them until they match the angle of your torso.
Throughout this pose, make sure your knees stay above your ankles at all times.
The most obvious strength training happens in your legs. However, the awkward chair pose also works your back, your arms, and your shoulders to maintain the right angle.
If you reach a time when you want to make this pose more difficult, simply hold it longer and sit lower.
Don’t let the creepy name scare you. The only thing the cobra pose will bite is your back muscles.
To get into cobra pose, start by laying on the mat on your belly. Plant your hands on the mat on either side of you, next to your chest.
From there, push your chest up so you look like a cobra raising its head and chest.
While you’re in this position, focus on using your back muscles to keep your chest stable and upright. If you use your shoulders and arm muscles instead, it won’t be much of a challenge.
The cobra pose focuses primarily on building your back muscles, which can also lead to better posture. As an added bonus, this pose is a fantastic stretch for your abs. This makes it a refreshing pose to throw into a core-heavy yoga flow.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose
The four-limbed staff pose is also called chaturanga. Don’t mistake it with the staff pose, which is a seated position.
The four-limbed staff pose looks a lot like a plank. That’s why this is the perfect illustration of how a small change in your body position can work on an entirely different muscle group.
To get into this pose, start as if you’re going into plank pose. Instead of straightening your arms, though, bend them at a 90-degree angle. From the side, you’ll see that your upper arms are parallel with your torso.
While your core should still be engaged in this pose to keep you steady, most of the focus is suddenly on your upper arms.
Each yoga pose has its own challenges. Unlike some of the other poses on this list, balance isn’t very difficult in the warrior II pose. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or ineffective, though.
Start by standing sideways on your mat with your left foot at the top of the mat and your right foot toward the back. Turn your left foot so it’s parallel with the mat but keep your right foot facing forward.
Begin bending your left knee and shifting your weight onto that leg. As you do this, your right leg will form a diagonal line from your hip to the mat.
Keep your torso facing forward while you do this. Your hips will be slightly angled to the left
At the same time, bring your arms up on either side of you. Extend them out from your shoulders so you can form a straight line from your left fingertips to your right fingertips.
Most notably, this pose builds the muscles in your left leg. The longer you hold the pose, though, the more you’ll feel it challenging your arms and your core as well. Make sure to repeat the warrior II pose on your opposite side as well so your right leg gets the benefits too.
This is a more challenging yoga pose than most, but if arm muscles are what you’re after, you’ll have a hard time finding anything more effective than the crow pose.
Start by getting into a squat pose.
Your feet should be flat on your mat, a bit further than shoulder-width apart. Sink your butt down so it almost reaches the ground. The backs of your thighs and the backs of your calves should be touching.
From here, put your hands flat on the mat in front of you, about a foot in front of your toes. Start transferring your weight to your arms which will slowly lift your body off the ground. For balance, press your knees against your upper arms as you do this.
The ultimate goal is to lift your body high enough off the ground that your calves are parallel to the floor.
Building Strength with Yoga
People who don’t understand yoga will always ask questions like can you build muscle with yoga, or how do you build strength with yoga?
Yoga is one of the most multi-talented workouts around. It enhances your balance, it relaxes your mind, and of course, yoga builds strength and muscle without the stress traditional weight training places on your body. If you want to optimize your yoga for strength training, the poses above are a great way to start.
But, as with any workout (including yoga for workout), it’s always best to begin with the help of a professional. To find out more about our yoga classes, contact our yoga studio today.