Adding Yoga Strength Training to Your Fitness Routine
Yoga is an ancient practice, and how could 5,000 years of enthusiasts be wrong? Although originally more of a spiritual practice, yoga today has become a fitness craze. And there’s good reason for that. The many benefits of regular yoga practice include:
- Increased flexibility
- Improved balance
- Better posture
- Stress relief and lower blood pressure
- Improved focus
- Greater endurance
These are just a few reasons to try yoga and to make it a regular part of your or your clients’ fitness routines. Need another? How about strength? While it may not be as rigorous as serious weight lifting, yoga can improve muscle strength.
Yoga is a great addition to a training session for all kinds of people: your client who hates lifting weights of any kind, your dedicated bodybuilding client who could use some greater flexibility, and any client interested in trying something different to add variety to an otherwise stagnant strength routine.
Yes, Yoga Builds Strength
There are a lot of positive health benefits to practicing yoga, but for most people who do it, strength is lower on the list. But yoga does develop strength in both muscle and bones. You can get stronger doing this kind of exercise.
Yoga is what we refer to as body weight exercise. This means you are supporting just the weight of your body when you do it. Think of being in a plank position, for instance. Your arms and your core hold up the weight of your body, and over time this improves strength.
For those naysayers who poo-poo yoga as a strength workout, share these research findings:
- Women who completed two, 60-minute Ashtanga yoga—this is the more intense kind of yoga known as power yoga—sessions per week for eight months had improved leg press strength as compared to women who did not do yoga.1
- In a study of 26 participants between the ages of 20 and 58, six weeks of regular yoga improved core and upper body strength. Better results were seen with Ashtanga yoga.2
- A study from India measured results of daily Hatha yoga for a 12-week period on participants of various ages but the same career. The results indicated that people of all ages experienced increased strength in hand grip and in the legs. Older participants offset age-related muscle loss.3
Yoga Strength Training—Is it Enough?
So, yes, yoga does improve muscle strength. But that still leaves the question:
Can yoga be your only form of strength training?
The answer to this important question varies depending on who is asking it. Strength training in different forms can meet a variety of needs. If you have a client who has modest strength goals and puts a greater priority on overall health, stress relief, and meditation, sure yoga could be enough.
A client who really wants to get strong, who wants to develop bigger muscles, or is interested in weight lifting will not likely meet their goals solely with yoga. But, this client can still benefit from adding yoga once or twice a week. Some strength training-specific benefits of yoga include:
- Increased flexibility with improved strength.
- A style of strength training that mimics natural body movements we engage in daily.
- Moves that target multiple muscles at once rather than isolating single muscles.
- Improved muscle endurance and stamina.
Help your weight-fearing clients get over the intimidation factor and embrace lifting. Check out this post on the ISSA blog.
How to Get More Strength Training out of a Yoga Session
Regardless of what your clients’ ultimate goals are, or your own for that matter, adding in yoga can be beneficial in so many ways. For those really interested in developing strength and bigger or stronger muscles, yoga can complement lifting and other types of weight training. For those with more modest goals, yoga is a good way to work on strength too, as a supplement to other types of training.
If you want to add in more yoga for strength training, there are some ways you can make it more effective in developing muscle strength:
- Hold poses longer. To get more out of each and every pose, simply hold it longer. You’ll feel the burn and realize that you are most definitely working on strength as your muscles begin to wobble.
- Use repetition of poses. You can also repeat certain poses several times to get more strength training in. Choose which muscles to focus on, select a few poses, and repeat them multiple times.
- Add weights. Yoga is bodyweight exercise, but you can increase that weight to develop more strength. Try adding wrist or ankle weights. You can also use hand weights for some poses, like warrior I and warrior II.
- Try power yoga. Power yoga classes, also known as Ashtanga yoga, offer a more intense, rigorous workout, with more difficult poses and quick movements from one to the next.
- Modify poses. Make changes to up the difficulty level. For instance, combine Chaturanga with a push-up. These triceps push-ups are tough. Also try turning warrior poses into standing lunges for a great leg workout or adding shoulder presses to Downward Dog.
Best Yoga Poses for Strength Training
Of course you don’t have to go to a yoga class or work with an instructor to get some strength benefits from yoga poses. As long as you have some background knowledge of yoga and experience with proper form, you can use the poses you like and that will develop the most strength to create a routine for yourself or your clients. Here are some of the best yoga poses for strength training:
- Boat pose
- Warrior II pose
- Half mood pose
- Chair pose
- Cobra pose
Yoga may not be enough strength training for everyone, but for nearly anyone it is a great addition to a fitness routine and can be an important part of strength workouts. Use it for your own workouts and add in some yoga moves to help your clients build strength and flexibility.
If you want to learn more about strength training, check out the ISSA’s comprehensive course on Strength and Conditioning.
Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!
- Kim, S., Bemben, M.G., Bemben, D.A. (2012) Effects of an 8-Month Yoga Intervention on Arterial Compliance and Muscle Strength in Premenopausal Women. J. Sports Sci. Med. 11(2) 322-330
- Cowen, V.S., Adams, T.B. (2005). Physical and Perceptual Benefits of Yoga Asana Practice: Results of a Pilot Study. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 9(3) 211-219
- Halder, K., Chatterjee, A., Pal, R., Tomer, O.S., Saha, M. (2015). Age Related Differences of Selected Hatha Yoga Practices on Anthropometric Characteristics, Muscular Strength, and Flexibility of Healthy Individuals. International Journal of Yoga. 8(1) 37-46