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:
Lower blood pressure and reduced heart rate
Relief from joint pain (knees, shoulders, and elbows)
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: clients who worry weights will bulk them up, a dedicated bodybuilding client who could use greater flexibility, and any client interested in trying something different to add variety to an otherwise stagnant strength routine.
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 a bodyweight exercise. This means you are supporting 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. Over time, this improves strength.
For naysayers who can't think of yoga as a strength workout for a number of muscle groups, share these research findings:
A 2012 study found that women who completed two 60-minute Ashtanga yoga sessions—this is the more intense kind of yoga known as power yoga—per week for eight months had improved leg press strength as compared to women who did not do yoga.
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.
A study from India measured results of daily Hatha yoga sessions over a 12-week period. The results indicated that people of all ages experienced increased strength in hand grip and in the legs. For older participants, this type of yoga practice can help offset age-related muscle loss.
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. 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, yoga could be enough.
A regular yoga practice can also help your weight-fearing clients get over the intimidation factor and embrace lifting. This makes it a great addition to their cardio routine.
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.
Yoga benefits specific to weight training include:
Increased flexibility with improved strength
A style of strength training that mimics the body movements we engage in daily
Moves that target multiple muscles at once rather than isolating single muscles, providing a solid workout for a variety of muscle groups
Improved muscle endurance and stamina
Regardless of what your clients' ultimate goals are, or your own for that matter, adding yoga postures can be beneficial in so many ways.
For those who are 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 such as cardio and stretching.
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 yoga 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. That said, if holding a particular pose creates pain in the knees, hands, or shoulders, focus on increasing the length of other postures instead.
Use repetition of poses. You can also repeat certain poses several times to get in more strength training. Choose which muscles (or muscle groups) to focus on, select a few poses, and repeat them multiple times.
Add weights. Yoga is a bodyweight exercise, but you can increase that weight to develop more strength. Try adding wrist or ankle weights for a more effective weight training routine. You can also hold weights in your hands 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. It's like a cardio yoga workout.
Modify poses. Make changes to increase the difficulty level. For instance, combine Chaturanga with a push-up (as long as your hands can take it). 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.
Incorporate yoga postures that work all muscle groups. Choose poses that work a variety of muscles. Incorporate movements that build your shoulders, thighs, hamstrings, and glutes. Don't forget to work both sides of the body so you work each leg and arm muscle the same amount.
Of course, you don't have to go to a yoga class or work with an instructor to get 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. Poses that will help develop the most strength possible when creating a routine for yourself or your clients.
Here are some of the best yoga poses for strength training:
Boat pose - works your hip flexors and abdominal muscles, creating a stronger core
Warrior II pose - helps build your outer hips, glutes, thighs, and shoulders
Half moon pose - get stronger thighs, ankles, core, and glutes with this pose
Chair pose - strengthens your thighs while also stabilizing your knees and ankles
Cobra pose - good for building muscle in your back, glutes, core, and arms
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.
To learn more about yoga, the benefits it offers, and how to teach it to clients, check out the ISSA's Certified Yoga Instructor program. This online course helps you better understand the value yoga has to offer, as well as how to relay that value to your clients so you can grow your fitness business.
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