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Yoga is best known for improving flexibility and increasing relaxation, but can yoga build muscle? Absolutely. That makes it a great addition to your client's current strength training program.
When clients take a yoga class, they expect their muscles to be stretched. Even beginning practitioners are aware that yoga poses will enhance their body's flexibility. But many are surprised at the way this practice also helps them build muscle mass.
A strong yoga routine builds muscle using principles such as progressive overload. Each yoga pose requires that you engage a specific muscle or muscle group to hold proper form. Going through specific sequences also boosts strength as you transition from one pose to the next.
For example, one study involved 79 subjects. Each performed 24 cycles of sun salutation six days a week. After 24 weeks, participants had significant increases in their upper body muscle strength. Female subjects also had a significant decrease in their level of body fat, with both males and females lowering their body mass index (BMI).
Sustaining yoga poses for longer periods of time—like in Iyengar yoga or Restorative yoga—helps strengthen engaged muscles even more. In these styles, muscle fibers are faced with increasing amounts of tension, forcing them to grow stronger as a result.
Some yoga poses build muscle by using your bodyweight. For example, the crane pose involves balancing on your hands while holding the rest of your body off the ground. This builds the muscle in your arms. It also strengthens your core as you strive to keep your balance.
Practicing yoga regularly offers the same type of benefits as weight training. By incorporating select poses, you can help your clients create a full-body workout that produces muscle growth.
Many yoga poses can help clients develop strength in their arms, shoulders, chest, and upper back. Building these muscles makes it easier to engage in everyday activities such as lifting grocery bags, picking up your children, and moving furniture around to clean under it. Increasing upper body strength also helps create a more fit physique.
Here are a few yoga postures that offer these effects:
Cobra pose. This asana, which is another name for a yoga pose, strengthens muscles in the arms and back. It also improves spine flexibility and helps to stretch internal organs.
Cow pose. Strengthen the arms with this pose while also increasing spinal fluid circulation and massaging digestive organs. It also relieves tension that exists along the spine.
Downward facing dog pose. Add the downward dog pose to your yoga workout to boost strength in your arms, shoulders, and back. It is also good for relieving fatigue, headaches, and back pain.
Plank pose. Admittedly, this pose builds muscle over your entire body. But you will definitely feel it in your upper body as your arms and shoulders work to hold the rest of your body off the ground. A forearm plank can be used for beginner yogis who don't yet have the strength to hold this pose with fully extended arms.
Warrior pose. All of the warrior poses (1, 2, and 3) increase strength in the upper body. They also expand your chest, lungs, and shoulders while aiding in digestion.
For a more advanced yoga practitioner, the crane pose and firefly pose test the body and build upper body muscle even more. Both of these postures require the practitioner to lift their entire body off the ground, holding the weight of their body on their arms. This builds strength in their arms, shoulders, and upper back.
If clients want stronger abdominal muscles, yoga can help. Several poses increase the strength of the muscle existing in and around the abdomen. Which ones work best?
Boat pose. This asana builds muscle in the hips and abs. It also improves balance and increases focus and concentration.
Bow pose. You can build muscle in your lower back with this yoga exercise. It is also good for clients with tight hip flexors.
Cat pose. In addition to strengthening ab muscles, this posture also improves mobility in the thoracic spine.
Gate pose. Clients who do a gate pose will develop a stronger core. They may also notice other benefits, such as improved digestion, circulation, and respiration.
Locust pose. Some clients know this pose as the superman. By either name, this exercise strengthens the core muscle as your body strives to keep your arms and leg extended and off the yoga mat.
Once your clients are able to master these postures, you can begin to incorporate more advanced postures designed to strengthen their middle. The head stand pose is one to consider as it helps build the core while also improving strength in the neck and shoulders. The forearm stand pose is another.
In the gym, you can build muscle in your lower body by doing deadlifts, squats with weights, and leg presses. In a yoga class, there are a few poses that can also tone and tighten muscles in the leg and butt.
Easy twist in lunge. You will build strong quads and glutes with this yoga exercise. The easy twist in lunge is also good for clients who struggle with sciatica pain.
Extended side angle pose. Doing this pose regularly can strengthen the upper leg muscle (thigh). It is also good for boosting strength in the knee, hip, and ankle joints.
Full backbend. It's not uncommon to see this pose in children's gymnastics classes. Doing it as an adult strengthens the glutes, hips, and hamstrings.
King dancer. Good for improving balance, this pose also tones muscle in the leg and hip. It also boosts strength in the foot's arch as it strives to keep the body upright.
Tree pose. This exercise is good for many muscles in the lower body, from the thighs to the calves and foot. It also benefits practitioners with a higher level of mind-body awareness.
Because yoga helps build strength, clients may wonder if they can do this form of exercise in place of working out with weights. The answer to this question depends on their fitness goals.
If your client wants to build large amounts of muscle mass, they will likely need to include other types of exercise in their strength training program. Weight lifting with heavy weight will increase muscle more than doing bodyweight exercises like these yoga poses.
Conversely, if your client desires muscle tone more than mass, yoga can help them achieve this goal. Yoga is also good for clients who are interested in muscle gain while also improving flexibility and increasing the connection between the body and the mind.
Like with any other workout designed to build strength, it takes time to increase your lean muscle mass with yoga. A regular practice is necessary to improve your physical fitness. Often, this means performing these poses for several weeks before improvements are seen.
That said, the mental benefits of yoga will typically be realized sooner. By using both breath and movement, clients will likely notice that they feel calmer and more focused after their yoga workout. They'll also feel greater flexibility thanks to the way this practice helps elongate and release tight muscle.
Different yoga styles provide benefits for the entire body as long as you give them enough time. For example, Vinyasa yoga, power yoga, and hot yoga are all good for clients who want to build muscle with yoga through a more athletic practice. For those looking for a more serene practice, Yin yoga and Ananda yoga may be better choices.
Want to help your clients improve their functional strength and overall fitness with yoga? The ISSA offers Yoga Instructor certification. This course teaches you the many benefits of yoga, as well as how to develop a safe and effective regular yoga practice.
Learn the benefits of yoga, techniques and tools for teaching, and fundamental information for jump-starting your career.
Bhutkar, M. V., Bhutkar, P. M., Taware, G. B., & Surdi, A. D. (2011). How effective is sun salutation in improving muscle strength, general body endurance and body composition?. Asian journal of sports medicine, 2(4), 259–266. https://doi.org/10.5812/asjsm.34742