Is a regular yoga practice enough to add mass and sculpt muscle?
Yoga has a ton of benefits for anyone who does strength training. It promotes better mobility, it’s great for flexibility, and of course it’s like a mega stretch session. We all know that yoga is a great addition to a well-rounded training plan.
But could yoga ever replace weights and resistance training in your quest for a lean, muscular physique?
We’ve never given up all other kinds of training in favour of just yoga. But we’re curious to know what would happen if yoga was our only form of workout!
Before we go on, we should acknowledge that there are many different kinds of yoga (and we are far from experts in any of them!)
THere’s Hatha – a slower, gentler form of yoga where the poses are held for a few breaths (and the focus os on the breath).
Vinyasa or Vinyasa flow is more hardcore, with fast-paced flows and poses linked together with little rest.
Bikram (the hot one!) is a specialised form of yoga done in a hot room. Sessions last for 90 minutes and always follow the same routine.
For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll look at Vinyasa yoga – because it’s the closest to bodyweight training and cardio.
Regular yoga can definitely maintain muscle mass. But will it actually build muscle? That depends on your start point.
Lots of women will find that they build a nice amount of muscle in their upper bodies (particularly the chest and delts) from the downward dog and press up type poses in yoga. This is mainly because so few women do upper body work.
Yoga will certainly work the lower body muscles, especially in poses like the warrior sequences (where you hold variations of a body weight squat and lunges).
But will yoga actually build appreciable muscle? Compared to training with weights, no. You simply can’t put the same load through the muscles.
So although yoga needs you to hold your body weight under resistance, it is more likely to maintain muscle than build it.
Just because yoga isn’t the same as a weight training session, don’t write it off just yet. There are plenty of benefits to be had from taking yoga seriously. If you went to yoga 2+ times a week, you could expect to:
– ease out areas of stiffness and tightness (even if these date back years)
– gain lots more flexibility, especially in the calves, hips, adductors, thoracic spine, and shoulder girdle
– expand your aerobic capacity, heart health, lung capacity, and breathing control
– learn more about your body and push it in new ways
– give yourself the chance to chill out and learn meditation techniques
– build strength for bodyweight exercises (useful for calithenics fans)
– focus on neglected areas like core, lower back, and even your feet
– stretch out typically tight areas like hamstrings, upper back, and thoracic
If you’re striving for more balance in your training, the best approach would be to add some yoga to your existing weekly schedule. Start with one session a week (ideally on a rest day, cardio only day, or in the evening just before rest day) and assess the benefits after a few weeks. If you’ve fallen in love with yoga, you could increase to 2-4 classes a week. Or simply do 15-30 minutes of basic yoga at home – this could even be something you do every day. Think of it as mobility work!
Yoga needs very little kit, and can be a practically cost-free addition to your training.
All your really need it some kind of mat (to give yourself a flat, slightly cushioned, and slip-free surface). Yoga blocks and a strap can help if you are a beginner (aiding you into positions that feel a little stiff at first).
For hamstrings: any forward fold will work into your hammies; to take it deeper try gorilla pose.
Start with feet a few inches apart.
Bend at the hips and forward fold with a straight back.
Let the torso and head hang heavy.
Put your hands underneath the soles of your feet (palms will be touching soles, and toes will be in the crease of the wrist).
For tight shoulders: the eagle pose will ease up any tightness around the back of your scapula
Stand with feet slightly apart.
Bend your right leg slightly and take your left thigh over your right thigh (the goal is to wrap the left foot behind the right calf but don’t stress about that!)
Press the legs together.
Put the arms out straight in front of you, and cross the arms so the right arm is above the left, then bend both elbows (so your hands are pointing to the ceiling). The backs of your hands should be facing each other. IF that feels OK, raise the elbows slightly to feel a stretch in your upper back.
For the entire body: try learning the classic vinyasa series of flowing movements. This combo works most of your body in a dynamic and stretching way. It can be a great warm up for lifting.
Start in downward facing dog.
Shift your weight forward in to a bodyweight plank.
Lower your chest to the floor using a triceps press up.
Raise the chest (or chest/torso/thighs) using an up dog or cobra pose.
Push back into a downward facing dog.