Strength building exercises are especially important for good health – but does yoga count as strength training?
We all now know that building strength is important for good health, and not just for having toned muscles you can show off. Not only do strength training exercises help to stabilize joints and prevent injuries, they also help to maintain muscle mass (which improves metabolism and helps burn fat), and increase bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and other bone problems associated with aging.
The question is, does yoga count as a strength building exercise?
To answer this question, we looked to Ekhart Yoga, and here’s what they had to say:
The short answer is … it depends. There are so many different ways to practise that it’s not possible just to prescribe only ‘yoga’ to get stronger. Certain types of yoga like Yin and Restorative will not help you build muscle and nor should they, but with asanas such as Warrior poses, Planks, arm balances and inversions, we are in effect “weight training” as we support our own body weight in gravity.
Basically, it depends on what type of yoga you do, and which exercises you focus on, but for many people, yoga can be a great way to build functional strength.
When we practise yoga poses we involve the whole body, rather than trying to isolate specific muscles – like when using fixed gym machines. We recruit other muscle groups to act as stabilisers, as well as the muscles where the main action takes place…
In this way, yoga can be a great form of functional strength training. Meaning building strength in the whole body so that it can perform daily activities in the real world, not just lifting a certain amount of weight.
And isn’t “the real world” where we want to see our results anyway? For most of us, especially as we age, fitness becomes less and less about appearances, and more about how it helps us to live our lives in a healthy, active, and pain-free manner.
Here are a few tips for achieving more strength training benefits from your yoga practice:
There are different ways we can build strength through yoga and it’s good to use a mix of techniques for balance.
Dynamic styles of yoga such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa build strength through repeated Sun Salutations and Vinyasas. These are particularly good for building strength in the upper body and legs. Repeated Sun Salutations don’t suit everybody though so it’s important to know how to modify them and also to mix them up with different strength-focused classes...
As the body starts to get used to the practice, you can increase the challenge – this could be by adding in extra Core Planks, progressing to different kinds of arm balances or moving dynamically through asanas.
You can also include explosive actions into your practice like jumping from Downward Facing Dog to the front of the mat, or Handstand hops…
Holding yoga poses for longer
Increasing the length of time we hold poses is one of the most simple ways of building up strength quickly without equipment and allows us to see how we are progressing. These are examples of isometric exercises, also known as static strength training.
Try staying in poses for up to a minute or two, or up to 10 deep breaths for hand balances like Crow and Handstand…