Can we build strength with a yoga practice?
Updated: 2 hours ago
To answer this question, we first have to figure out what is strength and why we are looking for it before we see if and how yoga is compatible or not with it.
1/ What is strength and why do we need to have a strength body?
Let’s start answering this question by having a look of the definition of strength and more specifically, physical strength. To this, the dictionary answers as follows: “The quality or state of being physically strong.” or “The physical muscle strength is the ability of a muscle to exert force against resistance.”
So why do we need to build strength? you could wonder…
Here is why: Because strength building is important to:
- Maintain muscle tissues.
- Improve bones density which help reduce risks of osteoporosis, fractures and falls especially as you age.
- Prevent loss of lean muscles while aging.
- Contribute to better balance by building muscle mass and stabilizing the joints which can help prevent injuries.
- Improve mental health: reduction of anxiety, depression, pain intensity, improve sleep, boost confidence, mood, self-esteem and resilience.
- Manage chronic conditions: reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression, diabetes)
- Stay strong and perform daily tasks much easier such as carrying heavy groceries, open a jar or running around with your kids.
- Control body fat.
To resume, building strength is very important for our daily life, to perform better and to promote a better quality of life. Therefore, taking care of our strength and building it should be a must-have in our routine.
2/ Can a yoga practice help build strength?
Besides all the known benefits of yoga on stress reduction and relaxation, it is becoming increasingly clear and certain (and scientifically proven) that yoga can be a source of strength building.
By allowing you to lift your body weight, perform a number of different poses that bring your body into unfamiliar postures, and work muscles you never knew existed, a regular yoga practice can help you develop your strength.
Compared to bodybuilding in the gym or by weightlifting, yoga brings in addition:
- Some flexibility, it helps you stretch and relieve tensions.
- More accessibility because the “tool” used to work on your strength is only your bodyweight.
- A holistic approach. While practicing yoga, you are not trying to isolate specific muscles, the body is seen and used as a whole. In addition to the muscles engaged in the action, many additional muscles must work to stabilize the body and thus play the role of the machine at the gym
But not all types of yoga can lead to muscle or strength building. As you may know, there are many types of yoga and some are more inclined to build strength than others.
The first category, the dynamic styles of yoga also called yang yoga such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar or even Power yoga can help develop muscular strength, stamina and flexibility.
The second category, the more slow and passive types of yoga such as yin and restorative yoga work more on deep and dense connective tissues and joints in the body helping to calm and balance the mind and body.
In another hand, if your goal is to increase your muscle mass, yoga won’t be enough, you will need to add in extra weights, resistance and train specifically for that.
Here are the links to the studies made on this subject if you want to have a look:
3/ How to build strength with yoga?
From a technical point of view, the way a regular yoga practice build strength is by the repetition of some targeted asanas (poses) or a particular sequence (Sun salutation or Vinyasa for instance), by holding these asanas for longer and by going into challenging asanas for your body.
Increasing the amount of time we hold poses is one of the easiest ways to build strength quickly without equipment and to allow ourselves to see how we are progressing.
All this combined causes sustained isometric contractions of many large and small muscles. The principle of isometric contraction is therefore to manage to maintain the body in a particular position, so as to make certain muscles of the body work intensely.
But of course and most importantly, nothing can happen if you do not practice yoga regularly. Consistency is the key. From my point of view, a minimum of 3 dynamic and strength oriented yoga sessions per week is the big minimum to build strength.