Does yoga build muscle, or do I need to lift weights?

The best yoga poses to build strength and make your life more comfortable.

If you want to build muscle, yoga isn’t the first exercise that springs to mind. It’s known for being great for flexibility and helping you de-stress, but did you know that it can actually sculpt and strengthen your muscles?

But what types of yoga do you need to practise, what poses are best and do you still need to add additional strength training into your routine if you want to build muscle? We’ve got the best advice from the experts.

A group of women practising yoga in a studioCredit: Shutterstock /PeopleImages.com – Yuri A

Yoga is more popular than ever with some half a million Brits attending regular lessons. It has a host of health benefits, including improving physical health, mental health, stress levels, strength and flexibility. Studies have found it can even improve your sex life. But can it build your muscles too?

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Is yoga strength training?

Yoga instructor Jade Gooding says that a regular yoga practice will build muscle, but unlike traditional strength training using weights, yoga uses your own body to create resistance.

“Yoga specifically builds internal lean muscle which helps protect against risk of injury to ligaments and tendons,” she explains. “As we get older, we can lose bone density and muscle strength, and a regular yoga practice can help protect against this.”

Why strong muscles are important as we age

Gooding says yoga is especially good for older people as lean muscle builds our functional strength.

“This is the strength you need to perform activities in everyday life such as getting out of your chair, reaching for an object, bending down and picking up your shopping bags,” she says. “As we get older, these activities can become more challenging and yoga is a low impact way of improving your everyday life.”

How to build muscle with yoga

Gooding says that some forms of yoga and poses within yoga are especially good for building muscle. She says all you need is a yoga mat and comfortable clothes you can move in. These are her recommendations:

  • Holding poses such as plank, dolphin, high lunge, boat pose, chaturangas and downward dog requires muscles to work against gravity and strengthens them over time.
  • Poses including warrior I and II, boat pose, and updog engage multiple large muscle groups in the chest, back, arms, abs, glutes and quads.
  • Forms of yoga such as vinyasa yoga, ashtanga yoga or power yoga are more athletic and will build more muscle than the slower pace practices such as yin, restorative or hatha.
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Can yoga replace weightlifting?

Gooding says that yoga focuses more on lengthening muscles rather than bulking them up.

“While some strengthening will occur,” she says. “You won’t see a big difference in your muscle mass. To do that you will need to add additional resistance or weights.

What is the best way to build muscle?

James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers. He agrees that yoga is useful to help build muscle, to a point.

“Using your bodyweight as resistance, as you do when performing yoga, is an excellent way to help build lean muscle,” he tells Saga Exceptional. “The key is to focus on controlled form, precise technique, and efficient breathing.”

But if you want to build muscle, he says yoga isn’t enough.

“The best way to build muscle is through a combination of progressive resistance training, which translates as lifting heavier loads and/or more volume each week,” he says .

“This, along with a balanced diet of protein, mixed vegetables, and a small amount of carbohydrates, as well as consistent, restful sleep, is the best combination to build muscle.”

Check out our expert advice on how to start strength training, try our easy 15-minute gym workout for strength, or give kettlebells a go.

Should I practise yoga if I want to build muscle?

Staring says that even if you want to build muscle, yoga still has a place in your fitness programme.

“Yoga compliments a weight training routine by enhancing muscle strength and endurance,” he explains.

“Not only does yoga help physically to support lifting weights, it also builds a positive mindset, which increases mental strength too. Plus, yoga will aid in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness.”

While Gooding adds: “Yoga really does set the body up for whatever you want to do, whether it is just making day-to-day life easier or giving you a base for other exercises or sports.”

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Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Published:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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