Yoga as Strength Training

“What sport do you do?”, “What’s your gym routine”, – these are questions I am often asked, to which I always reply with a smile, “I only do yoga!”. In return, I always get the same shocked faces. I would describe my build as one that is more towards the ‘buffer’ side. Though I do not entirely love my body fit, I have come to accept it! I have done various high intensity sports in the past like touch rugby, but I would credit my muscle gain to yoga. It was quite unexpected even for me. I expected yoga to make me just really flexible, but in addition to that, my muscles toned a lot too. It felt somewhat satisfying to see my body transform in ways I never thought it could. However, everyone’s body is built differently, and everyone’s diet differs. Not everyone will achieve the same body type by doing yoga – some become leaner, some become more flexible.

Many experts advice doing strength training at least twice a week. Strength training has many benefits including increased strength, better bone health, increasing metabolism and decreasing risk of injury. The idea of strength training seems to immediately relate to going to the gym and having to use weight machines, dumbbells and resistance bands. While yoga should not be focused on how it sculpts one physique, it is indeed one benefit of yoga. Certain styles of yoga help to define muscle and tone our body: Ashtanga yoga, Modern Vinyasa Flow, Sivananda yoga, Hatha yoga, among many others.

Rather than lifting progressive weights, in yoga, you are ‘lifting’ your own body weight, which in a way takes a lot more skill, time and determination. Another difference is that weight training exercises often isolate and work on one muscle group at any one time. On the other hand, yoga uses muscles all over the body in most poses (when done properly).

  1. Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): strengthens glutes (gluteus maximus) and legs (hamstrings). It also helps to stretch the back and neck. Advanced variation: root down through one foot, lift the other knee into chest and extend the heel to sky.
  2. Plank pose (Phalakasana): tones core (transversus abdominis, obliques), and strengthens shoulders (rotator cuff and deltoids), glutes etc. It also improves posture. Advanced variation: side plank / alternate leg lifting up.
  3. Chair pose (Utkatasana): tones quadriceps, glutes (gluteus medius and minimus) and adductors among many others. It also stretches the Achilles tendons and shins, which is therapeutic for people with flat feet.

These are just a few yoga poses that can build muscle and tone the body when done repetitively, safely and properly. While yoga may not be the fastest route to a stronger physique, it will definitely be effective for building muscles in a dynamic manner. Yoga asanas (typically the more intense ones) provide an all rounded option to burn fat, build strength, and increase flexibility.