Yoga Doesn’t Build Muscle: Myth or Fact?
First things first let’s get out of the way that ANY exercise will build muscle compared to sitting around on your butt doing nothing!
It does seems that there is an attitude that “yoga doesn’t build muscle”, but what is this attitude based on? It is just heresay and anecdotal stories, or is it true?
Can yoga replace strength training? Gaiam Life investigates:
When you hear the term strength training, you probably think weight training — numerous reps of muscle contractions using weights as resistance. But if you’ve ever had sore muscles after a good yoga class, you’ve probably wondered: Does yoga count as strength training?
Experts advise doing some form of strength training at least twice a week to keep metabolism running efficiently, and many doctors recommend weight training as the No. 1 preventive measure against bone loss.
For many of us, this conjures a vision of becoming an eternal slave to weight machines, dumbbells or resistance cords. So … can you just do some yoga instead?
Can yoga really build muscle?
“People always ask me, ‘Don’t you lift weights?’” says yoga expert Rodney Yee. “I sort of giggle to myself and say, ‘Yes — I lift my own body weight!’”
When you do yoga poses, Yee explains, “You’re putting your body in positions and orientations that you ultimately have to support with your muscles. So you are lifting weights.”
Like many yogis, Yee doesn’t like focusing on how yoga can sculpt your physique. They want students to focus on yoga as a way of thinking, feeling and being, versus getting preoccupied with perfecting their outer appearance.
Still, when you look at Yee’s arms (the photos in this article show him in a few strength-building yoga poses), you can’t help but want some of the yoga poses they’re having for breakfast.
The upshot is that you can increase muscle tone and definition — and even muscle size — with yoga. But because you’re limited to “lifting” your own body weight, it may take a lot more skill, time and determination than it would with lifting weights.
“Yoga can be just as effective as weights when it comes to building a stronger, more impressive physique,” says Nicholas DiNubile, M.D. Yet experts agree that whether yoga can be your sole form of strength training depends on your goals.
Weights are best for building bulk
“If all you’re looking to do is build muscle, weight training is the more practical approach,” advises DiNubile. In fact, the American Council on Exercise defines strength training as “exercising with progressively heavier resistance for the purpose of strengthening the muscular skeletal system.”
Yet the key phrase here is progressively heavier resistance. Basically, your muscles and bones must be overloaded to keep developing. With traditional weight training, as your muscles adapt to the resistance and get stronger, that weight is no longer a challenge, and you have to add more weight to achieve the same results.
With weight training, theoretically you can continue to grow the size and strength of your muscles forever — as long as you continue to add weight.
Yoga is a more well-rounded approach
There are several reasons yoga is a more balanced way to do strength training:
A regular yoga practice can reduce your risk of injury and condition your body to perform better at things you have to do every day: walk, sit, twist, bend, lift groceries …. A form of functional fitness, yoga moves your body in the ways it was designed to move to help ensure that it keeps functioning properly. For example, in yoga you use both large and small muscles and move in many directions (twisting, arcing, etc.), not just back and forth on a one-dimensional plane, as in the forward-back motion of a bicep curl.
Yoga tones muscles all over your body, in balance with each other. Weight training exercises typically isolate and flex one muscle or muscle group at a time.
Yoga relies on eccentric contraction, where the muscle stretches as it contracts, giving the muscles that sleek, elongated look while increasing flexibility in the muscles and joints. Weight training relies on the opposite physical principle of concentric muscle contraction, which means the muscle gets smaller as it contracts. Without proper stretching, the muscle fibers heal close together, giving the muscle that compact, bulging look.
Yoga increases muscle endurance because you typically hold any given pose for a period of time and repeat it several times during a yoga workout.
Yee explains that certain types of yoga poses build muscle tone in different ways.
“Challenging arm balances and inversion poses are very effective for building muscle strength,” he says, “because they flex groups of smaller muscles — not just the major muscles you work with a weight machine — to support the body’s weight during the pose.”
“Holding standing poses such as the warrior poses and triangle pose,” he adds, “is great for strengthening the leg muscles. And in balance poses such as tree pose, one leg has to hold up your entire body. So you’re increasing your strength just by putting your weight on that leg.”
By holding the positions longer, doing more repetitions, and learning new yoga poses, you can make your yoga practice more or less challenging, just as you can with traditional body weight exercises like squats and lunges. Just don’t try to go straight to the advanced yoga videos and poses like arm balances to get on a fast-track to “cut” arms.
Ultimately if you want to build strength and muscle the most effective and quickest way to reach those goals would be to hit the gym. The gym would show better results due to the added weight BUT that doesn’t mean that yoga doesn’t build muscle. Although you’re only loaded with your body weight your still loaded with a weight!
So what can us Yoga-folk do to earn the respect of the ‘Gym Rats’? Terri Cooper from Mind Body Green has the top 5 ways:
1. Ahimsa – Come in with your cheerful yogi attitude and great compassion towards your own body. This may rival the aggression of the regulars. Smile, say hello and mean it. Your practice of non-harm will radiate pace throughout the gym and will brighten the space energetically.
2. Satya – Tell the truth and be proud of where you are in your fitness goals. Don’t buy into the dysfuction of exaggerating how many reps you’ve completed. Be where you are and shown ‘em how practice is better than perfection.
3. Asteya – Don’t steal stuff from the gym! Frankly, it’s super annoying and just plain mean. If you need a fitness ball, strap or bell in your home; go buy one. Otherwise keep it where it belongs, so everyone can enjoy.
4. Aparigraha – Try not to covet the good equipment. If two treadmills become available, and you and another person are both waiting, take the initiative to let them have the good one. And, remember stay to the 30 minute maximum if others are in line. Giving is growing!
5. Brahmacharya – Don’t sleep with your trainer. Remember guys, it’s the same principle as don’t sleep with your yoga teacher. More so, it’s the practice of refraining from using your sexual energy to manipulate others to get your way.
Alas, I must confess. I’m still not quite sure, which of these sacred yogic principles earned me the respect that secured my position with the in crowd. It really came out of nowhere. Like usual I ran. Did my abs. And then I stretched a bit. Just a couple of splits later and they were welcoming me in with open arms.
It’s time to hit the gym…and show them how it’s done
See you tomorrow.