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Over 10 years ago I always thought yoga was just another way to gain flexibility. Little did I know that yoga allows you to build solid muscle that makes you look lean and strong.
Does yoga build muscle? Yes, yoga increases muscle tone through pose modification. Modifying the poses to increase the intensity will cause your muscles to strengthen because you are using your own body as the weight. The more intense the pose, the stronger you will get, and the more defined your muscles will become.
Yes, you can use yoga to build muscle, but there are a few things you need to know first in order to effectively do this. Let’s get into why yoga is a good workout and some of the key poses you should work on to build muscle.
Is yoga actually a good workout?
The common mentality of people regarding yoga is that it is just for “stretching” and could not possibly give you an effective workout. I used to believe this because I thought that the only way to have a good workout was by using weights.
After enrolling in my first yoga class I quickly realized that this was not going to be as easy as I thought.
Previously to yoga, I focused more on weight lifting and thought that yoga would be very easy because it did not involve any weights.
Boy was I wrong!
If you have never gotten into downward dog before try holding right now for 30 seconds and you will see what I mean. And goes what? This is actually a rest pose! But don’t be discouraged… signing up to the Grounded Panda resource library is a great place to start as a beginner.
Yoga is a workout that tones all the muscles throughout your body. Not only is it a good work out but it allows you to calm your mind and feel more at peace.
How to Gain Muscle With Yoga
When gaining muscle there are three methods to keep in mind:
- Progressive Overload
- Metabolic Stress
- Muscle Mechanical Damage
Progressive Overload With Yoga
When I used to be in the weight room all the time this term was very common. The basic concept of progressive overload is to slowly increase the tension and volume of what you lift over time.
Now some of you are wondering “how do you apply progressive overload to yoga?”
“Is he asking me to gain weight in order to get stronger?”
No! No weight has to be gained in order to apply progressive overload to yoga. The main thing you need to focus on is pose modification.
Modifying the pose to make it more difficult will allow your body to experience more tension.
This is why it is a good idea to set your goals on a more advanced pose. Figure out what you need to slowly build up toward that pose. Make sure every week you are pushing yourself at a reasonable pace to obtain your goal.
Increasing the volume of a pose is very simple. All you have to do is hold the pose for longer periods of time. Using this method alone will not necessarily increase your muscle strength.
Depending on the difficulty level of the pose will often determine how much muscle you get.
Another key thing i want you to remember is that too much volume may cause damage over time. This is why it is very important to listen to your body and get a feel for what you can and cannot do.
We want you always pushing to become better, but we never want you to get hurt. Finding that line is something you should always be mindful of.
Metabolic Stress with Yoga
That burn you feel when you workout out is the physiological process of metabolic stress.
It is common to feel this during yoga when you move from pose to pose without resting.
Even if the movements are small you will begin to feel the burn the more reps you put into it. Don’t believe me? Get into a squat position and pulse up and down with your body.
Or better yet, find a wall and place your back against the wall and your legs at 90 degrees. Hold this position for two minutes. Doing so will activate the metabolic stress factor.
Many studies prove the benefits of metabolic stress to enhance muscle growth.
Muscle Mechanical Damage with Yoga
Have you ever pushed yourself in your workout to the point where you feel like a bus hit you the next day? Pushing your body causes your muscles to tear, and with proper rest allows them to grow stronger.
During your practice, it is good to try pushing your body past its comfort zone.
At times you will not want to continue your sequence, but by pushing yourself your muscles will adapt.
Using this method often will get you tired because you are damaging your muscles to make them stronger. You don’t have to push yourself extremely hard during every practice.
Even once a week of pushing past your comfort zone will show results.
Is yoga better than the gym?
I started my fitness journey in the weight room. I trained with weights for over 4 years before I came across yoga. When I got into yoga I started to research more about body weight training.
I learned that by using my own body weight I was able to maintain my strength for longer periods of time and it also reduced the chances of getting injured while I worked out.
If you ever trained with weights and stopped for two weeks and went back you would quickly notice a significant decrease in your strength. By training with bodyweight exercises you are not only working on your strength but also your endurance which allows you to be stronger for longer periods of time.
Is yoga better than the gym? It depends. I highly recommend beginners getting into yoga because it provides a full body workout that isn’t stressful on your body until you start working on more advanced poses.
As you progress along your fitness journey you should start to incorporate using weights 1-3 times a week because it will provide your body a different experience. Changing things up forces your body to adopt what you put it through allowing you to grow more.
Growth and progress as a person are my core values and by starting your fitness path you will see great results in all areas of your life.
Which Yoga Poses Build the Most Muscle?
With all this talk on how yoga builds muscle growth, we are going to discuss the top yoga poses that are going to help you tone your body.
Top 5 Poses to sculpt your body:
- Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
- Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
- Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)
- Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
- Chaturanga (Dandasana)
1. Chair Pose
This pose is really going to get that burning feeling in your legs to activate and start metabolic stress that we talked about earlier. Want a stronger burn? Go deeper into the pose!
How to do Chair Pose:
- Start in Mountain Pose, standing tall with your hands at your sides and feet together.
- Shift your weight into your heels. On you exhale bend your knees and sink your seat as far as you can towards the ground.
- Send your arms up towards the ceiling, reaching through your fingertips. Lift through your chest and engage your core.
2. Warrior II
This is a wonderful full body pose that engages all areas of your muscles.You will feel this a lot in your shoulders if you lack strength in your shoulders.
How to do Warrior II Pose:
- From a standing position, step your feet out wide, about 3 feet apart. Then turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right so it is facing forwards, keeping your left foot where it is.
- Bend your right knee at a 90 degree ankle, making sure your knee does not go past your toes. Extend and engage your left leg, keeping it straight.
- Lift your arms straight out on either side, extending through your fingertips. Allow your gaze to fall over your right fingertips. Keep your arms level with your shoulders.
- Engage your core and make sure your hips are squared. Keep your pelvis neutral. Continue to ground through your feet and sink into your right leg throughout the pose.
3. Boat Pose
Want to do a pose that is going to make you feel the fire in your core? Try holding boat pose. Mastering this pose and modifying it with your legs and feet is going to sculpt and tone your core.
How to do Boat Pose:
- Start in a seated position with a tall spine, and your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Place your hands flat on the floor by your hips.
- Lean back until you begin to feel your core engage. Begin to lift one foot at a time so you are balancing only on your sits bones. Make sure to keep a straight back.
- Bring both feet up into the air with your knees bent at 90 degrees. You can stay here or choose to straighten both legs to form a “V’ shape with your body for more of a challenge.
This is a great pose to strengthen your back. One thing to remember is to not forget to breathe! Because you are laying on your stomach and using effort to lift your body up, it is common thing to forget. Try breathing into your ribcage and taking slow, deep breaths.
How to do Locust Pose:
- Start laying face down on your stomach with arms by your sides. Keep your feet about inner hip distance apart.
- Take a deep breath, then on your exhale, lift your chest, shoulders, head, legs, and arms off the mat. Extend through your toes and actively engage your legs to lift higher. Extend through your arms in order to lift up your top body more.
- Breathe here for 5 breaths and release slowly to the ground.
This pose can be tough for beginners that need to work on their upper body strength but is an excellent pose for building muscle. If you find you are unable to do chaturanga, you can use yoga blocks to help you build up the strength.
How to do Chaturanga:
- Start on all fours in a tabletop position, with hands under shoulders. Step both feet back to come into Plank Pose.
- Hug your elbows tightly in towards your body. Engage your core and your legs, extending through your heels.
- Slightly shift your weight forward as you bend your arms, keeping them into towards your body, as if you were doing a push up.
- Only allow your elbows to bend to 90 degrees, and then hover in this position for 3-5 breaths.
How Often Should You Do Yoga to Gain Muscle?
The recommended amount of times per week you should be doing yoga to gain muscle is 3 times per week, but you can still get results by training as little as one day a week. It all depends on how much effort you are putting into building up to more advanced poses and what you are putting into your body.
The most important thing is that you create a plan that is realistic and manageable for you lifestyle. Turning your yoga practice into a habit is one of the most effective and sure proof ways to make sure you see results.
4 Muscle Gaining Mistakes You Are Making
1. Under Training
If you are getting into yoga to decrease your stress and increase your flexibility that is great! Don’t miss out on the potential it has to help you gain muscle. If you are focusing on staying comfortable with what you could do and it doesn’t feel like you pushed your body, your body won’t develop the muscle that you want.
Just showing up at the yoga studio isn’t enough. Find a more advanced pose that you want to build towards and work on the necessary training to obtain this. To help you along your journey sign up to our FREE Yoga Resource Library. In this library, you are going to find many routines that will guide you in developing the body you desire.
2. Over Training
I know that this is the opposite as the first mistake but the problem is people believe that more is better. Some of you are going all out with pushing yourself, but you may be pushing yourself too hard. By overtraining and not giving your body time to recover it will cause more harm than good.
3. Avoiding More Advanced Poses
With enough training, you will progress to a point that you will want to start experimenting with more advanced poses. Many people will avoid this because they are too scared to attempt them.
Attempting these more advanced poses is what is really going to help you develop the muscles you want. This is going to happen because the stress you are putting on your body will allow your body to grow. Stress plus rest equals growth!
4. Nutritional Lifestyle
One of the most important methods of getting healthier and obtaining muscle is through what you put into your body. Having the proper nutrients is essential. If you are eating lots of cereal, bread, and empty calorie items, you aren’t going to develop the lean body that you want. Eat foods that are good for you.
For more information on how to live a healthier life join our FREE Yoga Resource Library! Our goal is to help you become the healthiest version of yourself that you could possibly become. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment below or email us your questions.
Victor is the co-founder of Yoga Rove. He began practicing yoga over 10 years ago and has since then engulfed himself into natural health including calisthenics, mindfulness & meditation techniques, and nutrition. Education is a passion of his and he loves helping beginners with their health journeys. When he’s not writing, you can find him running, working out in random places, and most likely talking to someone about intermittent fasting.