The benefits of yoga are bountiful. But if you want to bulk up and get shredded, is it the practice for you? It all comes down to what you want from yoga.
Yoga will build stronger, leaner, and more flexible muscles.
Yoga uses all three of the body's natural muscle-building processes: progressive load, metabolic stress, and mechanical damage.
You will build muscle over time with dedicated practice.
If you are hoping for a gym-toned and sculpted body as fast as possible, don’t expect yoga to deliver results in a few weeks. However, if you want to build muscle while increasing strength and flexibility gradually, then yoga is for you!
How does yoga build muscle?
Your body will always build muscle in response to extra exercise. There are three mechanisms of muscle growth, and yoga ticks all the boxes:
Progressive overload - the body responds to gradual increases in load by building muscle to facilitate greater weight.
Metabolic stress - the burning sensation you feel in your muscles is a metabolic response whereby the body accumulates waste metabolites in the muscle. This has been shown to have a positive effect on muscle growth.
Mechanical damage - microscopic tearing occurs in your muscles due to exertion during exercise. When this happens, the body responds by repairing and building more muscle.
Different types of yoga will put various stresses on the body. A dynamic Ashtanga class with flowing postures will create more metabolic stress in your muscles than a calming Yin class.
Which yoga poses are best for muscle building?
When you practice yoga, you move your body into a series of postures that are sometimes held for long periods - putting extra demand on different muscle groups. For example.
Chair pose or 'Fierce Seat' (Utkatasana) is a posture in which the arms extend upward alongside the ears while the knees bend as if sitting on an imaginary chair. Chair pose strengthens the core and lower body, especially the quad muscles in the thighs and the glutes.
Top Tip: The longer you hold the posture, the greater the metabolic stress. The body will then respond by building more muscle in the areas needed to sustain the pose.
Chaturanga, or low-plank pose, is achieved by taking a full plank pose and lowering the body until the elbows align with the shoulders. It can be modified by lowering the knees when necessary.
Performing this posture slowly and with control demands a lot from your whole body. Your core is drawn up and back to provide stability to your spine. The deltoids, biceps, and triceps in your arms are fully engaged to lower the body in a controlled way. As you hold your entire body weight, progressive overload muscle growth is engaged.
Top Tip: To build more muscle using this pose, try coming from the downward dog into the plank, then lowering through chaturanga and pushing back up into the downward dog. Add ten repetitions, and you'll start to feel the burn!
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) strongly activates the lower body, especially the thighs, calves, and hamstrings. Stand with your legs wide, turn your right foot to face forwards, and lean into the right leg, ensuring the knee stays above the ankle. Keeping your torso facing to the left, raise your arms so they are parallel with your shoulders, and look down the right arm, past the hand. Repeat on the left side.
The deeper you go into warrior II, the more you will feel the activation. Muscle is built due to progressive overload and mechanical damage.
Top Tip: Hold warrior II for at least ten seconds or five long breaths to get even more activation. Take a deep inhale through the nose and sink deeper into the posture as you exhale, further activating the muscles.
Tree pose (Vrikshasana) involves holding your entire body weight on one leg and engaging the core for long-term balance. To get into this posture:
- Stand firmly on your left leg.
- Place your right foot on your thigh, with the sole pressing firmly into the inner thigh.
- Make sure your foot is above the knee to protect the knee joint.
- Raise your arms above your head and fix your gaze to minimize wobbling.
- Try holding this posture for thirty seconds and switch sides.
Top Tip: Once you can hold each side for at least a minute, try the squatting tree variation and hold it for ten breaths. You will feel the burn in your thighs.
Which type of yoga is best for muscle building?
A strong yoga practice will build muscle without you having to overthink it. Muscle mass, toning, and flexibility are only one of the many positive aspects of yoga. However, a more dynamic type of yoga might be the best option if you want to get strong and lean faster.
Ashtanga yoga is a series of postures that flow from one to the other without pause. The term "one breath, one movement" is often used to describe Ashtanga as the breath is perfectly synchronized with the postures. Each pose is connected by completing one set of chaturanga. The repetition of lowering the body with control and then pushing back into a downward dog will build strength quickly and safely.
Hot flow yoga is another form of dynamic yoga that builds muscle quickly. The heat adds extra stress to the body. Flowing from one pose to the next without much rest time makes use of all three mechanisms for muscle growth.
The benefits of building muscle through yoga
A consistent yoga practice will bring you a fitter, stronger and leaner body over time. At first, some poses will feel incredibly difficult to hold. Still, with enough practice, your body will build the muscle necessary for you to perform them with ease.
Yoga has many incredible benefits; gaining muscle tone and definition is one of them. Strong yoga practice naturally engages muscle-building processes, effectively utilizing progressive load and metabolic stress. And you can get even more from your yoga practice by progressing to more advanced poses, flows, and levels of intensity.