Does Yoga Build Muscle?

Does Yoga Build Muscle?
Though the approach of yoga is often done in conjunction with meditation and breathing exercises, don’t let this mislead you. Yoga can be a vigorous workout on the body for both strength and flexibility, making it a great way to build toned muscles. While not the best workout when looking to “bulk up”, yoga is one of the most effective methods of building sleek, healthy muscles.

Does Yoga Build Muscle?

When looking to build healthy and toned muscle mass, yoga is one of the most well-rounded exercises available. In standard lifting practice, sets or reps of various weights are repeated to target specific muscles; yoga, however, develops muscles in a different way. Continuous engagement of the muscle groups are stabilized at a less intense weight but is maintained for a longer period of time. While in standard weight lifting muscles are worked and then relaxed, yoga shifts focus between muscle groups and maintains muscle engagement throughout the body and practice. This is what contributes to the toned physique of most yoga practitioners. Yoga is a great way to build a toned physique, increase muscle size and target muscle distribution.

The extent to which yoga strengthens and conditions your muscles is influenced by a few factors. With the exclusion of props, the extent to which your yoga practice will involve lifting is directly related to your current body weight. The most you could lift would be your own body weight, and the extent to which your muscle groups disperse the weight and target your muscles is varied by pose and balance. For example, in frog pose the arms are positioned to balance the weight of the entire body behind the knees on the forearms. While this may seem like an extensive workout for the forearms, they are not targeted nearly as much as one might assume. Balance in this pose shifts the focus of the muscles to the abdomen and biceps.

Yoga vs. Weight Training

While yoga is limited in the amount of muscle it can provide, there are many benefits of using yoga for muscle growth and development in comparison to weight training. One of these benefits is related to muscle memory, which is another important aspect of muscle building and muscle strength. Muscles become trained and accustomed to movements through practice and repetition. In many standard weight lifting approaches, muscle are targeted and trained to do one movement. Though it is a great approach to build strength in one area, it can be detrimental to flexibility and restricting to the muscles ability to apply strength freely. For example, yoga will target the biceps to stabilize the arms in an extended position in Warrior II Pose. In Warrior II Pose, the bicep is extended and engaged. This extended engagement builds muscle memory for the movement of reaching and disperses muscle build throughout the bicep muscle. It also targets shoulder muscles to build strength towards the back while the shoulder bone is lifted and lengthened throughout the socket. If a yoga practitioner then transfers this pose to Warrior I, similar muscles will be engaged in a different way. First, flexibility and freedom of movement is encouraged in the transition. Second, in warrior two the bicep is more engaged and the tricep is engaged and extended. While the weight lifted in this position is minimal and subjected to the weight of the practitioner, the length of time for which the pose is held will establish the extent to which these muscles are targeted. The muscle memory of this position creates a stable strength that can be carefully and effectively utilized for other purposes in sport or daily life activity.

In contrast, standard weight lifting creates sporadic and intensive repetitive engagement that can lead to muscle twitch and limit the freedom of muscle movement. Yoga can build muscle in very discrete areas. Yoga incorporates balance into muscle building so the muscles that become engaged in the process of balance are difficult to target and maintain. The smaller muscles in the foot, for example, can ease the process of everyday walking when being targeted from Tree Pose. Standard walking and running muscles do not target and build the discrete muscles in the foot used to balance in Tree Pose. Walking and running exercises are benefited when yoga practitioners build the discrete muscles in the foot through balancing poses. Building discrete muscles through yoga is a great way to transfer exertion on larger muscle groups and extend workout length.

*Photo courtesy of Anthony Berlingeri.

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