With so many different types of workout around it can be hard to know what you should be doing.
Doctors have been telling us that we should do strength training to keep our bodies young, but the idea of venturing into the free weights area of the gym can be a bit off-putting.
If you’ve ever seen pictures of yoga enthusiasts, you may have noticed that they have great muscle tone. So, does this mean that yoga can replace strength training?
Or does it mean that these toned yogi are also hitting the weights bench?
In this article I’m going to explore the benefits of yoga as compared to pure strength training to answer the question – “Can Yoga Replace Strength Training”.
Why You Should Care About Including Strength Training
…Even If You Don’t Want to Look Like Arnold Schwarzenegger
Strength training is about more than just building bulging muscles and eyeing up your oiled reflection in the gym mirrors. It’s about improving your health and wellbeing.
Research into strength training has shown that it can do all the following!
- make your bones stronger, lowering the risk of osteoporosis
- boost your metabolism, helping you to manage your weight, more muscle means more calorie burn every day
- prevent and help manage chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, back, and joint pain and even depression
- might make you a better thinker, building your muscles can help build your brain power!
So now that you’ve got all the reasons to do strength training fresh in your mind, it’s time to answer the question:
What Does Strength Training Even Mean?
Strength training is an exercise where there is some resistance to your muscles working that will build strength. Put simply, anything that makes your muscles sore is strength training.
Because the word resistance is in there you may have instantly pictured dumbbells or weight bars.
These are forms of strength training, but they are not the only options. Your own body weight counts as resistance.
So, anything that involves moving your body weight, or holding your body weight is also strength training. For instance, pushups, the plank or even… Downward facing dog.
For those who think yoga is just stretching – great news! Yoga is also strength training.
Which brings us to the next burning question.
How Does Yoga Make You Stronger?
If you have done a yoga class before then you already know that it can make your muscles feel sore by the time you’re done, if you haven’t tried it yet, then be prepared to ache a little!
These aching muscles can come as a surprise to first-timers because when you think of yoga you think of slow gentle movements and stretching.
How can that make your muscles ache?
It turns out that the slow gentle movements are exactly why your muscles get so tired. Because you are moving from one position to another, slowly, smoothly and gently, you are in fact making your muscles work really hard!
Don’t believe me?
Try it for yourself. Imagine that you’re on Baywatch, and it’s time for some slow-motion action. Now just try standing up and sitting down again. SLOWLY
Hard work isn’t it?
That’s because your muscles are under tension for a long time.
They are supporting your body weight as it moves so they have to make constant adjustments through the whole motion.
It’s hard work.
Which Yoga Poses are the best for Building Strength?
Different poses are going to hit different muscle groups, so you’ll want to make sure that if you’re not attending a class that your routine includes a good mix of poses to ensure you’re getting a whole-body workout.
There are some great videos out there that will give you a set of poses to try for building strength…
…as well as ones aimed at guiding beginners through the key points of the moves.
To get you started here are a few poses you can try to get your muscle strengthening off to a good start:
- Tree pose is a great beginner pose to strengthen your legs.
- Warrior 1 pose will work your core, legs, and arms.
- Bridge pose will focus on your back and chest muscles.
- Low boat will put the work into your abs.
These four poses are a good place to start, but as you get stronger you will need to start incorporating more advanced poses if you want to keep improving.
What are the Benefits of Yoga vs Strength Training?
Since strength training is such a diverse area I’m going to focus in on the extremes and talk about yoga vs weight training.
Let’s assume that you are just starting out on your fitness journey and are considering either taking some yoga classes or doing a weights class, like pump.
What are the benefits of these two options?
The Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is a great gentle introduction to exercise. It is low risk and pressure and the risk of injury is small. In other words, it’s a brilliant exercise class to get you started.
Yoga is a whole body workout.
This means you work every part of your body in every class. Most importantly you also work the small muscles that are hard to target with weights.
Yoga builds your functional strength, this just means that it helps build the muscles that you need to stay mobile every day.
While building your strength through yoga you will maintain a full and even enhanced range of motion. In other words, you won’t sacrifice any flexibility to gain strength.
Yoga will not only make you stronger, but it will also increase your endurance. Because of the slow movements and held poses yoga naturally builds muscles that won’t tire quickly.
The Benefits of Weight Training
You will see results a lot faster with weight training.
Because you are lifting extra weight your muscles will get a more intense workout, so you will see changes in your body faster.
The muscles that you build with weight training will be more defined. Basically, if you want to show off your biceps then weight training will get you there.
With weight training, there are really tangible ways to measure your progress. As you get better you can lift bigger weights, so you have that evidence of your progress which really keeps you motivated.
Weight training allows you to put the focus exactly where you want it.
If you have one specific area of your body that you really want to change then weight training will allow you to focus on that area more, so you can get the change you want.
What Style of Yoga is Best for Building Strength?
When it comes to yoga styles there are almost as many choices as there are flavors of ice cream.
They all have the basics in common, but they vary in terms of which poses they use and how you move between them, or the temperature of the room.
This is a quick overview of three of the most popular styles.
Hatha yoga is essentially vanilla yoga. Its focus is on getting the basic poses right, and you work on one pose at a time. Hatha is a great starting point but it is unlikely to give you all the benefits of a traditional strength training workout.
Vinyasa yoga is a style where each pose flows into the next, depending on the instructor, it can almost feel a little like dance with its flowing movements. Vinyasa tends to be more varied than Hatha yoga so it will provide the opportunity to build good levels of strength.
Ashtanga or Power yoga, has the flow of vinyasa, with the structure of Hatha. There are different levels of routine and you can work your way through from the beginner to the most advanced, which can take years. Because of the built-in progression Ashtanga is probably the most effective of these three styles in terms of building strength.
Is Yoga on its Own Enough?
This is probably the hardest question to answer because it depends on what your goals are.
If you are interested in maintaining and improving your health, then yoga on its own can be great. It works all the muscles in your body, even the little ones and gives the health benefits of strength training.
If you have a specific part of your body that you want to tone and shape, then adding in other forms of strength training may help speed you towards your goal. Yoga can absolutely be a part of that process, but it may not give you super buff arms without a little extra focus.
The Bottom Line
We started with the question – “Can Yoga Replace Strength Training”. It turns out that it’s not the right question because yoga is a type of strength training.
If your question is really, do I need to be pumping iron to get healthy then you may be relieved to know that you can get all the health benefits of lifting the weight while enjoying the relaxing serenity of yoga, no grunting required.