This is a question that comes to mind to people who are considering starting yoga after learning of its immense benefits to the human body, soul, and mind. It is a great question to ask because one should be very clear on what to expect with each physical exercise that they engage in. Many people are attracted by the immense benefits of yoga and they would be wondering whether indeed they can build muscle as they enjoy its other great benefits.
It is not wrong to dream of having a nice looking body without having to head to the gym to pick and drop weights in search of a body that is well structured. It is more like having your cake and eating it. Yoga, when properly coupled with a good diet and sleep, can fulfill these dreams too.
The reality is that yoga builds muscle the same way a normal gym routine does according to studies in the area. This is because it works in the same way just that it applies different body weight exercises. A strong yoga practice engages the muscle-building process intensely just the same as lifting weights at the gym would do. To ensure that different body muscles are built the same way a gym session would do, poses are optimized to increase the intensity and flow structure.
There are several benefits of building muscle through yoga which we are going to discuss in this article.
Yoga can build muscle through the same processes a normal gym routine does.
Benefits of Building Muscles with Yoga
The movement patterns that are exerted when practicing yoga provide the body with the strength that cuts across the whole body. In the gym, one has to train each body part separately to achieve a complete muscle balance in the body. On the other hand, the same is achieved by practicing a mired of patterns in yoga thus helping in the building of muscles at the same time.
All yoga movements are designed in a way that they have compound effects on the body. The sequences in yoga are structured in that way to provide balance from every movement that is equal and opposite of each other.
Balancing The Health of Muscles
After a regular workout at the gym, stretching is mandatory for ensuring that muscles are in good health. In yoga, this stretching is extensively covered thus maintaining muscle health while maintaining a good build of strength.
Increase in Flexibility
The normal ways of building muscle come with reduced flexibility and mobility. The reason for this kind of inflexibility is due to the muscle contraction nature of the exercises and a lack of practicing good stretching after workouts. On the converse, yoga practice helps the flexibility of the muscles because of the nature of its practice exercises.
Yoga maintains muscle health and increases its flexibility.
Grows Muscle with Low Impact Exercises
Growing muscles in the gym requires that you keep increasing the weight that you lift for your muscles to grow. These weights offer resistance to the body and they force the muscles to grow bigger in order to be able to cope with that resistance. Yoga exercises, on the other hand, allows you to build the same muscles in a low impact environment that is not prone to injuries and strains on the body as long as you know your limits.
I’d like to point out that yoga does not provide the same level of stimulus that lifting weights does for building muscle. This is, yoga has a lower limit for muscle growth. Thus, if you are looking to bulk up, then yoga alone is not enough. Besides, that’s not the purpose of yoga.
How Yoga Builds Muscle
As earlier noted, yoga helps in the building of muscles. It uses three important stages of progressive overload which is followed by stress on the metabolism process and through mechanical damage.
Progressive overload is the concept used in weightlifting to build muscle. It is practiced by the progressive increase in the amount of weight one is lifting to enable the body to build muscle that can support the weight over time.
Building muscles through weight lifting is done through resistance training and when you increase the amount of weight you are lifting, your muscles are stretched and forced to increase in size for them to handle the new weight. This gradual process ensures the growth of muscles.
The process of building muscles in yoga is similar but instead of using weights, your body weight is used in yoga. However, in yoga, the weight increments are replaced by pose progressions.
Different poses and/or variations of a pose are used to provide a progressive overload that is required to build muscle. Each pose is variated and with each variation comes a new overload. The tension that your muscles undergo in different poses ensures the growth of the muscles.
Yoga is similar to weight lifting but weight increments are placed by pose progressions.
The metabolic stress method is otherwise known as burning fat in weight lifting. It is a physiological process that muscle tissues undergo whenever you are exercising and they cause an accumulation of waste metabolites in the particular muscle that is being exercised. This accumulation is an integral way of growing the muscle that is being exercised.
It is simply the feeling that you get when approaching the last rep, which you can easily feel when holding a pose for a longer time or going deeper as your repeat a sequence such as sun salutations. It is a mix of pain and fatigue at the same time which is like the muscle is crying at you to stop the work out due to the strain it is experiencing.
Various kinds of yoga produce different levels of metabolic stress and the intensity will largely depend on the kind of method you choose. Your choice of method will also be determined by other factors such as age, general body health, and structure, and your reasons for doing yoga. The most advanced types of yoga offer poses that have more metabolic stress and they are best practiced by seasoned yoga practitioners.
You don’t have to perform complicated poses to gain muscle, just find what stimulates your body.
These are tears that occur in muscle fibers during training. Due to the intensity of training on the muscle, it experiences tiny tears that heal when the body is given time to rest. The tears are the cause of numbness and stiffness on the muscle that has been trained which is experienced the following day.
The tears are caused by the tension applied to the muscle and they are an integral part of the building of muscle. They mostly occur to people who are beginning a physical practice and once the muscle is used to that routine, the damage is no longer experienced, unless the stimulus is changed.
Most Yoga poses build muscle using the mechanical damage method since poses are usually contractions.
Muscles get used to repetitive tears and damages are no longer experienced over time.
Ways to Optimize Muscle Growth through Yoga Practices
The regular practice of yoga enhances the building of muscles considerably even with the most basic poses. However, to further increase muscle growth, for example to increase your muscle mass to improve your health, you need to understand the building process that is activated by yoga so that you can focus on the key core areas when in practice.
To optimize muscle growth through yoga, you can follow these recommendations:
- Pinpoint key poses which are effective for muscle and strength building and plan for their practice starting with the easiest one to the most difficult. Ensure that you practice these poses with the most difficult variation that you are capable of.
- Once you get comfortable with a certain variation, keep repeating them until your body no longer feels the strain when doing them. Then try to go deeper or change the combination to change the stimulus.
- Maximize muscle tension by using transitions from a standing position to one when you are lying down as you take more challenging poses and options as you lower yourself down to a mat.
- Ensure that you implement various sequences that challenge the endurance of your body to its limit. To ensure that you have metabolic stress on the muscle, you should not rest in between different poses. You should, therefore, avoid rest because you will be optimizing these processes for muscle growth. If there is rest, it should be kept at a minimum just to gasp for air.
Even the most basic yoga poses improve muscle building with regular practice.
Yoga Poses for Muscle Growth
Several yoga poses are effective in building muscles in your body. For boosting your muscle mass gains focus on the biggest muscle groups in your body, as legs, chest, shoulders, and back muscles. For instance, to grow the big muscles in your body at the gym, the dead-lift and squat exercises are a must-have. When doing yoga, the same applies to focus on poses that work on these big muscles effectively.
This is one of the poses that ramp up metabolic stress the most. The pose uses the biggest muscle group in the body which are the legs and works by positioning yourself in a rocking chair to engage the glutes, core, and quads, among others.
Even the simplest version of Utkatasana (chair pose) is enough to stimulate your muscles. Try different depths.
The warrior pose works by exercising the back and leg muscles and engaging the glutes and core to keep you straight while raising the arms. This pose works on all the muscles at the same time.
Move the front leg further away from the back leg, and go lower, to increase the stimule in this pose.
This is a very common pose in yoga and it exercises the arms and their balance which is a key component of building muscle mass. The pose makes you engage the legs and the core area as you hold your weight against your arms. Its effectiveness comes because it incorporates all the 3 mechanisms of muscle-building discussed earlier in the article.
Make sure to keep the elbows within 45º from the torso to avoid shoulder issues.
So, Can Yoga Build Muscle?
Of course! Simply because it applies the same principles followed by other disciplines traditionally known for building muscle, such as weightlifting.
However, yoga build muscle in a more wholistic and functional way. A yoga practice also includes muscle stretching, which is essential for the recovery and health of muscles, and aids in their growing process while keeping or improving their functionality.
Yoga can help you build muscle for a correct body mass index, i.e. for being healthier. But even though you may increase the stimuli by deepening and varying yoga poses, or by practicing different kinds of yoga, you won’t achieve the same level of stimuli, and hence of muscle growth, you may experience by lifting weights, for example. This is fine as this is not the goal of yoga.
You will gain muscle mass healthily through yoga asanas and being mindful of what you eat.
Practice yoga and you will gain muscle mass healthily through the asanas and by being mindful of what you put inside your body.
Have you experienced any changes in your body composition by practicing yoga? Please let me know in the comments!
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Co-founder of MB Zen, digital nomad and freedom seeker. Loves developing projects that improve people’s lives. Functional training, yoga, and healthy eating define his lifestyle since he got his back injured. Fell in love with Yin yoga from the very first session though he won’t say no to any other kind of yoga.