We’re all aware of yoga’s physical and mental health benefits. The list goes on from increased flexibility, decreased stress, improved cardiovascular health, to pain reduction and alleviation. On top of this, yoga is also said to increase strength, as specific poses and movements are designed to build muscles. Yoga is a nice complement for those looking to strengthen their bodies, among other benefits, but can yoga tone your arms?
Numerous scientific studies and research support this claim, highlighting why yoga should be practiced for its’ strength building benefits. In particular, one study involved 79 adults who practiced 24 cycles of sun salutations, six days a week for 24 weeks. It was revealed that participants experienced an increase in upper body strength, endurance and weight loss. With this, it’s clear that yoga can help us tone and strengthen our bodies. But can yoga completely replace your typical strength training routines like CrossFit, HIIT training or weightlifting at the gym? Can a couple of sun salutations and asanas really help you get in shape? Specifically, can yoga tone your arms?
Yoga, Fitness and Strength Training
According to yoga teacher, John Schumacher, yoga can provide a complete fitness regime. A student of B.K.S. Iyengar for 20 years, his daily asanas and breathwork has kept him fit for 30 years. Three decades of just yoga practice, without any running or weightlifting put him in his best shape. Adam Perlman, M.D., an integrative well-being expert at Duke University claims that various styles of yoga can be effective for building muscle. “Moving energetically through poses leads to more calories and fat burned, which means more visibility of those muscles”, he explains. In addition, Perlman points to more dynamic and intense yoga styles for building strength and a fitter physique.
Research also suggests that practicing yoga for 55 minutes, three days a week, eight weeks straight can drastically improve strength and endurance. The overwhelming studies show us that yoga can indeed improve our fitness, but how exactly?
You can see drastic improvements in just 8 weeks straight of 55 mins, 3 days a week of yoga.
It all comes down to strength training – an exercise that focuses on resistance to contract muscles. In turn, muscle contractions build anaerobic endurance and increase muscle mass and body strength. With yoga, muscle contractions occur in the form of holding and balancing poses for long periods of time. These sustained isometric contractions of small and large muscles from various poses add on to this strength training. For instance, holding downward dog requires you to balance your back, core and arms, contracting all your muscles simultaneously. Most yoga postures require you to use your entire body, training multiple muscle groups at once.
Correspondingly, experts indicate that when stretching muscles, they are able to extract and use more oxygen, leading to increase strength and endurance. As yoga also promotes bringing awareness to mind, body, and breath, you are pushed to move at your maximum fitness capacity.
Can Yoga Really Tone Your Arms?
It’s clear that yoga can act as a full body workout, and daily practice can make us fitter and stronger. But can yoga tone your arms in place of weightlifting? “The benefits of yoga are very profound and efficient in toning the whole upper body”, says Glenda Twining, a Vinyasa yoga instructor. In particular, the weight-bearing poses in yoga target your biceps, triceps and deltoids, the main muscles in your arms. For example, in Vinyasa yoga, several poses require you to lift your body off the floor, engaging the full capacity of your arms.
There are also weight-bearing poses in yoga.
If you’re new to yoga, Power Yoga is a Vinyasa practice that is great for toning arms and building strength quickly. For those looking for more of a challenge, Ashtanga Yoga is fast-paced and vigorous, with all asanas engaging the arms fully. Another effective yoga style [hyperlink to “What Yoga Is Best For Me Article?”] for arm strength is Iyengar, with special attention on holding poses for longer periods of time. Iyengar classes typically concentrate on asana technique and proper alignment, using yoga tools such as blocks, chairs and straps. On the other hand, styles such as Kundalini or Yin Yoga are not your best bet for strength building. Instead, these slower-paced styles focus more on deep stretch, meditation and breath work, helping you to relax and reduce stress.
Strength and conditioning specialist Jon-Erik Kawamoto recommends practicing yoga for 4-8 weeks to see toned arm muscles. He suggests picking up an arms-focused practice such as Ashtanga or Iyengar, twice a week with rest days in between. In fact, working out your arms every day is not ideal, as our muscles need a few days to rebuild and strengthen. The most important thing to remember is consistency – implement a routine cadence into your exercise regimen and you’ll slowly begin to see results. So, can yoga tone your arms and build muscle? With practice and consistency, the answer is yes!
Try These Poses To Tone Your Arms
Here are some essential poses for toning and strengthening your arms:
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
In downward facing dog, you’re using your arms to push the floor away from you. Start on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart, and legs hip-width apart. Your hips should be aligned with your knees, and your shoulders should be aligned with your wrists. Slowly lift your hips up and walk your hands forward, tucking your toes and straightening your legs. Make sure you’re elevating your pelvis and pushing both the palms of your hands and feet into the mat. Keep your arms straight with your fingers spread and rotate your arms inward to broaden the back. This pose is also known as the “anchoring” pose and is beneficial for toning your arms and stretching out your whole body.
This pose tones your arms and stretches out your whole body.
2. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
In upward facing dog, you’re using your arms to push your body up from the floor. Start by lying down, stretching your legs back with the top of your toes rested on the floor. Press your palms into the ground, shoulder-width apart and bend your elbows while you push yourself forward along the floor. Keep your chest open and arms straight and firm, lifting your torso and upper thighs off the mat. This pose is great for improving posture as well as strengthening your spine, wrists, and arms.
Upward Facing Dog improves posture and strengthens your spine, wrists, and arms.
3. Push-up (Chaturanga Dandasana)
The Chaturanga Dandasana involves all limbs of your body and is essentially a low plank pose. Start in plank position and extend your gaze forward as you bend your elbows and lower your shoulders. Lower your ribs towards the ground, keeping your triceps firm and engaged. Your elbows should bend at a 90-degree angle, with your shoulders lifted and your upper back broad. It’s very important to keep the upper segment of your arms forming an angle of between 30-45º with your torso to avoid shoulder issues. This pose is great for strong and toned arms, specifically targeting the triceps and lower arm muscles.
Chaturanga strengthens and tones the triceps, and lower arm muscles.
4. Forearm Plank (Phalakasana Forearm Variation)
The forearm plank is quite self-explanatory from its’ name. Begin in plank pose, lowering your body onto your forearms with your palms grounded into the mat. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders, keeping your shoulders and back firm. Curl your toes under and draw in your lower belly as you engage your thighs. Make sure you engage your core and gaze forward, as your shoulders, hips and heels are in a straight line. With this pose, you are strengthening the whole body and toning the arms, core (abs and lower back), legs and chest. Try to hold your belly button in during any kind of plank.
Don’t forget to hold your belly button in any kind of plank.
5. Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
In dolphin pose, you will begin similarly to downward dog, beginning on all fours. Place your elbows on the mat with your elbows directly under, and shoulder-width apart. Walk your toes towards your elbows and curl your toes, relaxing your neck and lifting your knees up from the floor. Keep your lower belly drawn in and keep your shoulders firm while elongating the spine. For a challenge, you can hold this pose while lifting one leg up, keeping it high and then switching. This pose keeps your shoulders strong and increases flexibility in the arms.
Dolphin pose also increases the flexibility of your arms while keeping your shoulders strong.
6. Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
The side plank also requires you to begin in plank position. Roll onto the outer edge of one foot, with the other foot stacked directly on top. With one palm rooted in the ground lengthening your arm, take the opposite arm and lift it towards the sky. Your gaze should be sideways and upwards, engaging your obliques while firming the triceps and thighs. Hold this position and then switch on to the other side. This pose improves your balance and strengthens your arm and legs, while stretching out the back.
Side plank stretches out the back, improves balance, and strengthens the arms and legs.
Yoga For Your Next Arm Workout
Yoga can definitely strengthen and tone your muscles if you’re practicing styles focused more on strength-training. As long as you’re training 2-3 times a week for 4-8 weeks straight, you’ll begin to see more toned muscles. Can yoga turn your arms? Absolutely, but yoga is so much more than strength training and muscle building. Beyond the wide range of physical benefits, yoga is often practiced for its’ many mental and emotional benefits as well. Remember that yoga is a mind-body practice, focused on bringing harmony between the two. You’ll get toned and strong arms, and also a clearer and happier mind.