When it comes to getting swole, lifting barbells and pressing weights the only way to go, right?
Hmmm, maybe so, maybe no.
For those of you who don’t do yoga, I’m pretty sure some of you have seen yoga instructors who are pretty muscular even without using weights in their main form of exercise.
Hell, I’ve lifted up weights regularly for years and have seen tons of yogis who are more muscular than me who have never even sniffed a dumbbell.
Yoga is a form of exercise that requires a sometimes tremendous amount of strength to get into and maintain the body in certain poses. Pretty much any regular yogi could attest that having strong muscles can come in handy during even the most basic vinyasa flow.
And, ironically, most of the buffest dudes fumble in the simplest yoga class.
So, how effective is yoga as a method of muscle building and how can yoga benefit the everyday weight lifter?
Research has shown, especially in women, that yoga can cause some enhancements in muscle growth in the lower body. However, there was no evidence in these or other studies of significant muscle growth in any other areas.
A good assumption for the cause of growth in the lower body only could be women’s tendency to grow more muscle in the legs due to a higher concentration of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Basically, it’s easier for women to gain muscle in their lower body and easier for men to gain muscle in their upper body regardless of the type of exercise.
There has been additional research that has shown that the prolonged stretching in yoga poses allow the muscles to be more elastic and active. Therefore, the muscles are more efficient during other forms of strength training. When your muscles are tight and you skip your pre-lift stretches...
(yep I’m talking to you, 98% of gymgoers who run straight to loading up the squat rack as soon as you get in the door)
….they become much more difficult to activate, no matter how hard you lift.
Therefore, an activity like yoga could definitely be an indirect contributor to muscle growth.
Higher muscle fiber recruitment, better strength. More growth. Boom.
We also know that yoga builds flexibility, balance and strength. Yoga has been shown to build significant amounts of strength in both men and women with regular practice due to the demands of holding one’s body weight for extended periods of time in physically demanding poses and stances. With regular practice, not only does this build strength in the body, but allows the muscles to perform better at an endurance level.
So, even if you’re a weight lifter and only do casual yoga, this endurance can allow you to lift and hold heavier weights for longer times, which can be a game-changer for your grains. Power yoga is particularly more effective at challenging the muscles than a more relaxed style of yoga that focuses mostly on breathing and flows.
All of this being said, in order to call yourself completely fit, you have to have the vital principles of optimal fitness: strength, endurance, power, flexibility and balance.
Unfortunately, the latter two are woefully neglected in the mainstream fitness world despite their importance which is probably why even some of the beefiest men struggle with finishing a yoga session. It should be noted that, without proper flexibility, it's difficult to execute exercises that are amazing for your body and muscle growth such as the pistol squat.
And without good balance, performing a one-legged deadlift is pretty much impossible. But it’s one of my favorite exercises for glute gains due to the fact that bearing your weight on one leg instead of two means more muscle recruitment.
Again, more gainsssss.
This is why I include yoga in my workout routine at least once a week.
The bottom line?
Yoga can (and should!) be added into your fitness program due to its many benefits, but isn't efficient or weight-bearing enough to be considered as one’s sole method of muscle building. If you’re really going for the hypertrophy you’re looking for significant muscle growth, eventually, you’re going to need to pick up some heavy weights.
However, if your goal is also overall fitness, incorporating yoga with your weight training can definitely make your workouts more effective, make you feel less stiff and tight when you do go through your lifts and just make you a more well-rounded fitspo.