Several people have told me that yoga is for flexibility, not strength. Frankly, this is just not true.
I totally agree that yoga is great for gaining flexibility! True story: When I first started doing yoga I couldn’t touch my toes. Not even close. On average, I’d be able to reach the tops of my shins. With regular yoga practice I am now proud of say that I can consistently touch my toes! #babysteps But in addition to gaining flexibility, yoga is incredible for building strength!
Now not only was I not very flexible when I first started doing yoga (both physically and mentally, but that’s for another blog post 😉 ) but I have historically had poor upper body strength. I always had strong legs and a strong core, but ask me to do push-ups and I think I would have been able to do five maybe. But when I started doing yoga I noticed significant improvements in my upper body strength. And better yet, my strength improved not only in my ability to do push-ups and yoga, but life! I was able to open containers easier without asking my husband for help. I was able to lift and move furniture and boxes around the house without needing as much help. I was able to do yard work without being nearly as sore the next day. All of these things, plus more, are wins for me!
Let’s do a special shout out for core strength- your core should be engaged the entire time you’re doing yoga. That’s right. The entire time. You know that feeling like you’re putting on a really tight pair of pants? That’s the feeling you should be aiming for when doing yoga! Bluntly, if you’re constantly engaging a muscle group throughout the entirety of your practice your strength is going to improve.
Tips for increasing strength while doing yoga
- Hold each pose a little bit longer than what you’re used to. In order to increase strength, we need to increase stress on the muscles, which can include longer holds.
- Increase repetitions of each pose compared to what you’re used to. This is another way to increase stress on the muscle groups which is, again, necessary for increasing strength (and also increases with endurance).
- Experiment with different types of yoga and/or different instructors. Variety in your yoga practice will work your muscles differently.
- Don’t be afraid to grade the pose to give yourself the “just right” challenge. Start slowly and use equipment and/or modify the pose. Gradually work towards decreasing the modifications necessary. (See below for more detail on grading poses).
- Keep challenging yourself! Don’t be afraid to try new positions, as attempting new poses will work different muscle groups in various planes of movement. Start slowly by using equipment and/or modifying the pose (see below on grading poses).
Grading Yoga Poses
When I say grading yoga poses, I mean finding the “just right” challenge for you. You can modify various poses to meet you at your current level of fitness by either changing your position or adding equipment. As the pose gets easier, slowly start to take away some of your modifications and add complexity.
For example, here’s how I would grade Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana):
- Begin with your knees on the ground while weight-bearing through your forearms. Place a pillow or blanket under your knees and/or elbows to increase comfort, if necessary. A block may also be placed under your forearms to promote comfort and alignment of your spine.
- Lift your knees and transition into plank pose on your toes and forearms.
- While keeping your knees lifted, you can transition weight-bearing from your forearms onto your hands & wrists.
- Pause here for a strengthening exercise (video below): Repetitively transition weight-bearing from your forearms to <> from your hands & wrists while in plank pose. Note: This adds repetition and complexity to build strength, as listed in the above section.
- From plank pose on your hands & toes, move into side plank.
- In a variation of side plank, bend your top knee and place your top foot on your bottom leg’s inner thigh.