Yoga for strength

Well one thing’s for sure, it is a cold and sleepy Sunday ’round these parts.  I didn’t sleep too well last night and I’ve been pretty productive today (I even got a run in, yay!) but I’m still a bit surprised that it’s only 7:47 pm and I already feel like crawling into bed and getting some shut-eye.  Of course if I do that, I’ll probably be wide awake about three hours from now so ultimately probably not the best idea.

Anyway, I mentioned I’d been productive; I managed to get some of my new training schedule done!  Right now I have a plan that extends into the first week of March, but I’m not entirely sure that I won’t be revising it a little bit.  For now, though, I’m happy with the first few weeks:

In writing up this plan, I wanted to keep the following things in mind:

1) I don’t want to overload myself with mileage;

2) I want to increase my weekly mileage slowly;

3) I want to make sure I incorporate enough rest time;

4) I want to incorporate some cross-training activities in a structured manner.

I think I’ve done those things successfully in the plan that I’ve come up with, but I’d love to get your feedback.

One thing I thought quite a bit about while I was working on this was whether I needed to work in days for strength training.  This has always been an issue for me, because I’ve never been entirely sure how to balance a regular yoga practice with weight lifting.  I know I need to be doing some sort of muscle-building exercise, especially because I’ve heard from several sources that after the age of 30, your body starts to lose muscle, and the rate at which you lose continues to increase as you age.  But is it okay to substitute yoga for weight training?  In order to find out, I tried doing a little bit of research.

It’s somewhat difficult to get a clear answer to this question.  On CNN, their diet and fitness expert Melina Jampolis consulted Sherri Baptiste on this issue, and reports that

for long-term health and weight maintenance, the best option would be to include both yoga and strength training in your regular exercise program.

According to Jampolis, an alternative to including both yoga and strength training would be combining the two activities and doing a practice with light weights.  Maybe I’m a yoga purist, but this idea just doesn’t appeal to me all that much.

On the other hand, an article in Yoga Journal cites a few studies in which a regular yoga practice is shown to be effective in building muscle and strength.  In one study, researchers at the University of California- Davis had 10 students practice yoga for 85 minutes four times a week for eight weeks and tested their muscular strength and endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and lung capacity before and after the eight-week period.  They reported the following results:

After eight weeks, the students’ muscular strength had increased by as much as 31 percent, muscular endurance by 57 percent, flexibility by as much as 188 percent, and VO2max by 7 percent—a very respectable increase, given the brevity of the experiment. Study coauthor Ezra A. Amsterdam, M.D., suspects that VO2max might have increased more had the study lasted longer than eight weeks. In fact, the ACSM recommends that exercise research last a minimum of 15 to 20 weeks, because it usually takes that long to see VO2max improvements.

In another study at Ball State University, researchers looked at how a twice-weekly yoga practice done over the course of 15 weeks affected the lung capacity of study participants (a group which included athletes, asthmatics, and smokers).  The article doesn’t give specifics, but states that study participants (even the athletes) significantly improved their lung capacity during the study.

Obviously these two studies are not the end-all, be-all when it comes to information about yoga as a strengthening exercise.  The first one has too few participants for the group to be considered a representative sample, neither study seems to have a control group, and the second study’s findings seem a bit vague (they’re at least presented that way in the article.  I didn’t actually look up the actual study.  The article isn’t dated, and like I said, I’m pretty tired right now.  I do think I’ll try looking it up some other time, though); however, most of the sources I looked at did affirm that yoga will build strength.  The main question was whether it was viable as a long-term strength-building activity–most of what I read seemed to suggest that yoga was limited in this regard, and that you would only be able to develop so much strength before the poses would no longer be challenging.  At that point, you’d have to start weight training in order to continue working your muscles.

Personally, though, I know I’m not yet at a point where yoga is obsolete as a muscle-building activity.  For one thing, when I’m practicing yoga regularly, I notice a change in the muscle definition in my arms and in my upper body in general.  I know I’m getting stronger because I’m able to do poses I couldn’t do before.  And until I can hold crow (apparently also called crane) or a headstand (and those would require significantly less strength than something like this or this) without falling out after two breaths, I’m not going to worry to much about my muscles not getting enough of a challenge.  So while I may end up tweaking the mileage in my training plan, I think that for now it’s safe for me to stick with yoga for strength.  And once I’m strong enough to drop down and rock poses like this, I’ll reevaluate that statement.

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13 comments

  1. With how sore my muscles are today after my first practice in two weeks yesterday, I’d say yoga is probably decent at building muscle AT LEAST in the short-term :]

    1. Totally! I get super sore as well. I was kind of surprised to read people saying that it would eventually be less challenging–maybe these people have never done yoga? Or seen some of the more advanced poses?

  2. Hmm, very interesting question. I guess I’ve always seen yoga as strength training, in the sense that it does build some very real muscles as well as core stability. And it’s a wonderful cross-training activity while running. But I guess it’s not really hardcore weightlifting, is it?

  3. When I take time away from yoga and then come back… my muscles are always sore. Doing a bunch of sun salutations really works the upper body muscles. So I’m just going to assume that it counts as my strength training!

  4. Great training plan…may have to use some of it myself 😉 I hate that I want to crawl in bed around 8 at night. I think it’s just the cold, winter blues? Spring hurry up!!

  5. It’s funny I was just thinking about this today. I was thinking that I should ad strength training into my workouts again. I just started doing yoga recently and I get really sore from it (and I’m talking very basic beginners stuff). So I was wondering if I could count that as my stregnth and not do weights.

    I think that as long as I am seeing improvements and I am getting stronger from it I’m going to keep it as my stregnth option right now.

    You’re post came along at the perfect time!

  6. I think it can go either way. You could also do a cardio-ish/weight circuit? Or even just body weights, instead of “real” weights. Just depends on what you want/like to do.

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