How to Use Yoga to Build Strength

Yoga has a bit of a reputation for being all about flexibility, stretching and relaxation. But there are so many different types of yoga out there, plenty of which will challenge you to build your strength and resilience at the same time as improving your flexibility. Practicing yoga for strength is a great way to improve one without sacrificing the other.

Yoga for building strength

Even a basic yoga class will work to improve your strength in certain aspects, and the more you go and the more you challenge yourself, the stronger you’ll become. 

How yoga helps build strength

Yoga helps to build strength in the same way other forms of body weight exercise can, with poses and movements that challenge a wide range of muscle groups. Yoga poses, or asanas, can include everything from standing poses that strengthen the legs to forearm balances to handstands that will make your arms, chest and back muscles work. 

How often to do yoga if you’re looking to build strength

If you’re looking to build strength with yoga, you’ll have to be consistent in how often you practice. So if you only have the time and energy to go once a week but you know you’ll go almost every week, this is what’s important. 

If you are able to go two or three times a week then your strength levels will increase much more drastically, and you’ll likely see an improvement in your practice fairly quickly. Just remember, it’s also important to give your body plenty of time to rest and recover. So if you’re going to high-intensity power yoga classes, maybe space them out with a day of rest in between. That way you’ll have more energy and will get the most from each class.

Should I be sore after yoga?

Your muscles will probably feel tired and fatigued after yoga, but unlike weight training in a gym, you shouldn’t struggle with prolonged soreness or reduced mobility. One of the biggest benefits of practicing yoga for building strength is that each class includes a thorough warm-up and plenty of stretching to help improve mobility and flexibility at the same time as building strength.

Beautiful young woman yoga workout in gym

Yoga poses to build strength

There are lots of different types of yoga classes with lots of different types of teachers. Some classes focus on slow and controlled movements and can include poses that are held for longer. Others are centered more on constant movement through a sequence, which means more poses are incorporated and your muscles are challenged in different ways. 

Yoga for back strength

Yoga is a great way to build a strong back and help support your spine and improve your posture. 

The best yoga poses to build back strength

  • Plank pose – if you practice Ashtanga Yoga or power yoga you’ll be moving through a vinyasa multiple times during class, which involves holding plank for at least one breath. Plank pose fires up those back muscles as you keep a flat back and tight core throughout.
  • Downward dog – Used as a restorative pose, you’ll often spend a lot of time in class in downward god. It’s a fantastic stretch and helps improve your flexibility and focus, but the kicker is your back muscles are working overtime to help keep you stable and upside down.
  • Warrior 1 and 2 – warrior poses are full of strength and power, as the name implies, and while your legs are working hard, you’ll quickly start to feel it in your arms and back as you hold a tall, strong and balanced warrior pose.

Yoga for arm strength

Arms strength becomes more important in yoga as you start to practice more complicated balances, however there are poses in yoga for arm strength at even the beginners level.

The best yoga poses to build strong arms

  • Plank pose – I’ve already mentioned this one but plank pose really is an incredible pose for building strength in your core, back and arms.
  • Crow pose – There are plenty of variations of crow pose and, as it’s quite intense, should be built up slowly over time as you’ll need plenty of arm strength to support yourself.
  • Handstands – Again, another advanced pose, but building up to handstands, either in regular practice or a dedicated class is a great way to build arm strength.

Yoga for lower body strength

For a lot of your yoga class, your legs will be doing most of the work. Therefore it’s no surprise that yoga is great for lower body strength, especially when incorporating standing poses that are held for longer.

The best yoga poses to build strong legs

  • High lunge/crescent lunge – whether included as part of your sun salutation, or held for longer in other sequences, a high lunge will build strength and balance in both legs at the same time.
  • Warrior 3 – while warrior 1 and 2 are also good for yoga poses to build strong legs, warrior 3 is especially challenging. With your back leg off the ground, your front leg will be working harder than ever to keep you balanced and steady. But there’s shame in wobbling a little bit.

Yoga vs. weight training

Yoga is a much more holistic fitness routine, combining strength, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular exercises and relaxation in one package. You can use yoga to build strength, but your journey, expectations and results will be quite different from gym-based weight training.

Is yoga good for strength?

Yoga will help develop strength in all your muscle groups, but it’s focus will be more on functional strength. You’ll develop your leg, arm, back and core strength the more yoga classes you attend while maintaining flexibility and range of motion.

However, if you want to train for size, growing big bulging muscles is going to be much more difficult with just yoga. In order to drastically increase muscle mass you’ll need to be training your muscles to hypertrophy; breaking the fibers and causing them to grow back bigger and stronger. For this you’ll probably need more than just your body weight.

Is yoga enough for strength training?

Yoga is great for strength training, but if you’re training for size you might need to include weight training to your weekly routine.

Check out these yoga options near you

If you’re keen to do yoga for strength, try out a few different types of yoga class near you. You might benefit more from power yoga or Ashtanga Yoga classes if you’re looking to focus on building strength.

Nick Baker is a content editor and producer living in London. He’s a qualified yoga teacher and gym instructor and (tries) to get to the gym or the yoga studio on most days. Equal parts intrepid traveller and comic book nerd, Nick can be seen showing his age on TikTok and Instagram (@nicholasmarkbaker)
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