I get asked this a lot – does yoga build muscles? The simple answer is YES, yoga can build muscle. This question is usually the question that people ask before they consider coming to one of my yoga classes. I tell them first that the yoga I teach and practice focuses on the physical fitness involved in yoga.
Second, that it’s catered to men (or women who are interested in the physical fitness aspects of yoga), and then specifically that it will help you develop endurance, core strength, body awareness, balance, and flexibility/range of motion. At that point, they’re almost ready to come to a class or try out a video. There’s usually just one more question to go after that: “Can I build muscle mass doing yoga?”
It’s either that exact question or a question related to muscle mass. Some people want to put on a lot of muscle mass, and others are just afraid of losing the muscle that they’ve worked hard to acquire. The answer to both of them is that yoga will help you whether you’re trying to build muscle mass, maintain muscle mass, or reduce bulk.
I remember that when I started doing yoga I was equally concerned about losing muscle mass. My experience was that I toned up and lost unnecessary bulk, but not the muscle mass. You’ll find a more in-depth, scientific response below.
The Scientific Answer to Why Yoga Builds Muscle
There are a few ways that I go about answering this question. The first answer is absolutely yes, you can build muscle with yoga. As long as you’re getting to the point of muscle failure (where your muscles start to shake, you feel the burn, and you start to question your decision to do yoga after leg day) then you are initiating the muscle-building process that causes gains.
Not all yoga focuses on reaching this point, and some that do only do it once or twice per class. This means that not all yoga classes are effective or even meant to help you significantly build muscle mass. Even fewer forms of emphasize upper body. That being said, there are plenty that emphasize reaching muscle failure and concentrate on both lower AND upper body, and Man Flow Yoga is one of them.
Are you going to gain 15 pounds of muscle in 2 months of doing yoga? Probably not. But you also won’t gain the unnecessary bulk that usually goes along with weightlifting. I recommend a combination of weightlifting or functional fitness, cardio, and yoga for optimal physical performance.
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My Personal Experience With Yoga
The second answer I give is my own personal experience with yoga. “Of course yoga will help you build muscle mass, look at me! I don’t do any weightlifting anymore; all I do is yoga.” Yoga has helped me maintain, tone, and even build muscle mass in certain areas of my body. The biggest change that I noticed after switching from yoga to weights was the trimming of unnecessary bulk in my upper body, and an increase in the size and definition of muscles in my lower body.
I test weights every few months or so, and it’s interesting to find that I can still lift JUST AS MUCH as I used to. Clearly this answer is more flawed than the one above. Genetics, diet, consistency, level of effort, and past physical fitness history all contribute. Still, sometimes people just want to see physical proof to connect the dots. Well… ta-da.
Technique And Form Matters A LOT
The other point I like to emphasize with building muscle mass and yoga is that building muscle mass is not just a result of mindlessly doing rep after rep. In order to build muscle mass SAFELY, proper technique is imperative. There are MANY top college and professional (I would even argue a majority of) that train for years with poor technique or body mechanics, and it’s the reason why they only last a few years before succumbing to back pain, knee problems, or other chronic injuries.
Seriously, go talk to an ex-NFL athlete and ask them how they feel every day. It’s probably less than fantastic. The emphasis that yoga instructors (at least, the emphasis that yoga instructors SHOULD) place on technique is more in-depth than any other form of physical fitness that I’ve seen. Most other forms of fitness involve movements that are quicker, counted, and measured by a timer.
Yoga slows down the timer. It gives you an opportunity to check in with your body and consider every region, joint, limb, and appendix to ensure that everything is working the way that it’s supposed to.
You can then take this attention to detail into your other forms of physical fitness to ensure that you are using proper body mechanics, which keeps your body healthy, injury-free, and allows you to do whatever it is that you want to do, whether that is Man Flow Yoga, yoga, bodyweight calisthenics (which yoga is a part of), weightlifting, or any of a number of forms of physical fitness that help you feel the burn and initiate the muscle building process.
The Conclusion – Does Yoga Build Muscle?
The conclusion? Yes, yoga helps you build muscle mass. As long as you’re doing the right poses while reaching or approaching muscle failure, you will gain muscle while doing yoga. Period. I’m proof of that. Man Flow Yoga is proof of that. (Try it for a couple of months, you’ll notice the difference too.) Lastly, yoga helps you safely build muscle because of its attention to detail. So even if you want to keep pumping iron, it’s a great idea to use yoga to help keep your body healthy enough to do it.
You might be interested in poses that will build muscle and tips on starting yoga if you’re new, so check out these 3 blogs!
About the author, Dean Pohlman, Founder & CEO of Man Flow Yoga, Author of Yoga Fitness for Men, Expert on Yoga Fitness for Men.
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