Find zen while sculpting your legs, shoulders, chest, and core.
Sure, yoga can help you de-stress and find flow. But it’s not all steady breathing and one-with-the-universe mantras: Yoga can help you build serious muscle too.
Case in point: In the aptly named Namaste (“Novel Approaches to Maintaining Muscle and Strength”) study of women ages 50 to 65, those who practiced vinyasa yoga at least two times per week for a minimum of one year experienced more muscle growth than those who didn’t get their flow on.
According to the researchers, that’s because the yogis demonstrated increased whole-body protein utilization—meaning their bodies were better able to absorb and use the protein they ate to build muscle.
Meanwhile, in an Asian Journal of Sports Medicine study, men and women who performed sun salutations six days per week for 24 weeks improved their strength at bench presses and shoulder presses, as well as their endurance at pushups and situps.
However, it’s important to note that both of these studies looked at particularly challenging and weight-bearing yoga forms and sequences, says Layne Nordquist, C.P.T., a master trainer with VASA Fitness in Denver. That’s in contrast to restorative and relaxing poses like Savasana—you know, the one where you lie on your back, close your eyes, and potentially doze off.
Here are six yoga moves that pack a muscle-boosting punch. Perform them separately or back-to-back to create your own strengthening sequence.
1. Frog Squat
How to do it: Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, bend your knees, and lower your hips into a squat. Gently press your elbows into the inside of your knees and bring your palms together in front of your chest. Press through your heels to return to standing. Perform five reps.
2. Downward Dog
How to do it: Standing with your feet hip-width apart, place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart, and step both feet behind you to form an upside-down “V” with your hips in the air. Breathe deeply, holding the pose until you begin to feel fatigued, then step your feet forward and return to standing. Perform five reps.
3. Reverse Warrior
How to do it: Step your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, raise your arms to parallel with the floor, and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down. Turn your feet so that the lead one points forward and the back one points out to the side. Bend to lower your front knee over the ankle, shin perpendicular to the floor. Turn your head to gaze forward over your front leg.
4. High Plank
How to do it: Get down on all fours with your hands as wide as and just behind your shoulders. Extend your legs behind you, bracing the balls of your feet against the floor so that your body forms straight line from head to heels. Keep your shoulders pulled back away from your ears, and squeeze your core, glutes, and thighs. Pretend you’re digging your forearms into the floor and pulling them toward your feet. Hold for a maximum of 20 seconds, working up to five sets total.
5. Chair Pose
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. With your weight on your heels, bend at your hips and knees to lower yourself like you’re sitting into a chair. As you do so, let your arms raise in front of you to keep yourself balanced. Breathe deeply, engaging your core, glutes, and hamstrings until you begin to feel fatigue. Then press through your feet and extend your legs to stand. Perform five reps.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, about 6 to 8 inches from your glutes. Brace your core. From there, squeeze your glutes and push through your heels to raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. In this top position, your shins should be completely vertical. Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to start. That’s one rep. Work up to four sets of 20 reps, then perform fewer reps while holding a dumbbell across your hips.
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Note: Please consult your physician before beginning a physical activity program to make sure it’s safe for you.