Why is resistance training important?
Here’s a fact: Muscle mass decreases as you age. After puberty, we lose about 1% of bone and muscle strength each year. Inactive adults experience a 3 to 8 percent loss of muscle mass per decade. This muscle mass is replaced by fat. But resistance training can slow down or even reverse muscle loss throughout your lifetime. Building muscle mass can help you to lose weight and keep weight off by increasing not just the number of calories you burn during your workout but by increasing calorie burn as your body recovers from exercise. Hour after hour, day after day, muscle burns more calories, even at rest, than fat.
Having more muscle mass slows bone deterioration and can definitely reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
If you are already suffering from osteoporosis, strength training can slow the effects of the condition and help you build back some of your bone mass. Greater strength helps you to maintain balance as you age, and decreases your risk of injury.
Strength is a major reflection of vitality and stamina
Research shows that strength training can be as effective as medication in decreasing arthritis pain. Strength is a major reflection of vitality and stamina.
Despite all of these benefits, a 2011 opinion poll from the CDC reported that less than 20% of women say they accomplish the CDC’s recommendation for 2 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise and two periods of strength training weekly. Ouch! We can do better than this! Current weekly guidelines for physical activity for adults:
150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise
75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
2 sessions per week
Yoga for Strength
How can we make strength and aerobic training a part of our lives, when we are just so busy! Exercising 4-5 times a week is ideal, but how is that even possible with the demands that most of us have on our time?
Two major roadblocks we face regarding our exercise commitment are 1. Time and 2. Desire. To be successful, you’ll need a fitness outlet that you love, and that is easy on your schedule. I happen to think that Yoga can be just that outlet.
Many consider Yoga to be a great stress reliever, or the gold standard of flexibility and range of motion programs. But Yoga also happens to be chock full of the types of exercises that are recommended for cardiovascular health AND in strength training guidelines. Body weight exercises are efficient, cost effective and often really fun. Stuff you do in Yoga all the time is just good bodyweight work. Plank, squats, standing poses, Downward facing dog and core work are included in nearly every Vinyasa and Power Class. But don’t you have to use weights to really build muscle? If you did, “Yoga butt” and “Yoga arms” would totally not be a thing.
How to Leverage Yoga for Strength
Attend the right class
If you want to really leverage your Yoga for Strength you will need to attend Vinyasa and Power Vinyasa Classes. Though the two are very similar, a rough distinction might be that in a Vinyasa class you will keep moving. There is a definite cardio component here too due to the pace. Avoid classes that move so fast that your breath is rushed. You can get a heck of a workout in a class that keeps a mindful but steady pace. Power classes tend to focus on strength more than transition-centric Vinyasas. You’ll hold poses for longer, which WILL deliver that cardio component. Ideally your arms and legs will get a little shaky. When they do, you know that you’ve done good work toward your strength building goals.
Have the right attitude
Your muscles increase in size and strength due to a process known as muscle hypertrophy. This process is triggered as muscles are challenged with progressively greater levels of resistance or weight. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the fibers of muscles are injured or damaged. These “micro tears” are repaired by the body through fusion and the addition of more muscle material. Hence, an increase in the mass and size of muscles.
So, to build muscle, you have to work a region or group of muscles to fatigue. Yogis, I’ve noticed, have a pretty uncomfortable relationship with muscle fatigue. We tend to feel that we’ve failed if we get shaky or need to take a break during a pose. But, my friends, this is the yoga gold. This is where you get stronger. In stark contrast to the rest of the fitness world, Yogis start to back off when they experience fatigue. This is reasonable since we know that class structure typically builds over time to a peak. The hardest stuff is usually saved for the last 1/3 of class. I find my students holding a little back in classes soto really nail those final poses. To really get stronger though, don’t hold back. Trust your teacher (and teachers be trustworthy) to sequence class in a way that prepares you for that difficult pose or sequence but ensures that you have enough gas in the tank to be successful when the time comes. Knowing that your goal is to get stronger can feel like a conflict sometimes. Do I want to nail every pose? Or do I want to progressively build strength and stamina? Try giving 70-80 percent of your capacity and watch yourself get stronger over time.
Use Good Techinque
All of us build muscle at different rates depending on our age, gender, hormonal factors and so much more. Your success in building muscle is greatly increased if exercise is:
- Consistent – Try to get to about 2 challenging Vinyasa or Power Vinyasa classes a week.
- Challenging – Use stellar posture alignment and try to challenge yourself a little extra every couple of weeks. Challenges to your self look like; taking longer stances in standing poses, drawing your belly in flat for planks and chatturangas,
going SLOW through transitions and micromanaging every muscular process along the way… to name a few.
- Long term – Keep showing up. Put your classes in your calendar and make them a priority. Make sure others in your life know that those times are sacred and to respect them.
- Followed by enough rest – Don’t do a challenging Yoga class everyday. Get in other forms of fitness that you love as well. Take the dog for a walk, use the stairs at work, go bowling, golfing etc.. Yin Yoga is an awesome addition to an active lifestyle and can help you heal and recover. Also, prioritize a good night’s sleep every night since research suggests that sleep debt decreases protein synthesis, contributes to the loss of muscle mass, and reduces muscle recovery.
It takes several weeks or months of consistent activity before changes are visible. But students report to me often that they feel stronger and tighter within a few weeks if they are consistent with their practice.
Protein intake is so important for building muscle . Current guidelines recommend that adults consume .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.
Often, the question in when to eat. It can be hard to time meals in a busy day so you have the fuel you need to get through a hard class and not feel like you are going to yak in every Down Dog. Here’s a little tip: I find that a handful of almonds a few minutes before class can help me stave off hunger and give me the energy I need for the next hour. Another little protein snack on your way home is a great way to get the most out of your workout. 20 g of dietary protein immediately after exercise helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, reduces protein breakdown, and leads to more effective muscle reconditioning.
Here is a nifty online calculator from the USDA that can help you work out your own protein needs as well as other dietary recommendations.
Yoga for Strength
Yoga can absolutely be a long term tool that can help you build and maintain strength. I love fitness. I enjoy my weight day at the gym and my cardio as well. But Yoga to me is the full package. I can find a practice everyday that supports those vital elements of fitness including resistance training, aerobic conditioning, flexibility techniques, good breathing and posture habits and stamina support. It’s also really fun! It allows us to be expressive and curious in a supportive environment. If you’d like to see what classes you can fit into your busy life, have a look at our class schedule
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mandy is the owner and founder of Sound Method. She’s been practicing yoga almost daily since 2006. A lover of literature and history, exercise and summer. Her most impressive skill is her ability to remember people and names, though at her 15 year high school reunion she remembered no one… A former professional musician, she’s never held a “real” job. She’s also a mom of 2 and step-mom of 1