We know that resistance training with free weights and machines builds muscle, which may cause weight gain. But what about yoga?
By using the most accessible resistance available (your body weight), yoga allows you to target specific muscle groups through long holds and deep poses.
Keep reading to find out what the experts and science have to say about yoga for weight gain.
According to the experts, yoga can help with muscular strength and endurance, but it won’t necessarily cause weight or muscle gain.
“That is done from a form of hypertrophy training and maintaining a caloric surplus,” says Zac Armstrong, certified personal trainer and Master Instructor for YogaSix.
To trigger hypertrophy and consequently increase muscle size, the stimulus to increase muscle size must be anabolic, with the anabolic stimulus related to the amount of resistance used in a particular strength training exercise (4).
Additionally, to gain weight and muscle size, you need a diet high enough in calories.
And while you might be hard-pressed to see a double-digit increase on the scale, certain yoga styles and poses may contribute to an increase in muscular strength.
Researchers in a 2015 study, observed upper and lower body muscular strength and endurance gains in both men and women performing certain yoga poses, such as Chair and Warrior. These gains were measured after a 12-week Hatha yoga intervention (1).
Yoga by itself will not cause you to gain weight, but a regular practice may lead to an increase in muscular strength.
Practicing yoga regularly may lead to an increase in muscular strength and endurance. Whether you gain weight will depend on your diet and the other resistance-style exercises in your overall fitness routine.
That said, yoga styles like Vinyasa and Ashtanga are better known for improving muscular strength.
“Vinyasa-style yoga incorporates pushup variations, isometric holds, and eccentric movements,” says Armstrong.
A consistent practice of Vinyasa will build strength by using your body weight as resistance, and Armstrong says it will also increase your endurance to sustain movement for extended periods.
If muscular strength is a priority, Caroline Baumgartner, a Yoga Alliance certified RYT-200 yoga teacher, recommends committing to a yoga practice at least 4 days per week.
It’s also important to focus on poses that use large muscle groups, which helps increase the efficiency of the exercise.
Vinyasa-style yoga and poses that focus on large muscle groups may help boost muscular strength.
Specific yoga poses may not add weight to your frame, but they may help boost strength in certain body parts.
For example, Armstrong says you can expect to see strength gains in your biceps, triceps, and shoulders as a result of repeating Chaturanga variations and arm balances.
Your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes will benefit from lunge and Chair series, and your core strength should increase from planks, arm balances, and backbends.
“One of the key focuses of Vinyasa power yoga is breathing into and moving from your core,” says Baumgartner. She says you can expect to gain significant strength and muscle in your transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques with regular practice.
Yoga is beneficial for all muscles, but you may notice increased strength in your arms, shoulders, forearms, quads, and glutes before other muscle groups.
Not all yoga poses are created equal. If you’re looking to boost muscle strength and size, you need to choose wisely. Here are five poses to try.
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
If you’re looking to target your thighs, hamstrings, and glutes, Baumgartner says Chair Pose is an excellent choice.
- Start in a standing position with feet together and arms at your sides.
- Lift your arms up over your head with fingers pointing toward the sky. Keep them close to your ears.
- Bend your knees to get into a partial squat position, with knees and thighs parallel. This will move your hips back like you’re sitting a chair.
- Slightly lean your upper body forward and reach through your fingers.
- Hold for 10–15 breaths.
Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
- Lie facedown with your arms bent and palms flat on the floor next to your chest.
- Press palms into the floor and lift your torso off the floor. Keep glutes and hamstrings engaged.
- Inhale and lift your torso higher. Your arms will fully extend, and your hips and thighs will be off the floor. Tilt your head back to look up at the ceiling and keep shoulders away from ears.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga)
“One of the most beneficial poses for muscle gain and strength building is Chaturanga — a flowing movement through a high plank to a low tricep pushup,” says Baumgartner.
When done correctly, Chaturanga works your core, biceps, triceps, shoulders, quads, and glutes. This pose is repeated in a Vinyasa power yoga class, and Baumgartner says students will complete anywhere from 12–20 Chaturangas in a 60-minute flow.
- Start in the traditional high plank pose.
- Engage core and glutes, bend your elbows, and lower your shoulders (they should be at the same height as your elbows). Make sure elbows are close to your body and pointing back the whole time.
- Hover over the floor with your upper body and legs about 2–3 inches off the floor.
- Look slightly forward. Open up your chest and upper back.
- Press back up into a high plank or Downward- or Upward-Facing Dog.
- Hold for 10–30 seconds.
Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
“Warrior II Pose is a great pose to build strength in your inner legs,” says Baumgartner. The action of pulling your heels together gives your inner legs a significant workout.
- Stand with feet in a wide position, 4–5 feet apart, and extend your arms out to the sides.
- Turn your right foot so it faces the short end of your mat. Your front heel should align with the center of your back instep. Bend front leg into a lunge position with knee above ankle and pointing over your toes.
- Turn your head to the right, so you’re looking toward your right hand.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the left side.
Warrior III Pose (Virabhadrasana III)
Warrior III is a balancing pose, which Baumgartner says will build muscles in your core, quads, and glutes.
- Start in a lunge position with forward knee bent and back leg straight. The ball of your back foot will be in contact with the floor, while your heel is raised. Lift arms above your head and look forward.
- Lower your arms and bring hands together, palms touching, in a prayer position.
- Slightly straighten your bent knee or forward leg and lean forward until back leg is off the floor, extending straight back. Keep front leg straight but not locked at the knee. Keep your gaze toward the floor.
- Reach arms forward. Your head will be between your arms and your gaze down. Keep back leg straight and balancing leg strong.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Other poses to try include Plank Pose (make sure to hold yourself up with your arms fully extended) and Crow Pose, which Baumgartner says will fire up your core and improve strength in your wrists, forearms, biceps, and shoulders.
If you really want a challenge, she recommends handstands and forearm stands, which are two advanced inversions that require every muscle in your upper back, shoulders, biceps, and triceps along with your core to work overtime.
Poses like Warrior II and III, Four-Limbed Staff Pose, and Chair Pose all improve muscular strength.
A regular yoga practice can benefit both your mind and your body. If your goal is to gain weight or muscle size, you’ll need to add resistance training and eat enough calories to create a surplus.
But if you’re looking for a way to increase muscular strength and endurance in areas like your arms, shoulders, glutes, and legs, then finding time to do yoga at least 4 days per week is a realistic place to start.