For some 460,000-odd Brits, yoga is as much a part of their daily rituals as brushing their hair or snacking on something sweet after lunch – and for good reason. It’s a practice and philosophy that dates back thousands of years, but the principles of yoga are especially impactful in our current and chaotic era, where much of life unfolds on screens we’re sat hunched over, and the current state of Earth’s affairs leaves rather a lot to feel unsettled about.
Yoga, research has shown us, can be hugely beneficial for our mental wellbeing. It encourages the slowing of breath, and can therefore facilitate a shift from the sympathetic nervous system (otherwise known as the fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as “rest and digest”). This, in turn, lowers blood pressure and regulates the digestive system. Yoga is also widely considered a reliable method for improving symptoms of depression, and relieving stress and anxiety.
You’ll know, too, that there are many physical benefits to be had by practicing yoga regularly – it can help to improve your flexibility, and is great for building strength. But, is it as good as weight training for building strength? We asked Sanchia Legister, Yogi, founder of Yogahood and Women’s Health Collective expert if yoga can ever be a sufficient substitute for weight training.
Can yoga really be a sufficient substitute for weight training?
The answer, as tends to be the case where health and fitness-focussed queries are concerned, is that it depends. It depends on the kind of yoga you practice, and also on your motivation for strength training in the first place.
If the goal is to engage in movement you enjoy that can also help you to build strength and yoga ticks that box for you then, yes, in theory, some forms of yoga can be a sufficient substitute for weight training. Likewise, yoga can provide many of the same mental health benefits as lifting. However, if it’s specifically the physical benefits of strength training that you’re after (increased muscle mass, increased strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis, to name a few), then the answer is a little more complex.
'I don’t think it’s as straightforward as one being a substitute for the other – in many ways they complement each other.’ Legister says. 'Depending on your goals and how quickly you want to achieve them you can still build muscle and strength with a consistent yoga practice, and there are ways that you could include more body weight or callisthenics training into your yoga practice to make it even more challenging too.’
'There haven't been a lot of clinical studies done in this area, but athletes, fitness professionals and yogis themselves all report on improved strength being a byproduct of their yoga practice (especially the push-pull muscles groups),’ Legister adds.
If your goal is to gain strength, weight lifting will provide you with the most efficient and adaptable means of achieving it. This is because you have the flexibility to make incremental increases to the load (amount of weight) you lift over time to constantly challenge your muscles. It’s accessible to those with limited strength training experience, and it allows you to target smaller muscle groups, too. When you strength train using your bodyweight, as you do during some types of yoga, it’s harder to adjust the load. This means that some movements may be inaccessible to begin with, and strength progress slower to achieve, overall, than with weight training.
That said, ‘yoga can help with quicker muscle recovery, soreness, flexibility and injury prevention, all of which can support any weight training you do,’ says Legister. She recommends working both weight training and yoga into your programme for a good balance. ‘What’s most important, though, is that you are do what you love. This helps with consistency,’ which is key for achieving any kind of goal, 'and has a positive impact on your overall happiness and wellbeing.'
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