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When you think of the word “yoga”, what comes to mind? Do you imagine someone sitting peacefully with his or her eyes closed chanting in a seated position? Or do you picture a sweaty, cardiovascular, and challenging workout that engages every part of your body? Yoga can be both, but I’ve always wondered, is it considered a strength training or cardio workout?
So is yoga strength training or cardio? There are many different styles of yoga that can be considered to be strength training, cardio, or both. A well-rounded yoga practice can include both strength training and cardio, in addition to mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises. The yoga that has become popular in the West most often incorporates some aspect of strength training and cardio within its practice.
When choosing a yoga style that incorporates both strength training and cardio, it is important to find a practice that builds up a sweat and includes poses that strengthen your muscles. Fast paced and repetitive vinyasa sequences raise the heart rate, while challenging poses like chaturanga help to tone and strengthen your muscles. With a variety of yoga styles, teachers, intensities, and levels, there are yoga practices that can fit into any lifestyle or fitness goals.
The Difference Between Strength Training and Cardio
If you are the type of person who dislikes going to the gym or doing multiple workouts to get the results that you desire, yoga may be the perfect practice to add to your health and wellness routine. There are various styles of yoga that have different benefits to the mind and body.
Some practices are more meditative and gentle, while others are more dynamic and invigorating. If you are in search of a yoga style that has both strength training and cardio, it is essential to practice a specific yoga style that incorporates both. Before we dive into the different styles of yoga that include strength training and cardio, it is important to understand the differences between them.
Cardio involves the major muscles of your body and it increases your heart rate, promoting a healthy heart and overall wellbeing. Often, cardio exercises are sweaty and active, and it is recommended to have a cardio workout at least 3 times a day. A great cardio workout:
- Increases your heart rate
- Builds a sweat
- Promotes a healthy heart
- Uses your major muscle groups
Strength training, on the other hand, tones and strengthens muscles, eliminates body fat, and increases muscle tone. It is often associated with heavy weights and repetitions, and many think that the only way to practice strength training is with dumbbells at the gym. However, a successful strength-training workout:
- Tones your muscles
- Strengthens your muscles
- Eliminates body fat
- Increases muscle tone
Cardio is often associated with activities like running on a treadmill, cycling, or aerobic exercise, while a strength training workout conjures up images of heavy lifting in a sweaty gym. But can a yoga practice really build up a sweat the same way that a 5-mile run can? Can practicing on your mat tone your muscles in a similar way to lifting weights? While you won’t build a bodybuilder’s physique on your yoga mat, yoga can most definitely tone and strengthen your muscles, increase your heart rate, and help you break a sweat.
There are multiple styles of yoga that can provide you with both cardio and strength training, one of them being Vinyasa Yoga. Vinyasa yoga is a flowing yoga practice that links breath with movement and incorporates sun salutations and dynamic poses.
In Vinyasa Yoga, you:
- Break a sweat while flowing through different sequences
- Tone and strengthen your muscles with different poses
- Increase your heart rate and muscle tone
As you can see, a dynamic yoga practice like Vinyasa Yoga can both build strength, and be considered a cardio workout. If you thought that yoga was simply sitting and meditating, you may be surprised to know that a yoga practice can be considered both cardio and strength training.
What is the Best Type of Yoga to Build Strength?
Yoga can absolutely be considered a strength training practice, but make sure you practice the right style if that is your goal. Look for a Hatha yoga class that includes dynamic and strength building poses such as sun salutations and warriors. Most yoga styles that are practiced in the west fall under the Hatha yoga lineage, and depending on the intensity that you are looking for you can take a slower paced Hatha class, or a faster paced Vinyasa class.
If you are new to practicing yoga, it is normal to feel challenged by holding different postures and shapes. Remember that yoga is a practice, and it takes time for your muscles to build the strength it needs to hold different poses.
As soon as your body begins to get familiar with the poses and build strength, you may notice your muscles getting leaner, stronger, and more toned. The stronger that you get, the more poses you will be able to try out and learn to master. The possibilities for learning is endless, and you can always find a challenge for your mind and body in your yoga practice.
The best yoga practices to build strength are:
- Hatha yoga
- Vinyasa yoga
- Jivamukti yoga
- Power yoga
- Rocket yoga
What is the Best Type of Yoga for Cardio?
In search of a yoga practice that makes you sweat and increases your heart rate? Vinyasa yoga or hot yoga are great practices that make you feel sweaty and strong. In a vinyasa practice, you move swiftly with the breath, repeating various sequences that use every part of the body.
These fast-paced movements definitely build up a sweat and increase your heart rate, providing you with a moderate cardio workout. As with any type of exercise, it is a good idea to vary your routines and classes to ensure that you are using different muscles and parts of your body.
For those that prefer a little extra heat, Hot Yoga is another popular option. Yoga poses are practiced in a heated room that builds heat in the body and raises your heart rate. Vinyasa yoga can be practiced in a hot room, as well as Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is a 90-minute yoga practice that is practiced in a room heated to around 100 degrees. In 90 minutes, you practice 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises.
You work every part of your body, sweat buckets, and raise your cardiovascular levels. If Bikram yoga sounds a little too intense for you, try a hot vinyasa or hot flow class in which the room is heated to around 90 degrees with varying poses and sequences.
These are some great yoga practices for cardio:
- Bikram yoga
- Vinyasa yoga
- Power yoga
- Ashtanga yoga
Quick Cardio Yoga Flow
If you only have a few minutes every day to get both your yoga practice and cardio workout in, online videos can be a wonderful way to practice your yoga and cardio. There is a multitude of subscription yoga services with world-class yoga teachers that allow you to practice in the comfort to your own home. Many videos are tailored to specific parts of the body, levels, and different intensities, so you can choose which practice is the best for you.
Not sure about shelling out money for yoga videos? YouTube has a large variety of free videos, including cardio yoga flows. Even if you only have 20 minutes a day to workout, there are numerous teachers and videos on YouTube that offer dynamic and challenging yoga classes. Check out this quick power yoga flow on YouTube that will get you moving and sweating, while providing you with a relaxing cool down, all in 20 minutes.
Not a video type of person? That is why we created our Free Resource Library. It’s full of yoga workout cards that you can practice anytime of day, all under 30 minutes. To get access to all of our free workout printables, simply just sign up below.
You can also check out these related articles for some quick routines that will make you work up and sweat and tone all over:
- 20 Minute Full Body Yoga Workout for Beginners (+ Free PDF)
- 15 Minute Yoga Routine to Lose Weight and Boost Your Metabolism
- 10 Minute Yoga Routine to Get Strong, Toned Arms
- 10 Minute Beginner Yoga Routine to Lift and Tone Your Butt
Is yoga actually a good workout? Some people may view yoga as merely sitting on a mat and chanting and relaxing. However, there are many styles of yoga that are challenging, dynamic, and require a lot of strength and skill. Yoga can absolutely be considered a great workout and addition to any health and wellness routine.
Can you get toned from yoga? Yoga requires the use of the entire body and different muscle groups. The longer and more regularly that you practice, you may start to notice that your muscles become stronger, leaner, and more toned.
Mariel is a writer and NYC-based yoga teacher. She has been teaching for a decade and is a life-long student of the ancient practice.