From the outside, looking in, yoga shapes itself as a relaxing approach to health and exercise, focusing on deep stretches, centered balance, and gentle poses. However, anyone who has participated in Bikram, Ashtanga, or Vinyasa yoga can tell you this first glance is far from the truth. While some yoga styles prioritize recovery, others challenge the body through muscle-burning holds and grueling sequences.
But as a whole, is yoga enough to get you in shape? The answer to this question hinges on multiple factors, as it can be yes or no. This article explains these factors and whether your yoga practice will sculpt a lean physique, so continue reading to learn more!
Is Yoga Alone Enough Exercise?
To some folks, yoga is nothing more than a stretching sequence, seeming more like a cool-down routine than exercise. While this can be true for specific styles, like Yin or restorative yoga, it isn’t true for all. So, is yoga alone enough exercise? It depends.
If you’re challenging yourself through your yoga routine, it can be enough exercise. As long as you’re striving to become better, challenging your muscles to become stronger, yoga can be plenty of exercise. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to do Bikram yoga every day to ensure you’re challenging your body – you can still challenge your muscles with slower-paced classes that prioritize long holds and slow sequences.
Conversely, it probably isn’t enough exercise if you’re gliding through your yoga sessions, focusing on rest and relaxation. In soothing, slow-paced yoga classes, like restorative or Yin yoga, your heart rate is unlikely to rise very much. In some cases, it might even drop as you breathe through breathwork instructions and deep stretches.
Of course, this is highly dependent on your physical fitness level. For some folks, even relaxing yoga classes may inspire an elevated heart rate, especially if they’re new to yoga. So, it ultimately depends on factors specific to you. In some cases, yoga might be more than enough exercise, but in others, it might not check off this box.
Will Doing Yoga Get You In Shape?
While nearly any exercise can send you in the right direction toward an “in shape” physique, including yoga, numerous factors affect whether you’ll reach your goals. Here are a few factors that can determine whether yoga will get you in shape:
Yoga comes in varying intensity levels, some more challenging than others. The type you choose will impact how quickly you move toward your fitness goals. Certain yoga styles incorporate dozens of grueling moves for an intense muscle burn and sweat-soaked session, whereas others prioritize recovery.
The intensity level of the class affects the number of calories you’ll burn, which is essential for shedding fat and exposing sleek, toned musculature. For example, consider a Bikram or hot yoga class. In this particular class, participants can burn well over 400 calories. This particular approach to yoga can send you well on your way to achieving your fitness goals, as it inspires an impressive muscle burn and causes your body to blaze through calories.
On the flip side, consider a Hatha yoga class, where participants rarely burn more than 250 calories. While the calorie burn is still decent, it’s still a far cry from the intensity of hot yoga. On top of that, these yoga classes tend to be slower-paced, which may not challenge your muscles as much. So, while you can get “in shape” with Hatha yoga, it’ll probably take longer.
You can pour hours of your time, effort, and sweat into a killer workout routine, but without good kitchen habits, you’ll likely struggle to achieve your goals. A healthy, balanced diet is essential to a well-rounded fitness routine – without it, your efforts may go down the drain.
The key to losing weight is a calorie deficit. Each of us needs a specific amount of calories to maintain our body weight, which we can determine using factors specific to us. If we want to gain weight, we increase our calorie intake. Conversely, if we want to lose weight, we decrease our calorie intake, known as a calorie deficit.
Let’s say you decide you want to lose weight, but instead of correcting your kitchen habits, you continue eating whatever you want, whenever you want. If you’re in a calorie surplus, especially a significant calorie surplus, your efforts in the gym or yoga studio will likely fly under the radar.
A typical low-intensity yoga session, like restorative or Yin yoga, usually burns less than 250 calories. While higher-intensity sessions, like Bikrgam or Ashtanga yoga, can burn up to 600 calories, your exercise only makes up a small portion of your daily calorie intake.
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is responsible for most calories you burn. It represents the calories your body burns while upholding fundamental life-sustaining actions (breathing, digestion, etc.).
Since exercise only contributes a small portion of your daily calorie burn, a healthy diet is essential to weight loss. With a well-thought-out, healthy diet, you can maintain a calorie deficit, ensuring your remain on track to your fitness goals.
Identifying your expectations is a vital part of answering this question. Many folks have different ideas of what an “in shape” physique looks like. Some people imagine a shredded, cut physique that bodybuilders train for, while others think of a lean, slightly-toned physique.
Conversely, other folks simply imagine themselves losing weight and obtaining a healthier physique without any extremes – no overly shredded physiques or impressive muscle definition. Given the drastic variation in “in shape” physiques, the answer to this question can vary.
If you’re hoping to build a shredded physique that exhibits your dedication and commitment to your body, yoga is unlikely to be enough. Instead, you’ll probably want to incorporate strength training, like weight lifting, as this will help you put on muscle mass and create sleek, defined muscles.
Yoga can aid in building a lean, toned physique, although it’s only a piece of the puzzle. In addition, yoga can help with slimming down and shedding a few pounds. Although progress may be slow, especially if you stick with low-intensity styles, consistent practice will whittle away at the number on the scale. With a good diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep, yoga can help achieve these fitness goals.
In yoga, you’ll often hear your teacher instructing you to push into various poses. They may lead you to push the ground away or push into the pose, but regardless, many yoga poses involve some type of push movement.
While push strength is essential, it has an equally important companion: pull strength. Our “push” muscles primarily encompass muscles on the front of the body, including our chest, shoulders, and triceps. These muscles aid in pushing things away from us, making them a common target in various yoga poses.
Conversely, our “pull” muscles shift the focus to the back of the body. These muscles include our lats, traps, posterior delts, biceps, and rhomboids. They aid in pulling things toward the body or pulling the body toward something.
Yoga rarely challenges your pull strength, leaving these muscles left unchallenged. Of course, they may work through push movements, but they’re rarely explicitly targeted. While yoga is an excellent place to start, it’s important to incorporate training for all of your major muscle groups, including those in the “pull” group.
In many well-rounded fitness routines, you’ll find cardio sessions. While they aren’t necessary every day, there are usually at least a few cardio sessions sprinkled throughout the week, intended to raise the heart rate and challenge the body.
Cardio is notorious for its difficulty – it leaves participants huffing and puffing, heart pounding as it works to circulate blood throughout the body. While some yoga types can undoubtedly get your heart rate up, cause you to sweat, and leave you panting for breath, most types of yoga don’t get you there.
We hear you — more intense yoga types, like Bikram or Ashtanga yoga, can feel a whole lot like cardio. However, given the gentler approach of most yoga styles, most participants don’t quite reach the cardio zone.
According to the American Heart Association, people should get at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping aerobic physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. This comes to roughly 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity exercise or an hour and 15 minutes of intense exercise per week.
Moderate-level aerobic activities include water aerobics, gardening, brisk walking, or a slow bike ride (less than 10 miles per hour). More vigorous aerobic exercises take things a step up, including an uphill hike, running, swimming laps, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or biking (10 miles per hour or faster).
Since yoga comes in varying intensity levels, it can fit into both categories, although some miss the mark entirely by failing to raise your heart rate into these zones. Use a target heart rate calculator (you can find these online) if you’re unsure how to calculate your heart rate zones to determine the intensity and where your yoga class falls.
Alternatively, use a fitness tracker, like a Fitbit. The watch tracks your heart rate throughout your workout, indicating which zones you spent the most time in, which gives you a good idea of how intense your class was. Bonus: It’ll let you know when you’ve reached the recommended 150-minute mark!
How Long Do You Have To Do Yoga To Get In Shape?
We know it’s entirely possible to get in shape with yoga, but how long will it take? On average, it takes between three and eight weeks to see results from a regular yoga practice. Of course, this time frame can vary drastically for you – you might see results faster, but it might take even longer, too.
That said, most folks begin to notice the fruits of their labor within about a month. You should see results within a few months if you practice regularly, maintain a healthy diet, and prioritize restful sleep. As your fitness level increases, you can start to increase your practicing frequency to up to six or seven days per week, with 40 to 70-minute sessions per day.