Is Yoga Really a Workout?

Though it's usually slower-paced than other forms of exercise, there are plenty of benefits associated with regular practice.

Yoga has risen in popularity over the past few years, mainly for its meditative, restorative qualities. With a focus on stretching and holding often-comfortable poses, it's understandable to wonder whether or not yoga falls under the category of traditional exercise. Ahead, we spoke with three fitness professionals to find out—once and for all—if yoga is widely considered to be an effective workout.

woman practicing yoga in park
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What is yoga?

A workout for both your mind and body, yoga centers on both breathing and fitness. "Whether the yoga flow is on the mellow side (like a restorative practice) or is a rigorous and sweaty vinyasa flow, you are able to disconnect from the outside noise of the daily hustle and connect to your mind," explains Frances Flores, a Tonal yoga coach. She says the physical practice becomes a "moving meditation," which can decrease anxiety and tension while improving mental health, she adds. "By adding the physical aspect of the practice, we can really release physical tension and trauma that sometimes we don't know we're holding on to," Flores says.

Is yoga an effective form of exercise?

While yoga is often a more slow-paced workout, Flores says there are plenty of benefits. "Yoga can improve posture, flexibility, and mobility," she says, noting that the practice can also stimulate internal organs, which can improve digestion. "It helps us build strength and muscle using just our body weight, which is a great complement to strength training." And since yoga improves core, upper body, and lower body strength, it can feel like quite the workout for some. Of course, different types of yoga will produce specific results. Restorative classes are tailored towards deeper stretching and flexibility; these typically move at a slower pace, Flores says. Vinyasa flows, on the other hand, are for those who want to "move a lot and get the heart rate up." This active type can help build strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Who can benefit from yoga?

If you're working towards increased flexibility, mobility, or range of motion, yoga may be a good fit for you—and it's a particularly important add-on if your existing workout routine is weight-heavy. "Since shortened or constantly contracted muscles contract slower and are weaker, they injure faster," explains Vince Del Monte, a fitness expert. Your muscles shouldn't remain in a contracted state (something that those who weight train frequently experience), since you often end up working against yourself, he notes. Additionally, because of yoga's focus on breathing and range of motion, it also supports control, stability, and recovery. "Yoga will help you recover faster—studies have shown that it can decrease the markers of systemic inflammation in the body—and can therefore improve your other workouts, as well."

How does this practice stack up against other workouts?

While yoga does have its benefits, Liam Glennon, MS, NASM, ACSM, a trainer with Perpetual Motion Training, says that it is not the best option for those hoping to build strength or improve their overall fitness levels. "Anyone looking to increase speed, improve endurance, or build muscle mass would be far better off tapping into HIIT workouts," Glennon says. "Not only are HIIT workouts the most effective way to build strength and speed, but they're also known for increasing your metabolism and jumpstarting weight loss."

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