Madonna’s lean and mean look is almost as shocking as earlier revelations that she can actually act. What’s perhaps even more surprising is that she says her toned body is all due to yoga. Could the same graceful moves that melt away stress be more efficient than weights in building a stronger, shapelier body? That depends on your goals.
“Yoga can be just as effective as weights for toning muscles, but if you’re looking to build size and strength, weights are the more practical approach,” says Ann Marie Miller, program design specialist for New York Sports Clubs and co-developer of the New York City Ballet Workout. “Muscles need to be placed under increased resistance in order to grow, and since yoga only uses your body weight, you’re limited to how much stress you can expose your muscles to.”
Isolating specific muscles is also harder through yoga, because most poses condition several muscles at once. For athletes, that can make yoga more appealing. “It teaches your muscles to work together through a flowing range of motion,” says Joan Budilovsky, coauthor of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yoga and president of Yoyoga Inc. “The end result is functional strength that helps improve athletic performance and body awareness.” Weight exercises, in contrast, only work muscles through a single range of motion.
Yoga also affects the muscles in other positive ways. “Holding poses for minutes at a time teaches your muscles to contract for longer periods of time and bolsters muscular endurance,” says Budilovsky. It’s also a timesaver. “Weight training tends to tighten muscles, forcing you to spend extra time stretching afterward to loosen up,” says Miller. “Yoga, however, stretches muscles as it strengthens them, giving you twice the workout.”
Coordination may be yoga’s only weakness. “While it does develop better poise and balance, many yoga poses take time and patience to master, whereas most weight-training exercises can still be performed using the lightest weight possible.”