Is Yoga Considered a Cardio or Strength Training Exercise?
Health & Wellness
Yoga can build strength, calm the mind and improve markers of cardiovascular fitness. But it greatly depends on what type you practise—and how.
It's easy to fall into the habit of categorising exercises as either strength training or cardio, but just like anything in life, it's not always that black and white. Certain types of exercise can combine strength training and cardio, or can be performed in different ways that can be attributed to each classification. Yoga is a great example.
Yoga is an umbrella term that includes many different types and ways to practise. In a yoga class, your teacher will guide you through a series of poses and breathing techniques. You'll wear yoga workout clothes and may need some basic yoga equipment, like a yoga mat. But how these poses are performed affects whether they can be considered cardio or strength training as exercise.
The Different Kinds of Yoga Practices
Hatha yoga involves holding poses or postures (asanas) for anywhere between 30 seconds to a few minutes. These poses will be practised with breath work (pranayama).
During an ashtanga yoga class, you follow a set sequence of six specific asanas with synchronised breathing techniques. This class is faster paced.
Bikram yoga involves 26 postures and two breathing techniques, practised in a room heated to 40 degrees.
Similar to ashtanga yoga, vinyasa synchronises movement and breathing as you move through a fluid sequence of poses without stopping.
Be prepared to chant, sing and meditate during kundalini. It's time to activate your spiritual energy as you move in this exercise.
Focused predominantly on the mind-body connection, restorative yoga will make you feel just that, restored. Your yoga teacher will lead you through only a few poses, holding them for up to 20 minutes at a time as you practise deep breathing.
Similar to restorative yoga, a yin yoga class involves holding poses for an extended period of time as you tap into the parasympathetic nervous system.
Any type of yoga can be performed in a heated setting. Most commonly you'll find heated ashtanga or vinyasa classes.
Is Yoga Considered Cardio or Strength Training?
Here's a summary of yoga styles with their designation. It also depends on how you practise it and the intensity of the workout. But generally speaking, here's what each type of yoga practice works on.
Hatha yoga = Strength training
Ashtanga yoga = Strength training and cardio
Bikram yoga = Strength training
Vinyasa yoga = Strength training and cardio
Kundalini yoga = Strength training and relaxation
Restorative yoga = Relaxation
Yin Yoga = Relaxation and mobility
Hot yoga = Strength training and cardio
What's the Difference Between Cardio and Strength Training?
Put very simply: Cardio exercise improves cardiovascular fitness. Cardiovascular fitness is a marker of how efficiently your heart can deliver oxygen and nutrients during physical activity.
Cardio is typically aerobic, meaning your heart rate is elevated and your body is using oxygen to convert glucose into cellular energy. It can also be anaerobic, in which you're working at a high intensity, converting energy in the absence of oxygen.
The main benefits of cardio as exercise include:
- Better heart health
- Better lung capacity
- Reduction in disease risk
- Builds endurance
Strength training builds strength and muscle by working against a resistance. The resistance in a yoga practice is usually your body weight. Your muscles have to exert force against resistance, which, in turn, forces them to adapt and become bigger and stronger.
The main benefits of strength training include:
- Body strength
- Boosted metabolism
- Better body composition
- Enhanced sports performance
Why Are Certain Types of Yoga Cardio or Strength Training?
Exercise is considered cardio if it elevates your heart rate. Certain types of yoga practices, such as vinyasa, involve moving through poses and postures fluidly. Poses are not held for long, which in turn keeps your heart rate elevated as you are constantly moving and changing positions.
Other types of yoga, such as hatha, activate your muscles by putting you in challenging positions that require core strength, balance and flexibility. As each pose is held, your heart rate does not remain elevated, and so would not be considered cardio.
Yoga can be a combination of cardio and strength training, particularly if they are performed at a faster pace.
What Are the Health Benefits of Yoga?
The benefits of yoga can be vast, and it may be an effective way to enhance athletic performance. A study published in 2016 in the International Journal of Yoga found that after 10 weeks of regular yoga, participants had improvements in flexibility and balance as well as an increase in joint mobility and range of motion (ROM).
Yoga can also be beneficial for mental health and stress management. A 2011 study concluded that yoga assists in the reduction of stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain, in improving sleep, and in enhancing overall well-being and quality of life. In addition to cardio and strength benefits, yoga as a practice often involves deep breaths and meditation.
The research on yoga as physical activity is a bit mixed. In other words, the jury is still out as to whether it actually improves your fitness levels.
A clinical trial published in 2007 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine concluded that yoga equates to low levels of physical activity and wouldn't be enough to improve cardiovascular fitness.
However, studies have shown that yoga improves markers of cardiorespiratory fitness. A 2013 systematic review published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine concluded that yoga may help lower blood pressure, a key marker of cardiovascular fitness.
The research is mixed because yoga is an umbrella term. How you practise it—the intensity, the type, the frequency—determines what benefits you'll get from it. Ideally, incorporating a variety of yoga practices with other types of physical activity will have the best outcomes for your cardio health and body strength.
If you're looking for more cardio and strength-training exercises, be sure to download the Nike Training Club (NTC) app.