Does Bikram Yoga Replace Weightlifting?
Bikram yoga or “hot yoga” is practiced in a heated room and consists of a series of 26 postures, many of which require strength, flexibility, balance and focus. Bikram yoga postures could collectively provide a healthy alternative to weightlifting given the similar benefits of these two exercises.
Bikram Yoga and Lower-Body Strength
Most of the Bikram yoga postures consist of isometric muscle contractions in which the muscle is contracting in the absence of movement. Many of the postures like Triangle and Awkward require intense contractions of the leg muscles. Providing the first scientific evidence of this was a study published in the September 2008 issue of the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,” which found significant improvements in leg strength -- both quadriceps and hamstrings -- in young adults after eight weeks of practicing three times per week.
Bikram Yoga and Upper-Body Strength
While most of the postures focus primarily on contracting the leg muscles, some postures incorporate the arms and shoulders like Standing Head-to-Knee — pulling the upper body toward the lower body while standing, or Balancing Stick — standing on one leg while placing the rest of the body in the horizontal position. However, the same study published in 2008 in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” showed no changes in arm strength after eight weeks of Bikram yoga. Perhaps this was due to a lack of effort, as strength gains are a product of the amount of work involved in the pulling component of the postures.
Bikram Yoga and Body Composition
In addition to strength gains, Bikram yoga may also reduce body fat similar to weight training. A study published in the March 2013 issue of the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” showed a modest reduction in body fat in a group of healthy, young, normal weight adults after 24 Bikram yoga classes. However, another study published in 2013 in the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” showed no changes in body-fat percentage after the same eight-week program in young or middle-aged adults.
Bikram Yoga vs. Weight Training
While the number of weight training studies far outweighs the published studies on Bikram yoga, emerging evidence suggests similar benefits between the two. Both Bikram yoga and weight lifting increase lower-body strength. However, Bikram yoga does not appear to enhance arm strength like upper-body weightlifting exercises do. Bikram yoga may also be an effective fat-loss method similar to weight training. Lastly, Bikram yoga and resistance training both improve flexibility as shown by studies published in 2011 in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” and the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.”
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Dr. Stacy D. Hunter is an exercise physiologist who received her Ph.D. in clinical exercise physiology from the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked as a personal trainer and has published multiple studies on the beneficial effects of exercise on physical health.