Yoga is an excellent way to strengthen and tone the arms. Unlike weightlifting, which focuses mainly on isotonic strength building, yoga focuses on isometric work but includes isotonic and eccentric exercises. Isotonic exercise is performed when a weight is lifted or a muscle is engaged while it is contracting; isometric work occurs when a position or a weight is held, supported by a muscle, and eccentric strength building is what happens when a weight is lowered while maintaining control and muscle engagement. In other words, supporting weight even while the muscle is lengthening performs eccentric exercise. Obviously, these types of strength all have different real life applications, and they all stress different parts and functions of the muscle. Yoga is unique in its repeated and challenging exercise of all types of strength.
Because of this balanced approach, practitioners of yoga often report that the bulk doesn’t pile on, but functional strength and definition greatly increases. The functional strength is granted by the many ways in which the muscles are trained, as most real life activities are going to require more than a single way of moving. The definition in lieu of bulk results from the way the muscles are constantly engaged and challenged without steadily increasing the weight they support. Yoga calls upon the muscles to work in different positions; intensities and ways without ever demanding the load they bear exceed the practitioner’s body weight.
There are many different poses and routines a yoga practitioner may employ to build arm strength and shape. For the beginner, whether just starting out in yoga or unsure of her strength, downward dog is the place to start. Bending at the hips and placing the hands perform downward dog position and feet shoulder length apart so the body forms an upside-down “V.” The arms in this position support less than half the body weight, but the practitioner’s weight can be shifted to engage the arms more. It is the foundation of many yoga routines, particularly sun salutations.
When teaching new yoga students, make them aware that for a beginning position with a greater strength component, look no further than the plank. It is a basic push-up position and an intense workout for all the muscles of the arms. At the advanced end of the scale, there are many positions based on headstands that not only require lots of balance and flexibility but also support most or all of the body’s weight on the arms. Many more positions lie waiting to be learned at your local yoga center and in many great yoga books, but almost any regular yoga practice will sculpt your arms into envious shape.