The 8 Best Yoga Styles For Toning

Yoga has gained popularity in the west in the past few decades, becoming known for improving general health and toning muscles. As new styles and practices have gained popularity, many claim to provide incredible benefits or be the best. While many yoga styles will help with muscle toning, there are some distinct styles that focus on proper workouts over others. These are the yoga styles that will be the best for toning.  

To find what toning yoga style fits best, it is important to consider many different aspects. Experience with yoga, general fitness level, time commitment, availability, and more – all of these will play a role in the best yoga for toning, and the answer will change for each person.   

With that said, these are the eight best yoga styles for toning – choosing one of these, it is hard to go wrong. They all provide a focus on physical movement and muscle usage while being firmly grounded in different aspects of yoga. While many will provide a full yoga experience, they will all help to tone and improve muscle definition. 

To Tone Muscles With Yoga, Use Dynamic Movements 

Yoga comes in a large variety of exercises and focuses, with only a few focusing heavily on the physical body. Relaxing yoga, recovery yoga, spiritual yoga, and others are all fantastic practices – but they are not intended to tone and build muscles. 

When looking to tone muscles through yoga, it is important to stick to dynamic, intense yoga practices. This comes from styles that get your heart pumping and muscles moving, stressing them to build strength. In addition, these more intense styles of yoga will build general physical fitness, often improving flexibility, stamina, and overall strength. 

Some yoga styles that focus on relaxation or meditation can accompany these high-intensity styles well, and even ultimately help with muscle toning. However, they are simply too slow and unfocused on physical movement to provide great results for toning. If you find a style not mentioned here and wonder how it may help with muscle definition, consider the movement level of the yoga style – if it is high, it will likely work. 

Vinyasa Yoga Combines Fast-Paced Classes With A Focus On Power 

Vinyasa yoga is highly physical and often fast-paced, switching between poses and techniques often. This upping of speed over other forms of yoga can be difficult for true beginners but can rapidly tone muscle thanks to the mix of cardio and targeted poses.  

Vinyasa yoga is a traditional style which focuses on asanas, or poses, along with sequences. The sequences are key, as they are the movement between asanas that ups the heart rate and targets more muscles than other styles. The sequence length is quick and, when done correctly, poses should flow seamlessly from one into the next. Unlike hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga quickly switches between poses, with each part often lasting less than thirty seconds.  

As the sequences are so vital to vinyasa yoga, they each will target different sections of the body. While not every sequence is specifically meant to tone muscle, many target the abdomen, arms, and legs – areas where people most often want toning. It is common for other sequences to focus on flexibility or balance, providing a nice, overall focus on physical health. 

Another great reason to practice vinyasa yoga for toning muscles is the fast pace of the classes. The natural, high speed of switching poses means that cardio is incorporated in with the muscle toning. Cardio will often directly correlate to fat burning, allowing muscles to show through easier.  

Vinyasa yoga can feel like a proper workout, and anybody doing it properly will work up a sweat. Reaching the intermediate and advanced levels, sequences begin to incorporate difficult movements like should or headstands, requiring enormous physical strength. Practicing vinyasa yoga will allow you to work your strength and toning up to these difficult poses.  

The variety of poses and sequences used in Vinyasa yoga are a large attraction for many. Most classes will have attendees switch between standing, sitting, and inverted poses, keeping things interesting and loose.  

Hopping directly into Vinyasa yoga may be daunting as a total beginner or someone who has not worked out previously. Luckily, Vinyasa uses many of the same poses and asanas as Hatha yoga, making it a natural next step for beginners who want to move to more active classes. If you have experience with yoga or are gung-ho about toning muscles quickly, consider hopping directly to this style. 

Bikram Yoga Takes Intense Classes And Amps Them Up WIth Heat To Define Muscles 

Hot yoga was incredibly popular in the late 1990s to early 2000s, with studios popping up all over the United States claiming its incredible benefits. While the craze has died down a fair amount, one thing has remained true – practicing hot yoga is incredible for improving losing weight, toning muscle, and improving general physical fitness. 

The idea behind hot yoga stems from Bikram Choudhury, who popularized it here in the United States. The intention of hot yoga is to match the climate of India so that participants sweat and muscles become loose. The heat comes with many benefits, but the one most relevant to muscle toning is the increased physical strain you can put on your body; As the temperature increases, muscles gain limberness, allowing them to be pushed further. Being able to safely push your muscles a bit further with each workout means that you will more quickly see the benefits of your training and your muscles will be defined easier. 

It is helpful to think of the heat from hot yoga, or Bikram yoga, as an additional “warm-up” that the local climate provides. This viewpoint will ensure that you understand the benefits of the heat while also understanding some safety concerns; you cannot push yourself too much further thanks to the climate, and the heat comes with its own issues. Be sure to bring a towel and full water bottle to each hot yoga class you attend.  

Any yoga can technically be practiced as hot yoga, but the most popular form is Bikram, named after the aforementioned founder. In the case of Bikram yoga, classes are highly structured. Each one is 90-minutes, centered around 26 poses. These poses are gone through twice, with some breathing work in between. Each class is meant to be intense, so those new to working out may struggle, especially if they are used to physical activity in colder weather. 

Bikram yoga has reduced in popularity thanks to a variety of reasons, but various studios can still be found across the United States. It serves as a wonderful work out even without the additional benefits that yoga provides, so it is a fantastic choice for those looking to tone their muscles. Additionally, the cardio requirement for Bikram yoga is increased thanks to the heat. This means that it can be helpful for those looking to lose weight, as well.  

Hot yoga is ideal for intermediate and advanced yoga practitioners who want to experiment with different forms and ideas, or who want to focus on becoming much more physically fit. Beginners and those with previous injuries may struggle with hot yoga, so it is best to start somewhere else. For those who enjoy this process and can handle it, Bikram yoga is one of the best styles for toning your body with yoga.  

Hatha Yoga Is Great For Beginners Looking To Develop Muscle 

Hatha yoga is the basis for many other styles of yoga. As it is the foundation for almost all western yoga practices, it introduces the basic poses and movements that almost every other style on this list will use. While it is not the most intensive yoga style around, it is a fantastic introduction for those interested in yoga.  

While hatha yoga is unlikely to tone muscle on someone who is already physically fit, it is perfect for introducing beginners to yoga as a way to define muscles. The focus on teaching forms and deep holds mean that specific muscles are still targeted and helped, while new yogi can be sure that they are learning things safely and correctly.  

Most Hatha classes are slow-paced so that even absolute beginners can follow along, and the average pose is held for around thirty seconds. This is enough to cause some tension on the muscles and cause toning, but not enough to cause problems for beginners.  

For those interested in moving on to other forms of yoga, whether for muscle toning or other goals, Hatha yoga serves as a great base. Or, for people returning to yoga after some time away, Hatha can help you to relearn or refocus your basic strength-building poses.  

Hatha is not a style only for beginners, however; while many toning yoga styles move on to high-intensity, fast-paced classes to define muscle, Hatha instead doubles down on intricate holds and targeted poses. Intermediate to advanced classes incorporates significant strength building and alignment techniques to improve general physical fitness.  

Outside of a focus on conditioning, Hatha yoga centers around the alignment of the body. In addition to physical poses, breathing techniques, hand movements, and chants may be employed to further the experience. Overall, Hatha yoga is a gentle introduction to the world of yoga which almost anyone can incorporate into their routine, making it a fantastic option for those looking to dip their toes in and expand their strength training.  

Ashtanga Yoga Is Challenging But Will Tone Every Muscle Group In Your Body 

Ashtanga yoga is a challenging style that focuses heavily on sequencing poses, continuously moving the body. It is extremely similar to Vinyasa yoga and was the basis for power yoga, with a few key differences. Ashtanga yoga is highly traditional, performing the exact same poses in the exact same order every time. Additionally, each pose is linked to a breath, increasing the demand of the whole ordeal.  

Ashtanga yoga is highly based on ancient yoga teachings and has a strong history because of it. The reason for using the same poses every time is two-fold; it is heavily linked to the history and continues the tradition of yoga, and it allows practitioners to hone in on minor mistakes and correct them. This focus on tradition and sequence targets specific areas of the body and tones them, making this a fantastic choice for gaining muscle definition. 

Ashtanga yoga places enormous focus on physical health, and the various poses and sequences associated with this style are not easy for anyone. As you work your muscles with Ashtanga yoga, you are likely to see quick physical results even while staying on the same sequence for a long while. This speaks to the tradition of Ashtanga yoga, as there is little point in moving on or going out of order if you have not mastered what came before.  

Ashtanga yoga is a great option for those interested in power yoga while wanting a more conventional or grounded approach to yoga. Ashtanga yoga is hard to beat for those looking to gain physical excellence while maintaining a traditional and conservative approach to yoga.  

This style utilizes three main components, also known as tristhana. These are considered the “three places of action or attention”, and are meant to be focused on each time ashtanga yoga is practiced. The three focuses are: 

  1. Breathing system 
  1. Posture or pose 
  1. Looking place 

Focus is meant to be held on all three continuously while practicing, changing with every pose and sequence. Ashtanga uses each of these, in turn, to help the body become strengthened. 

As can be expected, ashtanga yoga is not ideal for beginners or those new to exercise. This is one of the most demanding forms of yoga available in the west, and advanced practitioners do complicated routines that could hurt the untrained. However, the community around ashtanga yoga is small and tight-knit, allowing for extreme growth with a dedicated base.  

Power Yoga Is An Americanized Style That Combines Strength Training With Traditional Yoga 

Power yoga came to the United States during the late 1980s thanks to Beryl Bender Birch, who wrote a book about it. Originally, power yoga was just an alternative name for Ashtanga yoga, another practice great for toning muscle. However, as the style developed and gained incredible popularity, it morphed properly into its own section of modern yoga. 

It is likely that you have heard of power yoga before, or possibly seen it happening at a local gym; It is a classic, high-intensity workout that combines elements of strength and cardio training with yoga poses. Power yoga is meant to increase physical fitness and build muscle while maintaining flexibility in the body. This is shown as far back as the origin, as Birch originally created the style so that athletes could continue their training while gaining flexibility.  

Power yoga is incredibly effective at toning muscle thanks to a number of reasons, including the type of workouts associated with it. They are quick, moving between poses rapidly while often including additions like running or other body workouts. They tend to be loud, as music is constantly pumped into the room to keep the activity level and mentality up. Classes are hot, as well, using some of the philosophy of Bikram yoga to help the body achieve greater physical heights.  

To many onlookers, power yoga will look more like a normal fitness class than conventional yoga. However, the ideals and goals of power yoga are deeply aligned with the activity’s traditions. Many power yoga instructors and yogis view power yoga as a great way to train not only the body but the mind. The toning of the mental state and the teachings of yoga are interwoven into every class subtlety, meaning that those who just want a great workout to define muscles can get it, just as much as those who want to experience the deeper meanings of yoga. 

The key difference between modern power yoga and other forms such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga is the heavy inclusion of cardio. Standing positions are much more common in this style than any other thanks to the belief that getting the legs moving is essential to tone muscle and building physical health. Power yoga classes are much more fluid and less strict than their traditional counterparts, as well, as instructors will commonly switch up poses and sequences to target new areas or shake things up.  

Rocket Yoga Plays Fast And Loose With Traditional Yoga Practices To Encourage Core Strength 

Rocket yoga is a smaller style of yoga that is newer than many others on this list. In the short time it has been around, however, it has proven to be incredible for a wide variety of people interested in using yoga to tone muscles and increase their strength. 

Another derivative of Ashtanga yoga, rocket yoga utilizes many similar asanas and sequences while adapting them heavily. This is a key difference between rocket yoga and other forms; if traditional yoga styles were placed on a scale, rocket yoga would be extremely new-age and loose. 

Rocket yoga does not have set sequences or poses and often switches things up to encourage further muscle development. Different positions are used often, consistently switching between standing and seated poses. Unlike power yoga, another similar style, rocket yoga does not incorporate direct cardio or non-yoga training; instead, rocket yoga twists and adapts poses. 

Due to the wide variety of expertise levels, rocket yoga uses three different stages to differentiate between experience level. 

Stage 1 focuses heavily on basic body strength. Most poses and sequences tone the arms, legs, and core, propelling physical fitness forward to allow for more advanced techniques. 

Stage 2 complicates poses further, incorporating various bends and twists. Much of this work focuses more heavily on the core and gaining flexibility. 

Stage 3 combines both into an incredible, all-body workout. Poses and sequences get more complex, new combinations are introduced, and every class will maximize body toning. 

As you can see, even at the beginning rocket yoga is fairly intense and highly focused on toning muscle. This is a great option for those who are uninterested in yoga beyond its physical attributes and for those who have prior experience with working out and focusing on muscles.  

Iyengar Yoga Uses Props and Exercise To Minimize Injury And Tone Specific Muscle Groups 

The creator of Iyengar yoga, B. K. S. Iyengar, is often credited as the creator of modern yoga. It is thanks to him that yoga is now one of the most practiced physical activities in America, and his style serves multiple purposes and is a well-rounded yoga experience. This is largely due to his book, Light on Yoga, which was published in 1966 and started the western yoga movement. It is considered the guiding light for almost all yoga styles currently practiced, and the poses and qualities found in Iyengar yoga can also be found within the covers.  

Along with the storied history of its creator, Iyengar yoga continues to be highly practiced today and is a great choice for people at all levels of yoga. The focus on correctly posing for various asanas and sequences provides a great base for any future yoga endeavors and is sure to increase muscle toning and physical fitness. 

Iyengar yoga is a fantastic choice for beginners or those with physical injuries or limitations to get into yoga and increase their muscle definition. This style emphasizes correct posing and alignment to avoid injury and properly target muscles, and uses props like blocks and blankets to help with that goal. 

Unlike some other fast-paced choices, Iyengar yoga allows practitioners to truly focus on each individual pose and get it correct, without worrying about moving on to the next. This deep focus on each asana also allows true muscle targeting to occur, toning individual parts along the way. 

Rather than using cardio and quick movements to build muscle definition, Iyengar yoga uses targeted, specific poses that are sure to engage each muscle group. While this means it is not great for fat loss, it does help strengthen each muscle very well. 

Iyengar yoga also emphasizes the sequence of each pose, as they are meant to hit specific muscle groups in a defined order. The speed of this sequence is often not important; instead, it is the movement of one pose to the next which holds value. For beginners, it is often best to take your time and properly use every muscle that you want to tone along the way. 

Poses are held for an average length of time in Iyengar yoga, enough to stretch out and define muscles without causing pain or discomfort. The use of props in Iyengar yoga is essential to allow beginners to try different poses more easily and fully. Essentially, props are used to prevent injury and let true, proper posing occur, even without years of prior practice. They have the added benefit of allowing the elderly and injured to partake in yoga more easily, helping them recover or gain movement once again. With this movement comes the strengthening of the body. 

Speaking to the value of correct posing, Iyengar yoga very much prioritizes quality over quantity. Rather than introducing a wide variety of different poses which may be done slightly incorrectly by beginners, the focus is placed on a select few which are then mastered. 

Viniyoga Is Tailored To Your Muscles To Achieve Your Toning Goals 

Viniyoga is a style that is heavily focused on personalization and incorporates teachings from a variety of yoga types. This largely inclusive style employs poses, sequences, chanting, breathing exercises, meditation, and textual study in varying degrees to meet the goals of the individual practitioner. For toning muscles, the focus would be on poses, sequences, and breathing exercises. 

As with anything that allows for dramatic customization, Viniyoga will take some work to apply to muscle toning. However, thanks to the hands-on guidance that instructors provide, specific muscle groups can be targeted and toned much easier than with other styles. The individualized practice also makes Viniyoga great for beginners, as instructors will guide and correct various poses at each step along the way.  

Unlike other yoga styles that focus on the form of different poses and the structured history of yoga, Viniyoga is much more focused on results. This style has been willing to adapt and change various poses and sequences to achieve specific goals, rather than leaving them alone in the name of tradition. With this evolution comes the ability to experiment in a safe environment and achieve muscle toning results very quickly.  

Along with individualized goals for every practitioner, each session of Viniyoga itself is also unique. This allows each session to perfectly match exactly what the practitioner wants to target that day. For instance, on a day where you want to target toning your arms, specific poses and sequences will be used to help you toward that goal. 

Viniyoga can be seen as a modern, adaptive take on the traditions of yoga. Unbothered by reasons such as tradition and large classes, the true goals of everyone in attendance can be brought to the forefront. While this adaptation may be a boon for many, some people revel in the history of yoga and will not enjoy this tweaking of the art. Consider what you want out of yoga in addition to your physical goals before deciding.  

Finally, Viniyoga can be difficult to practice due to availability or cost. With personalized instruction, it can be tough to find someone who aligns with your goals and schedule, nevermind budget. As such, Viniyoga may be a great option for those who have already practiced yoga and want to take the next step. This way, you can devote the necessary resources toward this while confident that you are making the correct decision.  

Sita

Mother of three and Yogi of 20+ years and 200 Hour Certified Yoga Teacher. I am also a Certified Thai massage therapist and I have taught Gymnastics for more than 10 years. In the last couple of years, I've been a big promotor of intermittent fasting.

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