Yoga is well-known for its stress-busting benefits, but it's also a great way to tone and sculpt the muscles of your upper body. Balancing and lifting your bodyweight works your arms, in coordination with the rest of your body. This creates proportional strength in your triceps, biceps, and deltoids.
Here is a short routine to strengthen your arms. Repeat the sequence up to five times. It should take about 20 minutes to complete all of the poses and repetitions. Remember: Yoga is not a competition. It's a practice that is unique to every person. Be patient, practice regularly, and you'll gain all of the benefits of yoga!
Always apply these general guidelines when you practice yoga:
- Move slowly in and out of the poses.
- Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
- Practice with an empty stomach.
- Don't strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
Keep the order of this sequence. Do not change the arrangement of the poses. It has been organized to bring you the most benefits. This practice is designed to help increase upper body strength, balance, and flexibility. Be sure to check with your doctor before practicing yoga if you have any injuries, health issues, or concerns.
One of the most-recognized yoga poses in the West, Downward-Facing Dog — Adho Mukha Svanasana (Ah-doh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh) — energizes and rejuvenates the entire body. Do not practice if you have severe carpal tunnel syndrome or are in late-term pregnancy.
- Begin in Table Pose, on your hands and knees. The fold of your wrists should be parallel with the top edge of your mat; your middle fingers should point directly to the top edge of your mat. With your feet hip-distance apart, exhale and lift your knees off the floor. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling. Press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.
- Firm the outer muscles of your arms and press your index fingers into the floor. Lift from the inner muscles of your arms to the top of your shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs and down towards your tailbone. Relax your head between your upper arms, but do not let it dangle.
- Hold for 5-100 breaths. Gently bend your knees with an exhalation and come back into Table Pose to release.
For a greater challenge, lift your right leg as high as possible, reaching through the heel. Keeping your leg lifted, extend your left arm behind you. Rest the back of your hand on your low back. Repeat on the other side.
2. Plank Pose
Sometimes also referred to as High Push-Up Pose, Kumbhakasana (koom-bahk-AHS-uh-nuh) tones the abdominal muscles while strengthening the arms and spine.
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders.
- Spread your fingers and press down through your forearms and hands. Do not let your chest collapse.
- Gaze down, lengthening the back of your neck and drawing your abdominal muscles toward your spine.
- Tuck your toes and step back with your feet, bringing your body and head into one straight line.
- Keep your thighs lifted and take care not to let your hips sink too low. If your butt sticks up in the air, realign your body so your shoulders are directly above your wrists.
Draw your pelvic floor muscles toward your spine as you contract your abdominal muscles.
- For a greater challenge, perform Plank on your forearms. Line up your elbows under your shoulders and interlace your fingers. Curl your toes under, lift your knees, and bring your body into one straight line.
- To deepen the pose, try lifting one leg at a time.
- Hold for five breaths, and then slowly lower your whole body onto the floor and rest.
A powerful arm balance, Side Plank Pose — Vasisthasana (VAH-shees-THAH-suh-nuh) — strengthens the wrists, forearms, and shoulders, while toning the abdominal muscles and improving balance. Please avoid this pose if you have a serious arm, shoulder, or wrist injury.
- Start in Plank Pose. Step your feet together and press your weight into your right hand and forearm. Then, roll your body to the right, balancing on the outer edge of your right foot. Beginners can lower their right knee and shin to the mat, keeping their hips lifted while still building strength in the arms and torso.
- Extend your left arm to the sky, reaching through your fingertips as you lift your hips and firm your triceps muscles. Feel your shoulder blades press strongly into your back, firm your thighs, and press through your heels toward the floor.
- Bring your body into one straight line. Turn your gaze up to your top thumb.
- Hold for up to one minute. Exhale as you release, slowly coming back into Plank Pose and then onto your hands and knees. Repeat on the opposite side.
One of the main poses in a Sun Salutation, Four-Limbed Staff Pose — Chaturanga Dandasana (chah-tuur-ANGH-uh dahn-DAHS-uh-nuh) —is a powerful strength-builder. It tones the wrists, arms, abdominal muscles, and lower back.
Begin in Plank Pose. Keeping your elbows directly over your wrists, slowly lower your body to hover a few inches above the floor. Keep your back flat. Fully engage your abdominal and leg muscles.
- If the full pose is too challenging right now, come to your knees first. Then, lower your torso to hover an inch above the floor.
- Do not let your elbows splay to the sides. Keep them hugged along your ribcage, pointed toward your heels.
- Press the base of your knuckles into the floor. Your upper and lower arms should be perpendicular, bent 90 degrees at the elbows. Do not let your shoulders drop lower than your elbows.
- Hold for 10-30 seconds, and then press back into Plank Pose.
Usually practiced as part of Sun Salutations, Upward-Facing Dog Pose — Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (OORD-vuh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the chest and spine, while strengthening the wrists, arms, and shoulders. Please do not practice Upward-Facing Dog if you have recent back or wrist injuries.
- From Chaturanga, draw your body forward by pressing through your palms and rolling over your toes. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists and straighten your arms.
- Press down firmly through the tops of your feet. Strongly engage your leg muscles to keep your thighs lifted off the floor.
- Keep your elbows pressed alongside your body. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and lift your chest toward the ceiling.
- If your neck is flexible, tilt your head to gaze toward the sky. Otherwise, keep your head neutral and your gaze directly forward.
- Only straighten your arms as much as your body allows. Deepen the stretch as your practice advances, but avoid straining to achieve a deeper backbend.
- Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds. To release, exhale as you lift your hips and come into Downward-Facing Dog. You can also slowly lower your body to the mat. Turn your head to the right and rest your right ear on the mat. Relax your arms alongside your body.
Build Your Power
Arm strength-building exercises can benefit your body's overall alignment. Remember to take it slowly and build on your experience to further develop your abilities. Always consult a teacher on the proper technique and alignment of a particular pose before attempting it, and stop if you're feeling any kind of pinching pain in your joints or ligaments. With practice, you'll learn to control these upper body muscles, creating a lean, strong, and sculpted physique.