Yoga for Upper-Body Strength

Yoga is well known for helping people increase their flexibility and providing relaxing movement. But did you know that yoga is also a great way to strengthen your muscles and build endurance in virtually every muscle in your body?

Depending on the type of yoga you practice, you may build strength through movement and flow, or you may build it through isometric work when holding poses. This workout focuses on building strength in your upper body. Its partner article, yoga for leg strength, can be done alongside this one for a full-body workout or done on different days of the week. 

Each pose comes with a photo, a description of how to properly perform that pose, and what muscles are being worked. Try each pose in order, remembering that slow, steady breath is important for any yoga practice. 

Use your breath to guide you through the movement. Try holding each pose for five slow breaths the first time through. As you build strength and endurance, you can increase the time you hold each pose and slow your breath down even more. Once you're comfortable with the poses, for an extra challenge, consider going through the sequence a second time.

Downward Dog

Downward dog

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

An incredible stretch for the backside of your body, the downward dog pose also relies on great strength from the chest, shoulders, and back muscles

  • Begin in a kneeling position on your mat with hands directly under shoulders, fingers spread wide.
  • Tuck your toes under and engage your abdominals as you push your body up off the mat, hips to the sky, so that only your hands and feet are on the mat.
  • Press through your hands, moving your chest gently toward your thighs and your heels gently toward the floor.
  • Relax your head and neck and breathe fully.

Work up to holding the position for 30 seconds or more.

Plank

Plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Planks are known for creating core strength, but there is no denying that they use your arms and shoulders too.

  • Begin on your hands and knees. Pull your abdominals in and step your feet back behind you until your legs are straight.
  • Keep your hands directly under your shoulders and eyes at the front of your mat so your neck remains aligned.
  • Hold the abdominals and legs tight and make sure your back stays flat to avoid sagging in the low back. Hold the position and breathe fully.

If you struggle to maintain the position, lower your knees to the mat while keeping everything else the same.

Chatarunga

Chatarunga

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Skip the dumbbells: This pose will improve your triceps strength as nothing else can.

  • Begin in a plank position with your hands directly under shoulders and your body straight all the way to the feet.
  • Slowly lower your chest toward the ground, pulling your elbows in towards your ribs and looking towards the floor in front of you.  Keep your hips just slightly above your chest and squeeze your abs.
  • Breathe as you hold the position, then slowly push back up.

Move through the top and bottom of the position for as many repetitions as feel challenging to you.

Upward Dog

Upward facing dog

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

After pushing your bodyweight around in down dogs and planks, the upward dog keeps the arms and shoulders engaged while giving them, along with your chest, a nice long stretch.

  • Begin lying face down on your mat with your head slightly lifted and hands flat, palms down directly under your shoulders.
  • Point your toes so the tops of ​your feet are on the mat.
  • As you exhale, press through your hands and the tops of your feet raising your body and legs up off the ground until your arms are straight.
  • Keep your neck relaxed and long and your quads tight as you hold and breathe.

Side Plank

Side plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Side planks bring you back down to the floor to work on your shoulder strength from a different angle. Unlike the high plank, which gets your arms to work together, the one-sided work here makes your arms and shoulders work on their own individual strength.

  • Begin in a full plank with hands under shoulders and body in one line from shoulders on down to your toes.
  • Squeeze your abdominals tightly as you lift your right arm up while twisting over onto your left side. End up with your right arm straight up in the air with your body to the side so your right foot rests on top of the left foot.
  • Lift your hips to make a straight line from your head to your feet, and hold while breathing. Aim to hold the pose for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Return to the plank and switch sides.

Reverse Tabletop

Reverse Table top

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

With so many poses keeping your face and chest down, the reverse tabletop works the opposite side of your upper body. This exercise opens up your chest and shoulder muscles as it strengthens your arms.

  • Begin in a seated position with feet flat on the floor in line with your sit bones.
  • Place your palms on the floor behind your back with fingers facing forward.
  • Look up, and as you squeeze your abs and glutes, lift your body upward while gently letting your head relax back.
  • Your chest, abdomen, hips, and thighs should be in a flat line, parallel with the ground.
  • Breathe and hold.

Aim for 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps or hold the position for several breaths.

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