Yoga Poses for Arm Strength

Side Plank Builds Arm Strength
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Along with a powerful core, building strong arms in order to dive deeper into yoga's advanced arm balances and inversions can be helpful. People often ask how to improve their arm strength in preparation for these poses. The great news is, you don't have to start lifting weights or doing pull-ups. Just keep doing yoga regularly and you will build up the muscles you need by the time you are ready to try these poses. Here's a look at the types of weight-bearing poses you can work on along the way.

Beginners' Poses

  • Downward Facing Dog - Adho Muhka Svanasana: More good news: one of the poses that you do most frequently in yoga classes is also one of the best ways to improve your arm strength. Although it's true that in order to make downward facing dog a resting pose, it's necessary to support most of your weight with your legs, there's no getting around the fact that your arms are working hard too.
  • Plank Pose: Plank is often called the first arm balance in yoga. Though your feet are still on the ground in this pose, the majority of your weight is in your arms. Keep your shoulders safe by fine-tuning your alignment. Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists. Try to create a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels so that you are neither raising your butt nor allowing it to hang down.
  • Supported Side Plank: Full side plank, in which you balance on one arm and the edge of one foot is more of an intermediate pose (see below), but this supported variation is appropriate for beginners.

Intermediate Poses

  • Crow Pose - Bakasana: Crow is often the first arm balance that yoga students tackle. Learning is really more about finding your center of gravity than anything else. Hint: It's probably a little further forward than you would like it to be, but not so much that you fall on your face. (Another hint: Set up a crash pad of pillows under your face just in case.)
  • Four Limbed Staff Pose - Chaturanga Dandasana: Doing a lot of chaturangas (yoga's version of push-ups) is one of the best ways to build your arm strength. It's important to do them with good alignment, however, to avoid shoulder injuries. It's also necessary to know when to say when, since sloppy alignment leading to injury is more likely to happen when you are tired. If you take a class with lots of vinyasas, know that you can always opt to skip them when you feel your form is slipping.
  • Side Plank Pose - Vasisthasana: Side planks are great for working on one arm at a time. As your confidence grows, you can begin to play with its many variations. 
  • Upward Facing Dog - Urdhva Muhka Svanasana: Since your thighs are off the floor in this pose, it's also a workout for your arms. Usually, upward dog is not held for a long time in yoga classes, but you can do a longer hold at home. Just make sure to bend your elbows and roll your shoulders back and down when you first come into the pose. This keeps your shoulders from creeping up toward your ears.

Advanced Poses

  • Firefly Pose - Tittibhasana: Once you get a handle on your first arm balance (for instance, crow, above), the rest come comparatively easily. However, you do need to build up the strength to support your body's weight with just your arms.
  • Flying Crow Pose - Eka Pada Galavasana: Flying crow combines the legs of pigeon with the arms of crow. Extending your leg in the back is a little tricky. I think it's easier to get into the arm balance with your back leg bent under your body and then extend it, rather than to try to lift your back leg off the floor when it's already straight.
  • Handstand - Adho Mukha Vrksasana: Most people learn handstand at the wall first, which is a good way to build arm strength. Make sure to keep your arms very straight when you are kicking up so that they don't buckle.
  • Side Crow Pose - Parsva Bakasana: There are actually two versions of side crow. At first, try balancing with your hip resting on one arm and your knees on the other. Eventually, you can try it using just one arm, which supports your hip.
  • Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana: There's a lot going on in a full wheel, not the least of which is that it takes a good amount of arm strength to push yourself up and hold that position.

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.