8 Yoga Poses for Strength Building

Kira Poletis
9 minute read

The benefits of yoga are as varied as the poses you can shape yourself into. From flexibility to better focus, the positive impact a consistent yoga practice can have on your life span from the physical to the mental.

Yoga is so much more than just doing a split or putting your foot on your head (when would you ever need to do that in real life, anyway?), and you can tailor your yoga practice to support specific goals, like building strength. 

Studies have shown that yoga can help build muscle strength when practiced correctly. The key to building strength in yoga is the progression of poses from basic to more challenging variations. You want to keep pushing your muscles with increasing difficulty, more repetitions, or longer times holding poses.

Let’s take a look at eight yoga poses that are great for building strength in your legs, arms, core, and everywhere in between.

 

Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

While initially unassuming, the downward dog will definitely make you work. Because the heart is lower than the core in this pose, it is technically considered an inversion and will make your shoulders burn after a few deep breaths holding this pose.

How to practice:

  • Start on all fours, curl the toes under, and lift the hips up, keeping the knees slightly bent
  • Keep the elbows soft, you never want to lock any joints in any pose
  • Push the heels toward the mat, but it’s okay if you can’t flatten your feet here
  • Focus on pushing through your shoulders and stretching the hamstrings

 

Take it up a notch:

  • Inhale and lift the right leg as far as you can toward the ceiling
  • Exhale, bend the right knee, and reach that knee beneath you toward the left elbow
  • Repeat five times on each side and your core will get a solid workout

Plank Pose (Phalakasana)

How to practice:

  • Start on all fours, then reach both legs straight out behind you as you straighten both arms
  • Keep the hands flat and wrists stacked beneath the shoulders
  • Pull the shoulders up and back so as not to scrunch up your neck
  • Keep the gaze toward the mat and reach the crown of the head forward
  • The lower back should be level, not dropping down toward the mat, and not lifted like in downward dog

 

Take it up a notch:

  • This is already a solid shoulder and core workout, but if you want to make it more challenging, try shifting all the weight to one arm while lifting the opposite arm over your head so your chest is facing the side wall
  • You can stack the ankles here, or stagger them, depending on which feels more stable
  • Return the top hand to the mat, then switch sides

Four-limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

How to practice:

  • Another killer shoulder and core exercise, chaturanga is usually practiced as part of a series known as Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)
  • From downward dog, pull the shoulders forward over the wrists to come to the plank pose
  • From plank pose, keep the shoulders back and elbows tucked against your ribs as you lower into a half push-up position
  • Lower into your push-up position just a few inches from the mat and stay here, breathing steadily
  • From here, you can descend all the way to the mat to move into an upward-facing dog position, or return to the original downward dog

 

Take it up a notch:

  • From your downward dog, pull the shoulders forward over the wrists and lower the back into plank pose
  • Keep the elbows tucked and lower into the chaturanga
  • Without releasing the pose, straighten the arms and push right back into downward dog
  • Repeat

Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)

How to practice:

  • Begin in a seated position, bend the knees, take the feet flat on the floor, and extend the arms out with the palms to the ceiling
  • Sit back with your chest open and chin lifted, balancing on your sitz bones (the bony part of your glutes right below the lower back)
  • Lift the legs straight up in the air, toes pointed, and sit back without falling over or letting the legs down
  • The knees can be bent here if keeping them straight the entire time is too difficult
  • Return the feet to the floor and repeat

 

Take it up a notch:

  • Balance back on your sitz bones, arms extended and palms up, straighten the knees, and lift the feet from the mat
  • As you lift the legs straight up, move the upper body forward to meet them
  • As you extend the legs straight back down, lower the upper body back at the same time, almost touching the mat
  • The heels should just touch the mat before you reverse the movement and bring the straightened legs back up and the upper body to meet it

Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)

How to practice:

  • Come to your neutral downward dog position
  • One arm at a time, lower onto your forearms while keeping the legs and hips in the original downward dog position
  • Lift through the shoulders so as not to scrunch up your neck, and extend the neck towards the mat, keeping the gaze down

 

Take it up a notch:

  • From this position, you can take turns extending one leg straight up as far as it will go, and switching, squeezing the glutes as you raise it up
  • Alternatively, pressing the arms straight up from the mat back into a neutral downward dog position, then slowly lowering back down into your dolphin pose will be one heck of an arm exercise

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

How to practice:

  • Warrior II also seems unassuming at first, but it’s a great way to strengthen the legs and will definitely make your quads burn
  • From a standing position, step one foot forward, extending across the whole mat
  • The toes of the front foot will face the top of the mat, while the toes of the back foot will face the side of the mat, with the hips also open to the side of the mat
  • Bend the front knee so the knee is stacked right on top of the ankle
  • Extend both arms out over the length of the mat, palms down
  • Relax the shoulders, keep the gaze forward, lift the chest slightly, and pretend as if you are pulling the heels of the feet towards each other to activate the pelvic floor

 

Take it up a notch:

  • Find your Warrior II with the right foot forward and the left foot back
  • Inhale and lift the right palm to the ceiling while gently arching the back and sliding the left palm down the back leg
  • Exhale and move the upper body forward, resting the arm forearm on the right knee and reaching the left palm above the head
  • Continue to flow through these two movements following your natural inhale and exhale

Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

How to practice:

  • In a standing position, inhale with the arms over the head, and exhale while bending at the hips, dropping the hands toward the mat
  • Here, push the feet together so there is no space between them
  • On your inhale, scoop up with the knees bent, bracing against each other, and the arms raised over the head
  • You can decide the depth of this pose, whether you want just a slight bend in the knees, or to take the hips low and bend them even further
  • Regardless of depth, it is very important to tuck the tailbone under here and to not pop the glutes out and arch the lower back

 

Take it up a notch:

  • Find your chair pose, then inhale and straighten the knees to a neutral standing position with the palms meeting over your head
  • On your exhale, hinge forward at the hips, bringing the hands to the mat
  • With your next inhale, scoop back up into your chair pose
  • Repeat and feel the fire burning in your core!

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

How to practice:

  • Lying flat on your back on your mat, bring the feet flat on the floor with the heels close to your glutes, about hip-width apart
  • Arms are at your side, palms against the mat
  • On your inhale, lift the hips, squeezing the glutes and engaging the inner thighs so that they pull towards each other, not touching, but not splaying out to the side, either
  • Exhale and relax the glutes back down to the mat

 

Take it up a notch:

  • This pose is a great way to strengthen the glutes, thighs, and core, especially with the help of a yoga block
  • In your neutral position on the mat, place a yoga block between your thighs, this will help engage the core and thighs when lifting the hips
  • Inhale and lift the hips, squeezing the glutes and the block between your thighs
  • To take it further, you can interlace your fingers beneath the lower back and roll one shoulder under and then the other
  • In this position, straighten the elbows beneath you and this will allow you to lift the hips just a bit more
  • Release the fingers, return the shoulders to a flat, neutral position, and with your next exhale, release the glutes back down to the mat

If you want to read more about yoga, we have some great suggestions for morning yoga poses to start your day right and the best essential oils to use to enhance your yoga practice. Starting a yoga practice can be a great way to boost your health and fitness level, including boosting circulation and flexibility. We highly recommend yoga to everyone!

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