10 Exercises to Prime Your Arms for Tough Yoga Poses
Strength Moves and Stretches for Advanced Yoga Poses
Do you find yourself in awe of the amazing arm balances practiced by others in your favorite yoga classes or posted on Instagram by the inspirational yogis you follow? Obviously, there's more to practicing yoga than just standing on your head (literally), but if you're seeking a new challenge and have your sights set on mastering an arm balance, try incorporating these strengthening exercises and focused stretches into your workout routine. These moves are specifically designed with five advanced arm balancing postures in mind to help you cultivate both the requisite strength and flexibility needed to ultimately work into these poses. Once you get the guts to get off the ground, you'll have the muscle to back you up! (And check out Yoga Arm Balances for Yogis of Every Level.)
The Pose: Hurdler’s Pose
This adventurous balance challenge requires both core and upper body strength. Diamond push-ups serve as the perfect prep move, effectively targeting the chest, shoulder, triceps, and core. Because flexibility in the hamstrings and openness in the hips is also an important element of this particular asana, lizard pose is an ideal stretch to lengthen the hip flexors, creating greater mobility while also positioning the body to seamlessly transition into hurdler.
The Exercise: Diamond Pushups
A Start in plank position with hands positioned underneath chest with thumbs and forefingers together in a diamond shape.
B With core engaged, slowly bend elbows, keeping them close to body as you lower chest and chin toward floor with control. Re-extend arms, pressing back up to starting position. Do 12-15 reps.
The Stretch: Lizard
Begin in low lunge position with right foot forward, thigh parallel to floor, and left knee and shin on mat. Draw both hands to inside of the right foot, releasing the elbows and forearms to rest on a block or the mat while keeping hips and shoulders squared to floor. Breathe deeply, holding for 30-60 seconds before repeating on opposite side.
The Pose: Scorpion Pose
This arm balance is an exquisite combination of a forearm stand and a backbending posture, creating a need for both strength and stability in the shoulders and the core, which plank-ups so perfectly deliver. This particular pose also requires mobility in the upper back and hips, making crescent lunge a great stretch option, given the emphasis on lengthening the hip flexors and stretching the quadriceps.
The Exercise: Plank-Ups
A Begin in forearm plank position, keeping core engaged and spine neutral.
B Press left hand into ground then right hand, rising to plank position. Reverse the movement, releasing left forearm to floor then right forearm, returning to starting position. Repeat the sequence, alternating the lead hand each time. Do a total of 10-12 reps (5-6 per side).
The Stretch: Crescent Lunge with Quad Stretch
From high kneeling position, step right foot forward toward front of mat. Shift weight forward, deepening bend in front leg and drawing right thigh parallel to floor with right knee tracking in line with second toe. Maintain this low lunge position and bend left knee, drawing heel up toward seat. Reach left hand behind to grasp top of left foot, or place left toes against a wall facilitate the stretch. Breathe deeply, holding for 30-60 seconds before repeating on opposite side.
The Pose: Firefly
This awe-inspiring pose is a fierce combination of core strength, shoulder flexibility, upper body strength, and hamstring flexibility. L-sits using a pair of yoga blocks strengthen the core and triceps while stabilizing the shoulder girdle, and the wide-legged forward fold serves as a great standing stretch to lengthen the hamstrings.
The Exercise: L-Sit
A Begin seated on mat in a cross-legged position, placing hands atop yoga blocks positioned directly outside of the hips with fingers pointed forward.
B Press into palms and extend arms fully, lifting body off floor and extending legs parallel with the mat. Maintain this 90-degree angle with the torso and legs, keeping core engaged and shoulders stable. Hold for 15-20 seconds, rest briefly and repeat 3-4 more times.
The Stretch: Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Stand facing long edge of mat with hands on your hips. Step feet approximately 3-4 feet apart, keeping feet parallel to one another, both sets of toes pointing forward. With core engaged and spine elongated, hinge hips, folding torso forward and drawing crown of head toward floor, allowing arms to extend out in opposite directions. Breathe deeply, holding this pose for 30-60 seconds.
The Pose: Handstand
Arguably the most coveted arm balance of them all, the handstand beautifully blends balance and stability with upper body and core strength to create an exhilarating inversion experience. The Arnold press utilizes external load in the form of dumbbells to help effectively strengthen the shoulders, while downward facing dog's focus on shoulder mobility, shoulder girdle stability and core strength serves as the perfect prep move to help you transition into this gymnastic feat.
The Exercise: Arnold Press
A Stand with feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of shoulders with elbows bent and palms facing body.
B With core engaged, extend arms, pressing dumbbells overhead while rotating palms to face away from body. Reverse the movement, returning to starting position with dumbbells in front of shoulders. Do 12-15 reps.
The Stretch: Downward Facing Dog
Start on your hands and knees with hands positioned slightly in front of the shoulders. Press palms firmly into mat, spreading fingers wide as you tuck toes under, keeping feet hip-width apart. Exhale as you extend legs, drawing hips and tailbone toward the ceiling and creating an inverted V-shape with the body, drawing heels toward floor. Position head and neck between upper arms and maintain length in spine, releasing shoulders away from ears and equally pressing through both hands and feet. Breathe deeply, holding for 30-60 seconds.
The Pose: Eight-Angle Pose
This asymmetrical arm balance combines upper body and core strength with some serious hip flexibility. Dips are a great option for strengthening the triceps and challenging the core, while half pigeon effectively prepares the hips for this wildly unusual looking asana.
The Exercise: Dips
A Assume a seated position atop a step or bench, placing heels of palms at edge of step with fingers pointed down toward ground. Extend legs fully, keeping heels on floor, and press into palms, extending arms and lifting glutes off step.
B With core engaged, bend elbows straight back, lowering glutes toward floor and allowing knees to bend slightly. Control the movement, lowering only until upper arms become parallel with floor. Reverse the movement, re-extending arms and returning to starting position. Do 10-15 reps.
The Stretch: Half-Pigeon
Start on your hands and knees. Slide right knee up toward right wrist, then swing right toes out toward left wrist. Tuck left toes under and slowly begin to inch left knee toward back edge of mat, fully extending left hip. Keep right heel tucked in toward left hip or for a deeper stretch begin working right heel away from body, drawing right shin parallel with front edge of mat. Keep palms pressed into mat or release down to forearms or to fully-extended arms, drawing forehead to floor. Breathe deeply, holding for 30-60 seconds before repeating on opposite side.