Do These 10 Yoga Poses to Strengthen and Tone Your Core + Upper Body

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Are you looking to increase strength in your upper body? Wanting to get more strength and definition in your core, chest, shoulders, and arms? Yoga can help with that! In addition to getting swimsuit ready, increasing your upper body strength will help you progress in your yoga practice.
Sure, having a strong upper body will make you an arm balance and inversion extraordinaire, but a strong upper body also aids in better posture, better breathing, and can lessen the risk of injury on the mat and in general.
Maintaining a regular yoga practice will definitely create more strength in your arms and upper body, but there are certain yoga poses in particular that will help create a stronger, more stable, and toned upper body.

Here are 10 effective yoga poses to strengthen and tone your core + upper body:

1. Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)


Plank Pose or High Plank is a great yoga pose to strengthen your arms and shoulders – and this Upward Plank Pose does the same but also allows us to simultaneously stretch the shoulders and chest.
Let’s try it:

  • From Dandasana, place your hands on the mat behind your hips with your fingers pointing towards your sits bones
  • Stack your shoulders over your wrists and lift your hips towards the ceiling
  • Root your heels to the mat and press into the bottoms of your feet
  • You can either gaze toward your feet or if you desire a more intense stretch in your chest, relax your head back
  • While your quadriceps and core should be engaged, the strength behind the lift should be in the arms and shoulders
  • Hold for a few breaths, then repeat

2. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)


Side Plank Pose is another plank variation that will strengthen your upper body and prepare you for arm balances and inversions. Side Plank allows you to isolate and strengthen one arm at a time which will help prevent muscular imbalances.
Let’s try it:

  • From Plank Pose, move your left hand to the center of the yoga mat with your wrist slightly in front of your shoulder
    Slowy rotate to the outside edge of your left foot. Stack your right leg on top of the left or place the right foot in front of the left for help with balance
  • Be sure your hips, knees, and ankles are aligned
  • Be sure your legs, core and shoulders are engaged as you lift the hips and extend your right arm toward the sky
  • Gaze up at your right thumb
  • Repeat on the opposite side

3. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)


Down Dog is practiced frequently in Vinyasa classes to reset, stretch and relax, and also flow between sequences. Not only does Down Dog stretch the back body – it also works wonders for your shoulder mobility and upper body strength.
Let’s try it:

  • From Table Top Pose, curl your toes under and lift your hips up and back
  • Keep your feet hip-distance apart and release your heels towards the earth to feel your calves and hamstrings gently open
  • Your hands are shoulder distance and your fingers are spread wide, pressing each individual fingertip into the mat to protect your wrists
  • Draw your shoulders down your back as you engage your lats, biceps, and triceps to keep your hands rooted to the mat
  • Keep your core engaged and your head relaxed
  • Hold for ten breaths, drop to Table Top Pose for a few breaths, then return to Down Dog

4. Tolasana (Scale Pose)


Tolasana strengthens the upper body because you utilize muscles in both your arms and shoulders to lift your entire body off the ground. If you need to modify this pose, try placing yoga blocks underneath your palms for more space to lift yourself up.
Let’s try it:

  • Begin in Lotus Pose or Sukhasana (cross-legged) if Lotus Pose is not part of your practice
  • Place your palms on the earth beside your sits bones
  • Press down with your hands while lifting your sits bones off the mat
  • Keep your core as active and engaged as your arms
  • Hold for a few breaths, then repeat

5. Bakasana (Crow Pose)


Bakasana is a yoga pose that will help you cultivate confidence, balance and upper body strength. Crow Pose will also help prepare you for inversions as you balance your body weight on your hands. Bakasana strengthens your shoulders, arms, core and wrists.
Let’s try it:

  • From Malasana, plant your palms, and lift onto your tiptoes
  • Lift your sit bones, bend your elbows into Chaturanga arms, and place your knees on the back of the upper arms as close to your armpits as possible
  • Shift your upper body forward until your weight is in your hands
  • Engage your core, squeeze into the midline and lift your toes off the mat
  • Hold for a few breaths, then repeat

6. Chaturanga Dandasana (Low Plank Pose)


Chaturanga requires solid tricep strength to hold your shoulders at a 90 degree angle. When practiced correctly, this pose will strengthen your triceps, shoulders, arms, wrist, and abdominals.
Let’s try it:

  • From Plank Pose, shift your weight slightly forward so your shoulders are past your wrists
  • With your heart reaching forward, slowly bend your elbows and keep your upper arms glued to your ribcage
  • When your elbows are in line with your shoulders, engage your core, quadriceps, and arms to hover your body off the mat with control
  • Take a few breaths, and then take a Child’s Pose

For more tips on correct alignment in your Chaturanga to build more core strength, check out 5 Tips to Practice Chaturanga Correctly.

7. Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose)


Tittibhasana will also help you cultivate balance and arm strength, but it can be more intense than Bakasana because of the different leg placement. In Firefly Pose, your legs are extended out in front of you versus bent and resting on your arms in Crow Pose – which requires more arm strength and flexibility in your hips and hamstrings.
Let’s try it:

  • From Malasana, plant your palms on the mat, lift your hips high and walk your hands back towards your glutes, bringing your shoulders under your knees
  • Form a 90 degree bend in your elbows and lower your tummy between your thighs
  • Drop your glutes down and allow your inner thighs to rest on your upper arms
  • Lift your feet off the mat as you shift your weight into your hands
  • Once you begin to stabilize, straighten your legs parallel to the earth

8. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose)


Wheel Pose is a deep backbend that strengthens and stretches much of the body at once. When practicing Urdhva Dhanurasana, your back body is engaged and your shoulders, arms, and wrists are working hard to lift your upper body. Wheel Pose is also a great stretch for your front body.
Let’s try it:

  • Begin reclined on your yoga mat with your knees bent and your feet on the ground
  • Slowly walk your heels back towards your glutes
  • Reach your arms overhead and place your palms to either side of your head with your fingertips just above your shoulders and facing the body
  • Your elbows should be pointing straight up to the sky and no wider than your shoulders
  • Press into your hands and feet to bring the crown of your head to the mat
  • Be sure your knees are hip-distance apart and your elbows are shoulder-distance apart
  • Slowly begin to straighten both arms and lift your head off the mat as you send your hips and chest towards the sky

9. Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)

Headstands are an awesome way to build upper body strength, reverse your body’s blood and energy flow, and also use your strength to stabilize and balance in this pose. This supported variation is also a forearm and shoulder strengthener since you are pressing into your forearms and shoulders to keep pressure off your neck and head.
Let’s try it:

  • From Dolphin Pose, interlace your fingers pinky finger side down
  • Place the crown of your head on the mat and the back of your head in your clasped hands
  • Straighten your legs and walk your feet towards your head, stacking your hips over your shoulders
  • Be sure you continue to lift through the forearms and shoulders to alleviate pressure and compression from your neck and head
  • Lift one leg and use the stability in your shoulders and forearms along with your core to find your balance. When you’re ready, lift the second leg
  • Remain in your Headstand for a few breaths, then repeat

10. Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand)

Pincha Mayurasana is a more advanced inversion because the weight is now solely on your forearms. Without the added support of your head, your upper body will be working hard to support your inverted body – strengthening your back, shoulders, and forearms.
Let’s try it:

  • From Dolphin Pose, continue to walk your feet closer to the top of your mat to bring your hips over your shoulders
  • Lift your right leg, bend your left leg, fire up your core, press into your shoulders and gently make your way into your Forearm Stand
  • Set your gaze on your yoga mat in between your forearms

These 10 yoga poses are sure to work multiple muscles in your upper body, from your back, to your shoulders, biceps and triceps. Many of these poses are more advanced, so pick which poses are part of your practice and work on gaining strength and proper alignment. You will be surprised at how fast your upper body strength will increase.

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Armed & Dangerous: 6 Yoga Poses for Strong Arms

Due to the insufficient use of the arms, chest, and back, connecting to the upper body can be a serious struggle—but not for long.

These six arm-strengthening yoga poses will help you get back to your prime and strengthen your upper half. Remember, these poses are meant to gradually build your strength. In practice and time, you will notice a difference.

Plank pose (Phalakasana)

Don’t underestimate Plank pose. It doesn’t seem like a muscle builder, but Plank is pivotal in building stamina and upper-body strength.

  • Begin on the forearms and glide your body forward until your shoulders are directly above your wrists—activating the biceps and shoulders.
  • To activate the core, the body’s central power house, support the torso and keep the back straight.
  • Hold Plank pose on the forearms for a few breaths. Then push your hands into the floor, with fingers spread apart, and straighten your arms.
  • Set your gaze slightly in front of you, softening the neck and jaw.
  • To build strength in your upper half, hold the pose for five breaths.

Four-Limbed Staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

Chaturanga can be performed with the knees on the floor until you are more comfortable with your arm strength. You can also use a yoga strap around the upper arms to stabilize the body and maintain alignment in the pose.

  • Come into Plank pose and find a connection with your core.
  • As you look ahead, lean forward and lower your body until it is parallel to the floor.
  • Bend the elbows until your arms are at a 90-degree angle. Make sure to hold your elbows in close to your sides. Don’t let your shoulders come lower than your elbows.
  • Maintain stillness and length in the spine without dropping the hips or lifting them too high.
  • As you push your hands into the ground, muscle builds in the arms, and you strengthen your core, wrists, and legs.

Four-Limbed Staff pose is vital for Sun Salutations and Vinyasa-style classes.

Dolphin pose (Makarasana)

This is a dynamic pose that starts in a Forearm Plank and moves into a Forearm Downward-Facing Dog. It works on the shoulders and core to maintain stability and control during the movement.

  • Come onto all fours, keeping the arms parallel to one another, and slowly lower one forearm to the ground at a time. Press your forearms firmly into the mat.
  • Exhale and curl your toes under, then lift your hips toward the sky. Keep your knees slightly bent and lengthen your spine. Then engage your core and extend your legs.
  • Move slowly and with control. This will maximize the pose’s benefits by deepening the connection between movement and breath.
  • Don’t collapse the shoulders too far forward. Continue to press the forearms down.

Side Plank pose (Vasisthasana)

Side Plank pose—named after Sage Vasishtha, a guru whose name means “most excellent”—challenges our balance. Just like Plank pose, this posture focuses on anatomical alignment through bone stacking and engaging the muscles for stability.

  • Begin in Downward-Facing Dog. Lower your hips and come forward into Plank pose, aligning your shoulders over your hands and wrists.
  • From Plank pose, bring your body weight to one arm by pressing into the fingers. Stack the opposite shoulder over the supporting wrist.
  • Roll onto the outer edge of your right foot, and stack the left foot on top of the right. Press the outer edge of your foot firmly into the mat for better support.
  • Press through your supporting hand, and lift the ribs and hips upward.
  • Extend your left arm upward, allowing your gaze to follow.

Crow pose (Bakasana)

Crow pose or Bakasana uses all the techniques from the poses above to keep you balanced.

  • Begin in Garland pose. Place your hands on the ground, shoulder width apart, keeping your elbows aligned with your wrists.
  • Place your knees on top of the triceps, as close to the armpit as possible for a snug fit.
  • Lift your hips up and start bringing your weight forward. Place your elbows over your wrists and press all of your fingers into the ground to counteract the forward movement.
  • Squeeze the elbows and feet toward each other as much as you can to maintain your midline power. Press down into the earth with your hands and arms and lift your body higher. If your elbows flare out use a strap to keep your alignment.

G.I. Jane Planks

This series of movements incorporates Plank pose and Forearm Plank pose, making it the most challenging asana in the sequence.

  • From Plank pose, bend one elbow and place the forearm down on the ground.
  • Bend the other elbow to land in Forearm Plank pose.
  • Push through the ground with one arm and then the other to return to Plank.

As you move through this pushing motion, you are toning and stabilizing your muscles to control the shifts of body weight. Alternating the arms from a bent position to a straight position builds up the chest and back muscles, as well as the core and legs. This complete body conditioning helps with arm balances and inversions, as it teaches the body to control itself during movement.

This series is a blend of yoga asana and full-body training exercises. To get desired results, try to do this series at least three times a week for 10 minutes.

1. Side Fierce

What it works: glutes, quads, and upper back

  • Stand with your feet together. Inhale to bend your knees and lower your hips as you raise your arms overhead, coming into Fierce Pose. Exhale to cross your right elbow over to your outer left knee. Press your palms together and actively push your bottom elbow against your thigh to lift and rotate your chest up, increasing the twist. Pull your right hip back slightly, making sure both knees are parallel.
  • Stay for five breaths in Side Fierce, then inhale as you press into your feet and lift your torso, rising back into Fierce pose. Exhale to cross your left elbow over your right outer knee, holding for another five breaths on this side.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Louisa Larson

2. Warrior 3

What it works: back and shoulders

  • Stand at the front of your mat with both feet together. Shift your weight onto your left leg and kick your right leg behind you, balancing with your torso parallel to the floor. Extend your arms straight in front of you or do Eagle arms, as shown in the photo.
  • Draw your navel toward your spine and hold Warrior 3 for five breaths.

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3. Half Moon

What it works: back and sides of the torso

  • Begin in Downward Facing Dog. Step your right foot forward between your hands, and rise up into Warrior 1. Then open your hips, arms, and chest into Warrior 2 Pose.
  • Place your left hand on your left hip and stretch your right arm straight out, creating length through the right side of your body. Shift weight into your right foot, and lift your left foot up. Plant your right palm flat on the ground under your shoulder. Bend your right knee or use a block if your hamstring is tight.
  • Try to distribute your weight evenly between your right hand and foot. Look down at the ground and bring your left arm straight up. When you’re ready, look up toward your left hand.
  • Hold for five breaths, then try Half Moon on the left side.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Louisa Larson

4. Triangle

What it works: legs, core, and upper body

  • From Down Dog, step your right foot forward, rising into Warrior 1. Straighten the right leg, and extend the right arm out as far as you can past the right toes. Lower the right hand to the floor in front of the right shin (rest it on a block if you need to).
  • Shift weight back onto the heels, stacking the shoulders, extending your upper arm straight up.
  • Try to extend through both sides of the ribs equally, drawing the navel toward the spine.
  • Hold like this for five deep breaths. Then extend your upper arm over your ear so it’s parallel with the floor, coming into Straight-Arm Triangle.
  • After five breaths, rise up and repeat on the left side.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Louisa Larson

5. Side Plank

What it works: back, abs, sides of the torso, and arms

  • Begin in Downward Facing Dog. Step both feet together so your big toes are touching. Move your right hand over to the left so it’s at the top center of your mat.
  • Roll over to your right side and plant your right heel down, balancing on the outside edge of your right flexed foot. Reach your left arm straight above you or extend it over your ear.
  • Stay here in Side Plank for five deep breaths, trying to keep your core strong and the pose steady. Repeat this pose on the left side.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Louisa Larson

6. Dolphin Plank

What it works: abs, back, arms, and shoulders

  • From Down Dog, lower onto your forearms and walk your feet out. Your body should be in one straight line with your shoulders directly above your elbows.
  • Hold Dolphin Plank for five breaths.

Image Source: Louisa Larson Photography

7. Bow

What it works: back

  • Lie flat on your stomach, pressing your belly button into the floor. Bend your knees and reach for the outside edge of your right ankle and then your left.
  • Once you have a firm hold of each ankle, try to keep your toes together, either pointing or flexing your feet. Inhale to lift your feet and thighs up as high as you can, and shift your weight forward so that you’re resting on your navel instead of on your pubic bone.
  • Hold Bow Pose for five deep breaths.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Louisa Larson

8. Locust

What it works: back

  • Lie on your belly with your legs together. Place your arms by your sides so your palms are facing up. As you inhale, lift your legs, head, and upper body off the floor. Your hands remain on the floor for support.
  • As you breathe, try to relax your shoulders and the muscles in your booty. Extend the crown of your head away from your toes, lengthening as much as you can through your spine.
  • Stay in Locust Pose for five breaths, and then release back to the mat.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Louisa Larson

9. Wheel

What it works: back and upper body

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the ground (heels as close as possible to your booty). Bend your elbows and place your palms flat on the ground above your shoulders, fingertips facing your feet.
  • Inhale, press into your palms, and lift your head, shoulders, and hips off the ground, holding Wheel Pose for five deep breaths.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Louisa Larson

5 Yoga Poses to Build Upper Body Strength

Many people doubt that yoga can tone your upper body and increase overall physical strength. I typically share in class that I haven’t lifted a dumbbell since the late ’90s, and I feel stronger than I did in my twenties.

When I first started yoga, my arms were like jelly and holding Downward Dog was a struggle; however, with consistent practice, I soon developed enough strength to balance on my hands and do inversions.

Here are 5 basic yoga postures you can do to start building or increasing your upper body strength.

1. Downward Dog

Not only does this posture strengthen your shoulders and legs, but it also stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves and arches. In addition, it energizes the body, relieves stress, and improves digestion.

How to: Come to your hands and knees. Make sure your shoulders are aligned over your wrists and hips over your knees. Curl your toes under and slowly begin to straighten your legs as you exhale. As the legs straighten, lift the hips towards the ceiling and press the heels towards the floor. Firm up the thighs, engage the outer arms by drawing the triceps inward, and broaden the shoulder blades. Continue to breathe deeply as your head releases between your arms.

2. Plank

Plank is perfect for strengthening the arms, wrists, and the spine. It’s also a great ab toner.

How to: From Downward Dog, take an inhale and mindfully shift forward so your spine is parallel to the floor and shoulders are over the wrists. Draw the triceps inward. The belly reaches towards the spine and the tailbone to the heels. Extend the heels to the wall behind you. Keep the gaze soft and look to the top of the mat as the back of your neck stays long.

3. Chaturanga

A difficult posture to master, but it is perfect for strengthening the arms and wrists as well as toning the abs.

How to: From Plank, bend your arms on the exhale as you lower your body towards the floor. Be mindful not to lower the body past the 90 degree angle you are creating with the arms. Keep the tailbone extending towards the heels, belly to the spine, and chest forward. Maintain space between the shoulder blades and the arms should hug tight to the body.

4. Side Plank

This really works the arms, abs, wrists, and legs. It’s also a great pose to improve balance and overall stability in the body.

How to: From Plank, slowly shift your body over to the right foot and stack right foot over the left. Lift your left arm towards the sky as your left shoulder and hips stack over the right side. Maintain strength in the arms, draw the belly to the spine, and extend the tailbone to the heels. If it feels comfortable or for an extra challenge, take the gaze up.

5. Upward Dog

Upward Dog is an overall body toner. It strengthens the spine, arms, and wrists. As it improves your posture, it stretches the shoulders, chest, and abs as well as tones the butt.

How to: From your Chaturanga, take a deep inhale and begin to draw your chest up and forward as you straighten the arms. Roll slowly over to the tops of the feet while keeping the quads off the floor. Engage your quads by lifting them towards the ceiling. Firm the shoulder blades against the back and stack shoulders over wrists. Lift the chest and draw the shoulders away from the ears. Take the gaze in forward and the chin parallel to the floor.

Try putting these postures into your routine and get ready to enjoy a strong, toned, and lean upper body. Although these poses can be challenging, they will all award you with many benefits. Start today!

Build strength in the shoulders, arms, chest, and upper back and improve your flexibility with this upper body strengthening yoga flow. Breathe deeply, keep your body balanced and engage your core for stability as you move through these challenging poses.

UPPER BODY STRENGTH YOGA ESSENTIAL FLOW

Start this upper body strengthening sequence with 4 rounds of the sun salutation flow.

1. Downward facing dog pose: 30 seconds. Place your hands on the floor, extend your arms and legs, and lift your hips up and back. Breathe deeply, open your shoulders and push your heels down.
2. One legged downward dog pose: 15 seconds + 15 seconds. Inhale as you lift one leg up.
3. Plank pose: 30 seconds. Exhale as you walk your hands forward and go into plank pose.
4. Side plank pose: 30 seconds + 30 seconds. Bring your feet together and roll onto your left side, placing the outside edge of your left foot on the mat. Stack your right foot and leg on top of the left, reach your right arm toward the ceiling and gaze at your right thumb.
5. Full side plank pose: 15 seconds + 15 seconds. Lift your right leg up and grab your big toe. Stay in extended side plank for 15 seconds and then repeat poses 4 and 5 on the right side.
6. Bridge pose: 30 seconds. Lie on your back, place both feet flat on the floor, inhale and lift your hips and chest up.
7. Upward plank pose: 30 seconds. Sit up with your knees bent, place your hands on the floor with your fingers pointing forward and exhale as you lift your hips off the mat.
8. Wheel pose: 15 seconds. Lie on your back, place both feet flat on the floor, bend your elbows and position the palms of your hands on the floor beside your head with your fingers pointing toward your shoulders. Press the feet and hands into the floor and, as you exhale, lift the hips up and straighten the arms.
9. Staff pose: 30 seconds. Sit on the floor with your feet together and your legs extended. Place both hands on the floor and stack your spine vertically.
10. Standing forward bend pose: 30 seconds. Stand up and exhale slowly as you bend from the hip joints, draw your belly slightly in and lengthen your torso.
11. Firefly pose: 15 seconds. Position your shoulders behind the calf muscles, bring your feet closer together and hug your thighs in. Place your palms on the floor behind your feet, lower your hips and lift the feet off the floor.
12. Child’s pose: 60 seconds. Sit on your heels, relax the spine, neck, and shoulders and feel the stretch in your lower back.
13. Mountain pose: 30 seconds. Stand up tall with your feet together and distribute your weight equally between both feet. Keep your spine long, your body soft and bring your palms together in front of the heart.
14. Garland pose: 30 seconds. Squat, open your thighs, lean your torso forward and press your elbows against the knees.
15. Crow pose: 30 seconds. Place your hands flat on the floor and spread your fingers wide. Bend your elbows, shift your weight forward and position your knees onto your triceps. Lift the feet off the floor and straighten your arms as much as possible.
16. Plank pose: 30 seconds. Place your feet on the floor, exhale, walk your hands forward and go into plank pose.
17. Dolphin pose: 30 seconds. Press your palms and forearms into the floor, straighten the knees and lift your hips up and back.
18. Bound headstand pose: 30 seconds. Interlace your fingers, tuck your chin and place the crown of your head in front of the hands. Walk your feet in toward your elbows as much as you can, bend one knee at a time and bring it toward your chest. Find your balance and then straighten the legs up the wall.
19. Child’s pose: 60 seconds. Sit on your heels and relax.

Yoga for upper body

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