10 Yoga Poses For a Stronger Upper Body and Core
Are you looking to improve your upper body strength and not quite sure how to go about it? I have the perfect yoga routine to share with you today! I used to think the only way to gain strength and tone up my arms was to just lift weights. Although I do lift weights on a regular basis ( 3-4 days a week) I also practice yoga every day! It has actually been through yoga that I have discovered just how strong I am ( mentally and physically)! The best part about this upper body focused yoga routine is that it doubles as a core workout as well. Yoga is so wonderful for building core and upper body strength using your own body weight. Perhaps you are looking to improve upper body and core strength to progress to more advanced arm balances or maybe you are just starting out, looking for the right poses to build your practice. Either way, I have you covered my friend!
Perform this routine 3 days a week for best results.
If you are just starting out, it is always best to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.
10 Yoga Poses For a Stronger Upper Body and Core
- Plank Pose
- Plank pose is one of my favorite overall total body toning and abdominal focused exercises. Planks are so great because they do not put stress on your abdomen as crunches do, and it works your abs so much more. It really targets the Transverse abdominus muscle, which is the deeper abdominal muscle that acts as your internal support system! This is essential for building core strength!
- Your body should be straight as shown with your wrists under your shoulders and navel drawn in towards your spine. Squeeze your thighs and press your weight back through your heels to take some pressure off of your shoulders.
- If you need to modify, you can always drop your knees to the floor as if you are in a modified push up position.
- Try to hold this yoga pose for 30 seconds. If this feels too easy, begin with one minute; if this feels too hard, try to start with a 15 second hold.
- Plank Pose Variation
- Begin in a plank position as outlined above. Extend your left leg behind you and up towards the sky as shown. Keep your back straight and try to keep your weight evenly through both shoulders
- Engage your abs by drawing your navel in towards your spine and bring your left knee to touch your left tricep. Round your spine slightly as you try to bring your knee above your elbow to your upper arm as shown.
- Return to start position with your left leg extended in the air and repeat this 10x
- Repeat the same sequence on the opposite side
- Bonus: If you are really ambitious today and want to challenge your upper body and core strength, try this variation! This time as you bring your left knee towards your upper arm, shift your body weight forward as your right leg lifts up in the air. Make sure your abs are engaged. Think of your left arm as becoming a shelf for your knee.
- Please note: For years ( before I became a teacher), I used to try to kick my leg up and I failed to lift off every single time. This variation comes in time after building your core and upper body strength and the lift off will naturally happen as you learn to properly shift your body weight forward and trust your strength!
- Side Plank
- Begin in a full plank position. Rock to the outside edge of your left foot and bring yourself into a side plank position as shown with your right arm extended up towards the ceiling. Keep your abs, engaged, back straight and hips lifted.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds and repeat 3x. Remember if this is too much, you can modify by dropping to your knees and then lifting your hips.
- Chaturanga Dandasana
- Begin in a plank positon. Keeping your elbows directly over your wrists, slowly lower your body to hover a few inches above the floor; your back should stay nice and straight.
- Lift through your chest, keeping your shoulders in line with your elbows
- Fully engage your abdominals and don’t forget to engage your legs muscles. Squeeze your thighs and press back through your heels to distribute your weight evenly
- Keep your elbows glued to your ribcage so they do not fall out to the sides!
- Try to hold this pose for 10 seconds and repeat 5x.
- Bonus: Instead of resting in between, press yourself back up to plank pose and then repeat this 5x!
- If you are a beginner or your feel as though your are not able to maintain good form, begin by dropping to your knees to modify.
- Downward Facing Dog
- This yoga pose lengthens the spine, stretches the back of your legs, strengthens the upper body, core and legs while energizing the body!
- Begin in Child’s pose as shown. You will need a little break after the previous poses, so take a few breaths here!
- From child’s pose, move onto hands and knees. Walk your hands a few inches in front of you and curl your toes under.
- Inhale, as you lift up your knees and press back through your heels into downward facing dog.
It’s so important to keep proper alignment to properly engage your muscles: focus on squeezing your thighs, pressing back through your heels and keeping your navel drawn in towards your spine. Keep your shoulders down away from your ears and eye gaze towards your navel.
Think about trying to spread your shoulders as you bring your chest towards your thighs to work your back muscles and lengthen your spine.
Take 5 deep breaths and repeat 3x
- End in child’s pose
- Begin laying on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders, palms down. Your lower body and feet are relaxed.
- Inhale as you begin to lift your chest up off the floor as you straighten your arms. Keep your abs engaged as you use your upper body, back muscles and core to lift your chest. Press your pubis and tops of your feet and thighs into the floor. Try not to squeeze your butt!
- Do not lock your elbows.
- Think about drawing your shoulders down and back as you lift through your sternum.
- When done correctly, this pose can prove to be challenging to maintain
- Try to hold this for 5 full deep breaths and repeat 5x
- Forearm plank
- Begin on your stomach with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and toes curled under
- Engage your abdominals as your lift your knees up off your mat into a forearm plank position as shown.
- Keep your back straight as your squeeze your thighs and press back through your heels to distribute your weight evenly
- Hold this yoga pose for 30 seconds and repeat 3x. Work your way up to 1 min if that is too easy; start with 10-15 seconds if it is too challenging!
- Begin in forearm plank pose as outlined above. Engage your abs as you lift your hips up towards the sky and walk your feet in towards your hands.
- Bring your shoulders directly under your elbows
- Engage the outsides of your upper arms to keep your elbows from splaying
- This yoga pose will challenge your upper body: do not collapse into your shoulders. Keep your shoulders down away from your ears as your spread your shoulder blades
- Let your legs share the work: press down with your feet to engage and lift the front of your legs: squeeze your thighs so your quads engage and hamstrings lengthen
- Don’t let your shoulders move behind the elbows ( this can cause injury). Instead, stack your shoulders over your elbows!
- Begin holding for 10-15 seconds and progress to working up to 30 seconds
- Walk yourself back to forearm plank and then repeat this yoga sequence 5x.
- Take a rest on your stomach or child’s pose as needed!
- Boat Pose
- I always like to include boat pose in my yoga routines because it is so great for building core strength.
- Begin in a seated position on your mat. Engage your abs as you lean back slightly and lift your feet bringing your shins parallel to the floor.
- Draw your navel in towards your spine, and lift your chest, extend your arms forward in line with your shoulders.
- Balance on your sits bones, careful not to let your lower back “sink in.”
- If this is challenging for you, hold here and try to work up to 30 seconds. Repeat 3x
- To progress, straighten your knees to fully extend your legs. Continue to lift your chest and engage your abs without rounding your spine as you think about lengthening and reaching past your toes.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3x.
- Crow Pose
- Do not let this pose intimidate you if you are new to yoga! When I first stared practicing this yoga pose used to scare me! The truth is that with practice it actually becomes natural ( I kid you not). The key is to be consistent with your practice and patient with your progress! This is an arm balance, but it requires a mix of core strength and use of your Bandhas too! I could do an entire blog post on Bandhas ( hey that’s a great idea!) but for now you can read more about that here!
- Begin in a squat position: placing your hands on your mat in front of you at shoulder width apart.
- Helpful tip: Think about rounding your spine as you really try to engage your abs, drawing your navel in towards your spine, keeping your hips lifted up towards the sky.
- As you do this, keep your feet where they are but lift your heels up so you are on the balls of your feet.
- Bring your knees up into the back of your triceps as you shift your weight forward into your fingertips.
- Keep your abs engaged as your lift your feet off the floor as shown. If you are new to crow pose, you can practice lifting one foot at a time off the floor.
- Helpful tip: You may have to start with the elbows bent for balance. However, the full pose is performed with the elbows straight. As you use this routine to improve your core and upper body strength, you will begin to find yourself able to straighten your elbows more and more into the full expression of the pose!
- Bring your eye gaze just past your fingertips for balance
- Try to hold for 5 full breaths and practice this yoga pose 3-5x
- Helpful tip: Erin Motz (a.k.a Bad Yogi) has some great modifications for this pose, you can check them out here!
I used to get so frustrated when I would attempt side crow and failed time and time again. What I wasn’t realizing was that yes this is an arm balance and yes this yoga pose requires core strength, however there is one key factor that must come into play to be able to perform this pose!
HELPUL TIP: You must twist enough from the spine to give yourself enough space to place the outer edge of one upper arm around the outside of the opposite thigh. This will make more sense once I outline the pose, but this is SO important! If you do not have the flexibility in your spine yet to do this, you can check out some great yoga routines to improve flexibility here and here!
Ok so Let’s get to it already!
- Bend your knees so you are in a half-squat, thighs parallel to the floor. If your heels don’t touch the floor you can rest the on a folded blanket.
- Pull your navel in towards your spine as much as you possibly can as you inhale and take your left elbow to the outside of your right thigh.
- Exhale as your twist your torso to the right, bringing your left lower ribs across towards your right thigh as far as you can
- Continue to move more deeply into the twist with each breath, bringing your outer left arm closer towards the right knee
- Once you’ve found your maximum rotation, sink your hips deeply, then plant your hands down on the floor beside you. You will likely need to come up onto the balls of your feet, if you are not there already.
- Bend your elbows back at a 90 degree angle almost as if you are creating a shelf ( think chaturanga arm).
- Try not to let your shoulders drop, keep them in line with your elbows
- Shift your hips slightly towards the right and gently lift both feet off the floor and draw your heels toward your butt!
- Keep your knees stacked directly on top of one another and work on lifting your shins parallel to the floor
- Over time, you can work on progressing to straightening your arms!
- Hold this yoga pose for 5 breaths and repeat 5x
So there you have it friends! I hope you enjoy and have as fun with this routine as I did creating it! Email me with any questions and feel free to comment once you try it! I love hearing from all of you!
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Until next time,
Dr. Allie Flowers, PT, DPT, RYT