How to Use Yoga to Strengthen Your Arms
You can work on getting strong and well-formed arms with yoga as if you were lifting dumbbells and bars.
Several large and small muscles in your upper body help you curl your fingers, move your hands, flex your wrists, extend your elbows, and lift your arms.
Muscles of the Arms
The three most important muscles of your arms for daily activities are the biceps, triceps, and deltoids.
The biceps muscles go along the front of the upper arms. They help to bend the elbows.
The triceps muscles go along the back of the upper arms. They help to extend the elbows and straighten the arms.
The deltoids are the outer layer of the upper arms where they meet the shoulders. They help you lift the arms to the sides and to the front, extend the arms behind you, and rotate your arms in and out.
We highly recommend adding poses that strengthen the arms to your yoga routine. In addition to its many physical and mental benefits, Yoga practice is considered resistance training because we use the body as resistance.
Poses where you place your palms on the yoga mat and use them to support your weight fortify your arms and shoulders.
Standing poses where your arms must work to resist the sinking pull of gravity develop arm strength as well. Keep your arms steady and straight when you reach out in standing poses, such as Warrior I, Warrior II, and Warrior III.
Challenge Your Arms With Standing Poses
Muscles need 24 to 48 hours to recover from any strength-building session, whether you exercise in a weight room or on a yoga mat.
If you overwork your arms and shoulders every day with the same routine, you might end up exhausting yourself and hurting your arms instead of boosting their strength.
Find a way to discover what is the optimal downtime between sessions for you. When you first start, structure your yoga sessions so that you do not concentrate on working your arms, or working them in the same way, two days in a row.
Your body will grow stronger with time, no matter your age or level of fitness.
In the Yoga Wellness Educator professional training that I am currently taking, we place great emphasis on modifying traditional poses to meet the individual abilities of the people we teach. We have them start with poses that are adjusted to their capabilities, and gradually lead them to do the complete non-adjusted ones.
Use Your Body as Free Weight
Try this sequence of yoga movements if you want to build the strength that people get from weight training, without having to lift dumbbells or bars.
Start in the Plank pose. Hold this pose for a few breaths. Do several push-ups, lowering to Plank Halfway Down (Chaturanga) and coming back into Plank. Keep your legs and upper body in a straight line. Make sure you push your hands down on the mat as if you are pushing the floor away from you. This will work the muscles of the upper back and the abdominals at the same time as you work your arms.
Plank Halfway Down is a pose that assumes the same position as a Triceps Push-up. It builds upper body and core strength.
Occasionally, change the position of your hands when you lower into Plank Halfway Down. In the traditional pose, your fingers point ahead and tone the front of the deltoids, triceps, and the chest muscles. If instead you point your fingers toward your toes, your biceps muscles will engage.
Sometimes, you might find it difficult to hold your body in a straight line on your hands and toes. In this case, lower the knees to the floor as this will reduce the weight on your hands.
From Plank, move into Side Plank (Vasisthasana), go back to Plank, and then to Side Plank on the other side.
To do a Side Plank, hold your body on one side in a straight position supported only by one arm and the side of one foot.
The Side Plank is useful in strengthening the oblique abdominal muscles. These do not get used during abdominal exercises such as crunches. The Side Plank builds stability in the shoulders and strength in the triceps.
Repeat this sequence several times if you can.
How Long do You Hold Each Pose?
Start by holding a pose for two to three normal breaths. If you want to get more from this sequence of poses, hold each pose for six to eight breaths.
More Advanced Poses to Boost Arms Strength
- Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar).
When your arms become strong and able to support your whole weight, you can learn to do the:
- Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) and
- eadstand (Sirsasana) to build even stronger arms and shoulders. Learn to do Headstand from an experienced teacher who can monitor the safety of your neck in this pose.
“Strong-Arm Tactics” article by Alisa Bauman. Yoga Journal August 28, 2007.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.