Yoga is infamous for its ability to increase flexibility and reduce stress—but experienced yogis know how important muscular strength is for a successful yoga practice. Many of the more challenging and advanced poses require a tremendous amount of upper body strength, and weakness in the arms can lead to misalignment and injury when attempting these poses. The forearm or lower arm is often the weakest link in the kinetic chain of upper body strength. It is especially important to focus on strengthening the muscles in the forearm to prevent wrist strain and to progress into arm balances and inversions. By regularly practicing several specific forearm strengthening yoga poses your arms will feel less like jelly and you’ll be able to flow with grace and ease through your yoga practice!
What are the benefits of forearm and upper body strength in yoga?
• Reduces the risk of injury
• Allows vinyasa between plank, chaturanga, up dog and down dog to be easeful and safe
• Prepares you to progress towards arm balances and inversions
Four Tips to boost arm strength in asanas
1. Engage Hasta Bandha
Hasta bandha, aka the hand lock, is a subtle muscular engagement that has a big impact on strengthening the hands, wrists, and forearms. Use Hasta bandha on all yoga poses where the weight is bearing into the hands by pressing the weight out through the fingers and joints while creating a slight drawing upwards through the center of your palm. This movement helps engage your arm muscles, draws the energy up your arms, and should relieve most of the pressure on your wrists. Table pose is a great pose to start to explore and refine your hasta bandha before using it in more challenging yoga positions.
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2. Micro-bend the elbows
Creating a very slight bend, just enough to unlock the joint, is called a micro-bend. Adding a micro-bend in weight-bearing poses with straight arms will require you to fully engage your muscles to support your weight. Locking out your joints bears the weight primarily through the joint bones, instead of your muscles. By creating a micro-bend in the elbows in your yoga poses you engage the arm muscles as much as possible to boost strength and stability.
3. Hug arms toward your midline
Isometrically drawing or hugging the hands and arm bones towards your midline creates a muscular engagement through your arms and stabilized the whole upper body. This very subtle muscular action also supports the general health and connectivity of the joints.
4. Slowly increase hold time or vinyasa repetitions
You can build up your upper arm strength through flowing between poses, and you can build isometric strength while holding poses. Start by holding each pose for a few slow breaths and pay close attention to alignment. As you feel your isometric strength build up then you can continue to build strength by slowly increasing your time by a few breaths each week or by flowing through a sequence of forearm strengthening poses several times.
Yoga Poses To Strengthen Your Arms
The following seven poses are the most effective and accessible asanas to build strength in the upper body. Each pose is linked to our yoga pose index that shows multiple photos of the position, step-by-step instructions, benefits, variations, and modifications. The first four poses form the core vinyasa flow found in the sun salutations and will give you a solid foundation of upper body strength. Follow the modifications and actions specific to each of the below poses to focus on building strength in the arms.
This famous yoga pose can be used to build strength from the fingertips to the upper back. You can bend knees or have legs wide apart to shift the focus of the muscular engagement towards the upper body and make down dog easier to hold.
This asana is a universal exercise to builds strength in hands and forearms. Plank is a core-strengthening yoga pose that creates the foundation for chaturanga and side plank. You can lower knees to the floor to make the pose easier.
Chaturanga Dandasana, also known as pushup pose, requires excellent alignment to keep this yoga movement safe. Make sure you have a 90-degree angle from your shoulder, elbow, wrist and to the floor to prevent any strain in the joints. You can lower knees to the floor to make the pose easier to do repetitions or hold for a few breaths.
Beginners should start with cobra pose and work on slowly increasing the engagement of the arms to lift higher in the pose. For both cobra and up dog, it’s best to play with the amount of bend in the elbows to build strength through the entire arm. As you hold the pose, you can inhale and slightly straighten the arms and exhale bend the elbows back to the original position.
Dolphin pose is a great alternative to down dog if you have sensitive wrists or want to build more strength in the shoulders. You can bend the knees or have the legs wide apart to shift the focus to the upper body. To really challenge your upper body strength you can flow between dolphin and forearm plank.
This asana is not recommended for beginners, as this challenging pose requires good balance and core strength to hold for more than a breath. You can modify side plank by having the top leg bent 90-degrees with the foot on the ground. You can reduce the amount of balance needed and focus more on upper arm strength by coming onto the lower forearm with the elbow bent at 90-degrees.
Beginners should start with reverse tabletop pose and build up to inclined plane pose. Both poses are challenging but are excellent at building strength in the arms, core, glutes, and hamstrings. These are two good poses to transition to supine poses at the end of practice. If wrists are sensitive modify pose by making fists or experiment with changing the direction of fingers.
Know Your Limits
Since there is not a lot of poses that target the forearms, approach the above postures slowly with great care on form and alignment, or an injury may occur. Be especially mindful of the wrists as they can be easily strained with forearm strengthening yoga poses. Give yourself permission to modify, use props and to come out of the pose early if you need a break. Remember to be patient, kind and gentle with yourself as you build a strong upper body foundation.
As you add these postures into your yoga routine you will soon begin to enjoy powerful, toned, and lean arms. Although these poses can be challenging at first, they will all award you with many benefits if you stick with it. You may find it helpful to use traditional weight-bearing exercises to increase your forearm strength to help support and make these upper body building poses more easeful and fun.