Struggling with stubborn arm fat that won't budge? Finding everyday lifting a bit challenging? Or perhaps you're dreaming of doing those fancy yoga arm-balancing postures you see on Instagram? If so, you'll surely be interested to learn all about yoga for the arms.
While yoga is commonly associated with flexibility, its benefits go far beyond just touching your toes. Dynamic “yang” yoga styles such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa can effectively tone your arms and improve upper body strength.
In this article, I'm sharing the 10 best yoga poses for sculpting strong arms and step-by-step guidance on how to do them. So slip into your favorite yoga pants, roll out your mat, and get ready to wave goodbye to saggy or weak arms.
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10 best yoga poses for arm strength
If your goal is to strengthen your arms, focus your yoga practice on building upper body strength. This means targeting the shoulder, chest, and upper back muscles as well as the arms (biceps and triceps).
By doing this, you'll create well-rounded strength and stability in your upper body, resulting in lean and toned arms and improved ease in exercise and daily tasks.
Here are five “yoga for the arms” postures you should add to your practice.
1. One-Leg Down Dog (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward dog is one of the best yoga poses for building arm and shoulder strength. It works the same muscles as in the overhead press weightlifting exercise; the pectoral muscles, deltoids, triceps, trapezius, and erector spinae. Thus, it is safe to say this common asana has a lot going on!
Lifting one leg in a down dog shifts more weight onto your upper body, causing the arm and shoulder muscles to work more.
If you've been practicing yoga for a while, and you feel that you have done TOO MANY downward dogs, or perhaps this asana no longer feels challenging, I recommend adding the one-leg variation to your practice.
Here's how to do one-leg down dog:
- From a downward facing dog position, lift one leg, reaching the toes to the sky.
- Ensure your fingers are spread and palms firmly grounded to protect your wrist joints
- Hold for 5 breaths, release the leg, and raise the opposite leg.
2. Plank Pose (Phalakasana)
When thinking about yoga for the arms, the plank pose is probably one of the first postures that come to mind. When we hold a plank, various muscles in the upper body engage, including the biceps, triceps, trapezius, rhomboid major and minor, serratus anterior, and deltoids.
Thus, adding multiple planks to your daily yoga practice is one of the most surefire ways to build all-around upper strength and eliminate those flabby arms!
However, while plank is one of the most effective yoga for arms postures, it also carries a high risk of injury if you do not practice the correct alignment.
Here’s how to do plank pose:
- From the downward dog pose, shift your weight forwards, bringing your shoulders directly over your wrists and the hips align with the body.
- Spread the fingers and press firmly into the palms, distributing the weight between all four corners.
- Activate the shoulders by pulling the shoulder blades away from each other.
3. Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
Dolphin pose involves bearing weight on the forearms, similar to a forearm plank. However, the raised hip position shifts more weight to the upper body, adding an extra dimension of challenge.
The dolphin pose opens the upper back and strengthens the shoulder girdle, biceps, and triceps. So as well as helping to cultivate lean and strong arms, it is a wonderful pose for increasing stability in the upper body.
Here's how to do dolphin pose:
- Come into a forearm plank from a tabletop position by bringing your forearms to the ground with the elbows shoulder width apart and palms facing down.
- With your shoulders stacked directly over the elbows, extend your legs behind you, bringing your body in one straight line. You should feel the core strongly activated here.
- Next, slowly walk your feet toward you, lifting your hips to the sky as you do so. Walk your feet as far in as you can without bending your knees.
- Let your head hang between your arms (but not on the ground) as you hold for five breaths.
- For an extra challenge, lift one leg to the sky, hold for a breath, release the leg, and repeat with the other.
4. Crow Pose (Kakasana)
While all arm balances are incredibly strengthening for the arms, the crow pose is often the first one people learn. In arm balances like crow, your entire body weight is not only held up by your upper body but also balanced in the air. Thus, if you practice arm balances regularly, you can build noticeable strength in the arms, wrists, and shoulders.
One of the biggest fears around arm balances is the fear of falling. So if you are new to crow pose, I recommend placing a pillow in front of you. That way, if you lose your balance and fall forward, you'll have a soft landing.
Here's how to do crow pose:
- Start in malasana (squat pose) with your sit bones close to the ground and knees out wide.
- Place your palms flat on the ground in front of you between your feet. Spread the fingers.
- Lift your hips while keeping your upper body low. Bring your knees to the outside of the upper arms.
- Rock your weight forwards so that you feel your knees press into your triceps. At this point, you should be on the tips of your toes.
- Either stay here getting used to the weight on your arms or float one foot off the ground and then the other.
- If you lift both feet off the ground, bring the big toes to touch and keep your gaze forwards, not down.
- Hold for five breaths or as long as you can.
5. Forearm Stand (Pincha Mayurasana)
Forearm stand (Pincha Mayurasana) is a challenging and advanced inversion that takes time and patience to master. Not only do you need a lot of strength and stability in the upper body to enter the forearm stand, but you also need a strong core, spatial awareness, and good weight distribution to hold the inversion.
The dolphin pose (mentioned above) is the best preparatory pose for the forearm stand. I also find it extremely helpful to loop a secure strap around the upper arms when learning this pose. This keeps the elbows from flaring out and helps you maintain shoulder engagement.
Here's how to do pincha mayurasana:
- Enter the forearm stand from the dolphin pose. You may prefer to do this with the wall behind you.
- First, start by lifting one leg at a time and then both legs together, bringing your feet directly over your body.
- Draw your front ribs in, hug the inner thighs and shins together, and press the base of the big toe up to the ceiling.
Yoga for biceps
Our biceps are the most prominent muscles of the upper arms, facilitating lifting and pulling movements. Having toned biceps doesn't just look good, but it also makes daily tasks easier to perform.
Here are two of the best yoga poses for strengthening the biceps.
6. Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Chaturanga Dandasana is an excellent pose for strengthening the biceps along with the triceps and pecs, as it works similarly to the standard push-up. The key difference is that instead of pushing yourself back up to plank, you transition into the upward-facing dog pose (as part of the sun salutation sequence).
Here's how to do chaturanga dandasana:
- Start in a plank position with the shoulders directly over the wrists.
- Bend your elbows, hugging them into your ribs as you lower halfway to the floor. Be careful; the elbows tend to wing out to the sides if the arm muscles are weak.
- Keep your core engaged to ensure your hips align with your body as you lower down.
- Before releasing your body to the floor, press into your hands and straighten your arms, lifting your chest into an upward dog. The hips should lower but remain hovering off the ground. Press your chest forward and draw your shoulders away from the ears.
7. Side Plank (Utthita Vasisthasana)
The side plank requires you to balance all your weight on one arm, requiring deep engagement of the bicep, deltoid, and obliques. Along with holding the side plank for several breaths, dynamically transitioning from plank to side plank can be highly effective.
Here's how to do side plank:
- To transition from the plank pose, shift your weight into your right hand as you turn your body to the side.
- Stack the left leg over the right and ensure your shoulder is directly over your wrist.
- Keep the left hip lifting so that the body remains in one line.
- Keep your left hand on the top hip or reach it up. You can also float the left leg off the right one for an extra challenge.
- Hold for five to ten breaths and then repeat on the other side.
If you have weak or sensitive wrists, you can do the side plank on the forearms instead.
Yoga poses for triceps
The tricep muscles are equally as crucial as the biceps, responsible for our ability to hold, push and pull our body weight. Moreover, weak triceps typically cause an undesirable flabby arm appearance, also known as bat wings.
Considering this, focusing on tricep-strengthening postures is the best way to lose arm fat in yoga. The following yoga poses will help to combat the flab, improve functional strength, and increase stability and range of motion in the shoulder joints.
8. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Bow pose is an active extension posture where the arms reach back and press away from the torso. However, unlike in the similar asana locust pose, you grab your feet and actively press into your hands in this position. This action creates resistance and builds strength in the triceps.
Here's how to do bow pose:
- Start in a prone position with your legs extended behind you and arms by your sides.
- Bend your knees as you lift your arms, reaching towards your ankles or feet.
- Grabbing from the outside of the ankles or feet, gently press your feet toward your hands, creating a lift in the chest.
- Allow the chest to come off the ground, arching the spine and looking straight ahead.
- Continue pressing the feet into the hands while creating resistance in the arms. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
9. Upward Plank (Purvottanasana)
An upward plank involves bringing the arms into a backward extension while pressing into the ground to lift and bear the body's weight. The triceps engage and extend as you actively press the hands away from the feet.
Here's how to do upward plank:
- From a seated position with your legs extended and feet together, bring your hands behind you
- Point your fingers towards the feet and stack the shoulders directly over the wrists.
- Press the chest up, and keep the hips lifted and thighs activated by hugging them toward each other.
- Drop the head slightly back with your gaze to the sky.
For a gentler variation of the upward plank, try the upward tabletop. The knees are bent in this variation, bringing more weight into the lower body.
10. Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
Cow face pose (Gomukhasana) involves the external rotation of one shoulder and the internal rotation of the other one. Both movements call for triceps engagement, helping to reduce arm fat while improving shoulder mobility and stability.
Here's how to do gomukhasana:
- From a seated position, reach your right arm up to the sky, then bend the elbow, bringing the fingertips to the upper back (palm facing in).
- Next, reach your left arm behind your lower back, bend the elbow, and reach the fingertips up your back (palm facing out).
- Try to clasp both hands here. If this is too difficult, use a strap instead, holding onto it with both hands.
- Keep your top elbow pointing up, chest open, and spine straight as you hold the stretch for five breaths.
Takeaway on yoga for the arms
While yoga for the arms probably won't give you the bulging biceps of a weightlifter, it can help you lose excess fat, tone up, and increase your strength and stability. If this is your goal, focus on strengthening dynamic styles of yoga like Ashtanga and Vinyasa, including the above arm strengthening postures in each session.
Other articles you might enjoy for further asana understanding: Best malasana modifications, how to do parsva balasana, the best yoga poses to build strong abs, and the best yoga stretches for lean legs.
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