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These 7 yoga moves are an effective arm and shoulder workout

Build arm and shoulder strength with these effective yoga moves

a man doing a side plank
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The idea of “arm day” might include visualizations of lifting heavy dumbbells and barbells — the higher the weight, the more you optimize your arm and shoulder workout. Alternatively, you may think of using lighter weights and even body weight but doing more repetitions more quickly.

Both arm workouts can be beneficial in building functional upper-body strength, enabling you to open doors, reach high on shelves, and live with less pain. However, there’s another mean upper-body workout you may want to consider: Yoga. Seriously.

While yoga is often thought of as stretching — and it is — you do more than lengthen on a mat. Like calisthenics, yoga poses offer a chance to build strength using your body weight. Some yoga poses are better arm and shoulder exercises than others, though. Knowing which poses to focus on will allow you to get the most bang for your buck if you’re looking for a good arm workout. Try these yoga poses during your next upper-body day.

a man in yoga class in easy pose
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Does yoga build shoulder strength?

Yoga isn’t all breathwork and stretching — though you’ll likely do both during a session. Some poses are also fantastic arm exercises. For instance, planks don’t just work the core. Instead, a plank pose forces you to hold yourself up by your arms and shoulders, helping to build strength in both.

Yes, there will probably be stretching involved between strength-building exercises. That’s another part of yoga’s appeal, though. These stretches increase mobility, which allows you to keep your body in the game (or continue to exercise, whether you want to do more yoga or other shoulder workouts involving weights). Consider yoga a holistic approach to upper-body health.

Plus, you can do yoga anywhere, anytime, since you only need body weight. No access to a gym on vacation? You don’t need to skip arm day.

a man in plank pose
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7 yoga poses that make great arm and shoulder workouts

Ready to put down the weights and hit the mat? If you want to turn your yoga practice into an excellent arm and shoulder workout, consider trying these seven moves.

Yoga push-ups

Muscles targeted: Triceps, chest, and shoulders.

  1. Assume the plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. The feet should be spread slightly, and your back should be straight. Avoid curving the lower back inward. (You can modify by placing your knees on the floor)
  2. Pull your body forward and keep elbows above the hands as you lower chest-first to the mat.
  3. Push yourself back up.
  4. You can add to this pose by raising the hips toward the ceiling and ending in a down dog before returning to start.

High planks

Targets: Core, back, shoulders, and biceps

  1. Get into a hands and knees position with arms directly under shoulders. Press the palms softly — but firmly – into your yoga mat and roll the shoulders back and down.
  2.  While you can remain in this position, step the legs straight out behind you to progress a plank. The balls of the feet should stay on the floor. Squeeze the glutes.
  3. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

Chaturanga

Targets: Shoulders, biceps, and triceps

  1. Assume a high plank position as detailed above.
  2. Move the body slightly forward so your shoulders are in front of the wrists and you are on your tip-toes in plank pose.
  3. Bend slowly at the elbow, lowering yourself to the mat.
  4. You will end in the upward-facing dog. To assume this yoga pose, point the toes so the tops rest on the floor. Straighten the arms. Draw your chest up and forward and your shoulders up and back. Lift your torso off the floor as you gaze toward the ceiling with your torso off the floor.

Dolphin pose

Targets: Arms, upper back, and shoulders

  1. Start on your hands and knees with wrists and shoulders and knees and hips in one line.
  2. Bend the elbows so the forearms are touching the floor. Keep palms facing down.
  3.  Tuck your toes and raise your hips so your tailbone faces the ceiling.
  4. Straighten the legs, making a reverse “V-shape” with the floor. The head should be between the forearms.

Downward-facing dog

Targets: Shoulders and biceps

  1. Get in the hands and knees position. Place wrists directly under the shoulders and keep knees and hips aligned.
  2. Keeping the palms firmly rooted on the floor, lift the hips and gently straighten the legs.
  3. Like the dolphin pose, you aim to make a reverse “V-shape.” The distinction between the down dog and dolphin pose is that the head and forearms will remain off the floor in the former.

Side plank

Targets: Shoulders

  1. Start on the floor, resting on your right forearm. Your elbow should be bent. Keep the legs straight and feet stacked on top of one another.
  2. Lift your hips off the mat while keeping your right forearm planted on the floor. The body should remain in a straight line.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Switch side and repeat.

Lunge with cow face arms

Targets: Rotator cuff

  1. Stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Take a giant step forward with the right leg, about three feet. Bend at the knee, keeping the left leg straight.
  3. Draw the left arm up and over your back. Your elbow should point toward the ceiling. Place your hand between your shoulder blades.
  4. Take your right arm around the back. Have your right and left hands engage in a handshape.
  5. Straighten the spine as you move the elbows away from one another.
  6. Repeat on the opposite arm and leg.
yoga and kettlebell on track
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Summary

Depending on your chosen poses, yoga can provide an excellent arm and shoulder workout. For instance, side and high planks require you to use arm strength to hold yourself up, and push-ups are included in some yoga practices. Yogis do push-ups during chaturanga, which is a part of nearly any practice, regardless of whether you’re doing Vinyasa, hatha, hot yoga, or yin. The breaks and stretching involved in yoga can speed up recovery, helping you function better daily and return to the mat or gym for another workout soon. Yoga doesn’t have to be a standalone arm and shoulder workout — weights can undoubtedly be a part of your upper-body regimen. However, yoga is worth spicing up your fitness routine while building strength and mobility.

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BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
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