When I first started yoga years ago, I immediately fell in love with the form called “power” yoga.
It’s essentially a series of movements in which you go through at a fast pace while concentrating on breath.
Toward the end of class, however, we’d always work on some form of arm balance or headstand.
This is where I’d start to consider leaving early.
I’d watch all these men and women float up into a crow pose or headstand without any semblance of effort… while I peeked up from my child’s pose, sweating profusely from the vinyasas (flow of movement) that we had finished a full 5 minutes ago.
So when I started yoga again after a few years-long hiatus, I didn’t expect much.
I thought I’d be lagging behind again, coming out of poses early because they burned my legs so badly, and watching other people do those balances I had lusted over for so long…
And then I surprised myself.
I never had to come out of a pose early. I was stretching farther than other people in class. I was doing freaking arm balances!
All the moves I’d never thought I could do I was doing. All the things that were too hard for me to hold before, I was now holding without the crazy burn!
I am able to do so much more now than I have in the past because of my comprehensive strength program.
When I strength train, I’m not just doing deadlifts and push ups. I work myself (and all my clients) from all angles, incorporating stability and core work into the mix. I am proud to say that my functional, full-body workouts have improved my yoga practice… and I wasn’t even aiming for it!
I want you to be able to surprise yourself in yoga, too, so I’ve compiled a list of the moves I think contributed best to my overall strength and balance improvements. These moves are especially good for those that practice yoga because you’ll be familiar with the movements, but if you’re not a yoga fanatic, no worries! You can still get a great, long and lean body from this full-body workout!
More good news? All you’ll need for this workout is bodyweight or–if you’re advanced–1 dumbbell or a heavy water bottle!
See you on the flip side! …meaning upside down ’cause I can finally hold a headstand without the wall! BOOM!
Lunge with Twist
Good for: Warrior poses, Crescent pose, balance, deep lunges, twists, flexibility, legs and core.
1. Standing up straight, feet hip distance apart.
2. Holding your dumbbell/water bottle at your chest and keeping the elbows wide, lunge forward with your right foot.
3. Keep abs in tight as you twist your chest to the right. Nothing below your waist should move! (hips, knees)
4. Twist back front and push back to start position. Repeat on opposite side (stepping forward with left foot and twisting to left) to complete 1 rep.
Do 8-15 reps depending on how hard this is for you! Go til it burns, but not so far as to lose good form!
Injury awareness: If you have any issues with the disks in your back, skip the twist unless you are with a trainer that can make sure your spine is stabilized. If you have hip or knee injuries, be very careful on this one; don’t push yourself to the point of tweaky pain or re-injury!
Chaturunga Push Up/Dive Bombers
Good for: Chaturunga (duh), arm balances, shoulder, chest, arm and core strength.
Newer to yoga? Start here:
1. From a plank position, lower your chest until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle, elbows close to the body.
2. Swoop your chest forward and up until your arms are straight, back is arched (updog position).
•Push into your hands, pulling your neck out of your shoulders (instead of sinking into them).
•Don’t crane your neck; relax and simply look forward or a little bit up.
•If your back is hurting, let your knees come down to the ground or don’t straighten your arms completely.
3. Pull your abs in to lift your belly back up to a straight plank position for your second rep.
Do 8-15 of those depending on how hard they are for you.
For the advanced yogis out there, you’ll be doing the dive bomber:
1. From down dog, keeping your hips reaching to the ceiling, aim the top of your head between your hands and lower on an angle as you bend your elbows.
•Keep your shoulders reaching toward your hips and away from your ears.
•Imagine there’s a limbo bar poised just over your hands. Sweep your body underneath it!
2. Sweep through to up dog, trying to get your chest and belly as close as possible to the floor without landing on it.
3. Picking your abs up first, push back into down dog and repeat.
Do 6-12 of these depending on how hard it is for you.
Injury awareness: If you have ever had any spinal or shoulder-related issues, you may want to steer clear of this move. It might jank-ify things in there for you.
Good for: Arm balances, Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II (the surprise at the end of the video ;)), core strength, core and hip flexibility, arm and shoulder strength.
Ok, any chance I have to tie in a superhero with an exercise move, I’ll take, but these really are killer.
1. Start in a plank position with butt squeezing and abs pulling up into the spine.
2. Lift your right knee and pull it out to the side of you, bringing it to lightly touch the outside of your right arm (ideally above your elbow).
3. Slowly return your leg to the starting plank position and repeat on the left side. That’s 1 rep.
Try for 10 of these, each side. The slower you go, the harder it is and the more it will work your core (read: you’ll be wearing that Spidey suit sans lovehandles in no time).
Injury awareness: If you have any laterally-herniated discs in your spine, hold a regular plank instead. You’ll still work your core without the risk of pushing fluid out of the bumpers between your vertabra! Shoulder, neck, elbow or wrist issues? Feel it out: if it hurts in a bad way, stop and try something else like a forearm plank (you can see the video for that here).
Side Plank With Twist
Good for: Side arm balance, arm balances, twists, core, butt, arms and shoulders.
1. From the forearm, lie on your side, lining your hips and feet on top of each other.
2. Push up to a straight plank keeping everything in alignment (you should be a straight line from your heels to the crown of your head), and reach up to the ceiling with your free arm.
3. With your free arm, reach under and behind your body without moving your forearm or feet.
•the further you reach underneath yourself, the harder this gets and the deeper you’ll feel it!
4. Squeeze your abs and your butt to bring you back to the starting side plank position.
Not hard enough? Hold a dumbbell with your free hand. Have fun with that. ;)
Go for 8-12 each side for 2-3 sets… and stop crying, you’re almost done! ;)
Injury awareness: Again with the laterally-herniated spinal issues- this one’s a no-go. Try forearm side plank instead or even better: a plank circuit (for video click here). If you have any rotator cuff or neck injuries, this one could be tricky so just see how you feel and don’t push through any yucky pain. Burn=good. Shooting pain=bad.
Ok, so now that I’ve had my excuse to share pictures of me doing arm balances (can you tell I’m excited?!), I invite you all to try it out, too!
Not a yogi? I challenge you to try a class this week!
It will work you in a different way than you’re used to and hey, the yogis are trying strength training this week thanks to this workout. We owe them one. ;)
Not near a studio or just don’t have the funds? There are some cool classes at Yogaglo.com for pretty cheap or free! Check out their beginner section here (not affiliated with yogaglo; I just think it’s cool what they’re doing over there).
If you really liked this workout, let me know in the comments below! I may have another one in the works if you guys dig this one.