Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
We could all use a little more strength and power in our practice. Whether you’re looking to build to tricky arm balances and balancing postures or increase your overall physical performance, these yoga poses for strength will make those muscles work. Practiced consistently (and correctly!) over time, these poses will make you stronger—and prepare you for those advanced asanas. Suddenly, you’ll feel more powerful and ready to tackle that Handstand (yes, really).
Why building strength matters
Beyond fostering the ability to conquer those challenging poses, strength is important for your overall health. Working on your body’s physical strength can produce higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as the “good cholesterol” in your body, increase your bone density—and even improve your thinking skills. And who doesn’t want a sharper brain?
In your yoga practice, building strength has the added benefit of improving your flexibility. A 2011 study on the impact of short-term strength training in women found that it not only helped build muscle—it also increased flexibility.
So what are you waiting for? We talked to Nicole Calhoun, creator of the power-style ELXR yoga classes—and bonafide expert in working those muscles through yoga—to learn some of her favorite strengthening yoga poses. So, the next time your body craves that shaking/burning/fire feeling, skip the weights and try these nine yoga poses for strength.
Yoga poses for core strength
Whether you love or hate this pose, there’s no denying it’s an excellent core strengthener. “This is my go-to for activation of deep abdominal layers like the transverse abdominals, as opposed to superficial muscles like our “six-pack” abdominal muscles,” says Calhoun. “Deep core stabilization and strength are very crucial for low back stabilization and for reducing low back pain.” Still struggling to get this pose right? Check out our tips on making Boat Pose a little easier.
Looking for a pose that will strengthen your core and your arms? Try this variation of a traditional Tabletop. In addition to firing up all of your muscles, this posture will allow you to work on your balance and stability.
“This another great deep core strengthener,” says Calhoun. “It’s essentially a Tabletop with the knees lifted about an inch off the ground. This is great to feel the transverse abdominals wrapping around your waist during the pose.”
Side Low Boat V-Ups
You’re familiar with Boat Pose—and you may have tried some V-style sit-ups—but why don’t combine them into the ultimate core-strengthening move? This is a great option for targeting the hard-to-reach side areas of your core muscles and digging deeper into your oblique muscles.
Here’s how to do this variation of Boat Pose: “From Low Boat roll to the right into a Low Side Boat,” says Calhoun. “From there, v-up—bridging the knees into the chest—then, return to [the] beginning. This is FIRE for the obliques!”
Yoga poses for arm strength
I mean, we couldn’t not include this famous arm-strengthening pose when talking about poses for arm strength. Building strength in this pose will help you with challenging arm balances, from Eka Pada Koundinyanasana II (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya II) to Bakasana (Crane/Crow Pose).
“Iconic for its ability to strengthen the arms and shoulders when performed correctly, this one is a given,” says Calhoun. “Not only does it strengthen large muscle groups like the triceps and biceps, it strengthens the rotator cuff, which stabilizes the shoulder during your practice.”
While variations of Plank Pose are famous for their core-strengthening powers, planks are also a great way to build your arm strength. In addition to strengthening your arm muscles, this posture works on your shoulder stability and balance—key elements to any strong yoga practice.
“Like Chaturanga, this [pose] will strengthen large muscles and the rotator cuff, but it does it one arm at a time,” Calhoun says. Have a sense that one of your sides is a little stronger than the other? This pose can help you determine that. “This is great for distinguishing variations in strength between the left and right arms,” Calhoun says.
Looking for a way to strengthen your shoulders? Try out this yoga pose. While it may initially look easy, this pose requires strength—and flexibility. This is also a good prep pose to do if you’re working on mastering inversions like Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand) or Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand).
“This is great for strengthening the shoulders in an overhead position to prepare for poses like Handstand and Forearm Stand,” says Calhoun. “It targets the large deltoids and triceps, while also building flexibility in the upper back.”
Yoga poses for leg strength
This posture is a sneaky leg-strengthener. While you may move into it feeling very confident in your ability to hold it for an extended period of time, suddenly, your quads and calves will start burning. You’ll be strengthening—and toning—those leg muscles in no time.
“High lunge is my favorite,” says Calhoun. “It’s a very accessible pose for most and targets the quads, hamstrings, and the glutes when actively pressing into the heel of the front foot.”
Single-Leg Chair Pose
Ready for a more challenging variation of Utkatasana (Chair Pose)? Try this one-legged version to target each of your legs individually. This variation will help you work on your balance, stability—and of course, your leg strength. This is a great pose to do if you’re working on nailing other one-legged balancing postures, like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III).
“[This pose] is very good for strengthening the quads, glutes, and hamstrings when the body weight is placed in the heel of the standing foot,” says Calhoun.