Master Baptiste Yoga teacher Leah Cullis, who leads YJ’s online course Pillars of Power Yoga, demonstrates 10 poses that tone and strengthen your arms without adding bulk.
Yoga is an incredible way to build upper body strength and tone and sculpt all the muscles in the arms WITHOUT bulking up. When I lift weights I can create muscle mass quickly, so working out at the gym always made me feel bigger and more dense, rather than stronger and more confident in my body. It wasn’t until I committed to Baptiste Yoga—using my own body weight to build strength—that I started to see results that were unique to my own body and practice.
These 10 poses will help you cultivate long, lean muscles in your arms without creating bulk. They will also make you feel more open, more energized, and more in touch with your personal power. Before you begin this sequence, I recommend warming up with at least 3 rounds of Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B. You can practice these poses as they are in the sequence or add them into your own practice independently. Hold each pose for 5 breaths unless otherwise noted. And remember to rest in Child’s Pose whenever you need a break.
Come into Downward-Facing Dog: Plant your hands shoulder-distance apart or wider at the top of your mat, spread your fingers, and root down through your knuckles. Lift your hips high and step your feet to the back of the mat. Separate your feet hips-width apart, and align your feet at 12 o’clock. From the skin to the muscles to the bones, hug in, and firm your arms and legs. With an inhale, lift your right leg high, straight and strong, lifting from your inner right thigh. Flex your lifted foot, and turn all five toes to face the ground. Lengthen from your right wrist through your right heel, and repeat on the other side.
Stack your shoulders over your wrists and extend your heels to the back of your mat in Plank. Ground your knuckles into your mat, soften your thoracic spine (upper and middle back), and hug your thumbs toward the center of your mat. Firm your arm and leg muscles to the bones. Extend your crown forward and reach your heels back. Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels and lift your low belly up and in.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose
From Plank, press into the first two knuckles (thumb and index finger) of each hand with your palms flat. Lift your gaze slightly and shift forward to your toes, and bend your elbows to 90 degrees directly over your wrists. Plug your arm bones on your back and open across your chest. Lengthen through your side body, knit your front ribs in, and lift your low belly.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Press your palms to the floor at the top of the mat at shoulder-distance apart, and the tops of your feet to the back of your mat at hips-distance apart. Root down through the triads of your hands, press the earth away from you as you draw your upper arm bones back, and lift and open across your chest. Stack your shoulders over your wrists, and soften your elbows slightly. Engage your quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and abdomen to lift the front of your thighs off the mat.
Side Plank Variations
Ground down through your lower hand and lift your opposite arm to the sky. Press the outer edge of your lower foot into the floor and stack your upper foot on top. Press down into your bottom hand and expand open across your heart center and up through your top hand. Lift your gaze top hand and spread your fingers wide. Press your tailbone toward your heels and lift the pit of your belly up and in. Flex both feet, spread your toes, and hug your leg muscles to the bones. When you feel stable with your foundation, start to play with leg variations. Float your top leg up and expand out in all directions; create Tree Pose with your top leg; or plant the big toe mound of your top foot behind your bottom leg and spin your chest high for Wild Thing. Repeat on the other side.
From Downward-Facing Dog, walk your feet up toward your hands to set up for Crow. Plant your hands shoulder-distance apart, and press your palms into the mat, especially your first two knuckles, then bend your elbows. Shift your weight into your hands, and place your knees on the back of your upper arms, close to your armpits. Keep your gaze forward in front of your fingers as you shift your weight forward and start to lift your feet. Squeeze your inner thighs into your upper arm bones and lift your hips toward the ceiling. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Exhale and jump or step back to Chaturanga, then move through Upward-Facing Dog and Downward-Facing Dog, or simply step back to Downward-Facing Dog.
Plank to Dolphin Plank
From Plank, place your right forearm on the mat, then walk your left forearm down into Dolphin Plank. Plant your right palm on the ground, and then left hand down to press back up to Plank. Repeat this sequence 10 times alternating which arm begins, and link with breath. Lower to Dolphin Plank on the inhale, and press up to Plank on the exhale.
From Downward-Dog Splits, on an exhale, shift your weight forward into your hands, hug in, and touch your right knee to your left tricep. Gently kick your right heel past your left wrist. Press down into the pinkie toe edge of your right foot and squeeze your inner thighs together. Press down through your right hand knuckles, lift your left arm to the sky, and gaze up to your top hand. To deepen your opening and expression, you can drop your head back and reach your top arm out long and toward the ground.
Fallen Triangle Chaturanga
From Fallen Triangle, plant your left hand back to the mat and root down through your knuckles. Hug your inner thighs together and engage your core. Shift your gaze slightly forward and bend your elbows to 90 degrees for a Chaturanga variation. On your exhale, press up to Plank variation with split legs, and inhale lift your right leg high to Downward-Facing Dog Splits. Repeat Fallen Triangle and Fallen Triangle Chaturanga on the other side.
Lie down on your stomach with your forehead on the mat. Interlace your fingers at your lower back for a bind. Bend your elbows and hug your shoulder blades in toward your centerline. On an inhale, straighten your arms and lift your chest and legs. With your feet hip-width apart, point and spread your toes. Keep your gaze down with your neck in line with your spine. Repeat two times.