TANK TOP ARMS ARE BUILT in sweater weather – and fortunately, pumping iron isn’t the only way to tone your shoulders, biceps, triceps and forearms. Yoga, I’ve found, can make your whole body even more lean and chiseled than weight training (and can help you find your zen too, of course). Here are the best yoga exercises for shaping your arms:
1. Uneven Plank
Why: Uneven plank builds strength and tightens your shoulders, triceps, biceps and forearms. Because your arms are asymmetrical during this flow, and you’re moving slowly while staying properly aligned, you work your arm muscles thoroughly. Because you are weight-bearing while adjusting to lift up and back down on either arm, the pose fatigues your arms quickly and helps build definition.
How: Come into a high-plank position with your wrists under your shoulders and straight across your mat. Keep your feet vertical and maintain a plank shape in your hips and back. Once you’re in plank, move your right hand 10 inches forward and gently lower your forearm to the floor. Align your right elbow with your left wrist. Widen your left elbow just enough to keep the head of your arm bone plugged into its shoulder socket. Hold for three breaths and switch sides. Move slowly and do not let your hips hammock. Repeat this movement until failure.
2. Tempo Pushups
Why: To tone your arms effectively, you have to push yourself to the edge of failure every time you do an arm exercise. Take a basic exercise like a pushup and slow it down with your breath. Your arms are engaged throughout the entire exercise, which will help push your arm muscles to the point of exhaustion and give your triceps a steady burn.
How: Get into a pushup position. Take a full breath in and slowly exhale as you bend your elbows for three seconds down. Don’t lower yourself so far that you can’t maintain strength in your shoulders or keep your hips lifted in a plank. As you descend, bend your elbows far enough away from your ribs to keep your shoulders from slouching. Then, inhale to come back up slowly for a three-second count. Repeat until you can no longer maintain good form.
Why: L-pose, or handstand prep, is the same as holding a shoulder press using your bodyweight. Your shoulders, upper back and arms engage completely. When you hold this position, you will develop both strength and stamina in your upper body. Practice this regularly and you will sculpt your arms, shoulders and back.
How: Sit with your hips against the wall and your legs extended out straight. Make note of where your heels meet the floor. Come to your hands and knees with the base of your hands in line with where your heels were. Align your wrists under your shoulders and straight across. Lift your hips for a short down dog by the wall. Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to create a lift in your low back. Then, take one big step up the wall. If you can maintain straight arms and lifted hips, step your other foot up the wall to meet it. Walk your feet down until your heels are in line with your hips and your body makes an L-shape. Bend your knees to release your back. As much as you feel release, stretch your legs straight. Hold this pose for 10 breaths with straight arms.
4. Side Plank
Why: This pose is one of the best ways to exercise your shoulders and triceps in the side plane of your body. You steady yourself on one hand, which will build subtle muscles in your arms that you miss in front-plane positions like plank.
How: From plank, walk your feet and legs to touch. Look at your right hand. Turn it a quarter-inch to the right. Rotate onto your right hand and the right side of foot. Stack your feet, flare your toes to engage your legs, lift your hips and reach your left arm straight up toward the ceiling with your wrist in line with your shoulder. Look up toward your left hand and line up your ears with your shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the second side. Complete this for three sets on both sides.
5. Shoulder Taps
Why: Yoga has very few movements that build your quick-twitch muscles. Shoulder taps, however, do just that and are easy to put into any yoga sequence. They strengthen your arms, shoulders and chest. Adding shoulder taps to your routine is a nice way to mix up your stagnant movements and target your biceps, which get neglected in other yoga exercises.
How: Hold high plank with strong legs and your wrists aligned. Maintain a plank shape and tap your left shoulder with your right hand. Switch to tap your right shoulder with your left hand. Go side to side, minimizing any sway in your hips. As much as you can keep your form, pick up your pace. Try this exercise continuously for one minute at three sets. Rest for 30 seconds in between each set.
6. Down Dog Hold
Why: While down dog may seem like a simple pose to hold, you will notice your arms start to tremble after about three minutes. Because your arms are fully straight and overhead, your muscles fire the entire time. Work up to longer holds in this position and it will result in more ripped triceps and shoulders.
How: Start in plank with your hands under your shoulders and your feet straight up and down. Do not move your hands or feet as you lift your hips up and back. Look at your feet and make sure they are inner hips-width apart and straight forward. Widen your knees as wide as your feet and bend them halfway toward the floor. Flatten the entire perimeter of your hands evenly, work your arms straight, and lengthen all the way up your back. As much as you can maintain a healthy lift in your low back, straighten your legs completely. Deepen your breath and hold for five to 10 minutes.
Tone Your Arms with Yoga was originally published on U.S. Health News & World Report.
Article written by Jake Panasevich, US News. Practice with Jake Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30am and Wednesdays at 5pm. Register here!
Jake is a yoga teacher in Philly specializing in yoga for men and office workers. He is also a yoga trainer for professional athletes. Listen to Jake’s recent interview on NPR. You could also learn more about Jake in his featured articles in Men’s Health, Huffington Post and US News. Visit Jake’s website at yogawithjake.com.