Weights for Yogis: 4 Upper Body Strengthening Exercises to Boost your Yoga Practice

Do you use you yoga as your main form of physical activity? Do you have niggles in your shoulders, wrists, or elbows when you practice? If yes then you might benefit from adding some upper body strength training into your practice.

Yoga is wonderful and has many benefits for mind and body. However,  yoga practice tends to neglect some movement patterns and overemphasis others which can lead to imbalances developing in the body. As yogis it's easy for us see how yoga can benefit other athletes but perhaps it's time to recognise how other forms of fitness can help us.

Below are my favourite upper body strengthening exercises to complement the areas yoga tends to miss. They can all be done at home with some dumbells and a theraband if you don't have access to a gym. Choose weights that are appropriate for you, if you're new to weights start light and see how you go. Do consult a medical professional if your are unsure if these exercises are right for you.

1) Pull ups / Pull Downs

Broadly speaking (unless you do aerial yoga or have access to an Iengar rope wall) yoga lacks pulling movements. We do loads of pushing in chaturanga, plank, downdog, and arm balances but very little pulling. Pulling is to pushing what back bending is to forward bending.  a fantastic way to balance the shoulders and back , creating strength and mobility.

Or if you can't do pull ups do assisted pull ups or an active hang where you retract shoulder blades and get your lats involved. If you don't have access to a bar then you can use a pull down machine in the gym or loop a theraband over the top of a door. The point is start PULLING to balance out the all the pushing.

2) Dumbbell Shoulder Press
These strengthen the shoulders and upper back.Plus, because they are done with free weights which require more control they also recruit the stabilising muscles of the wrists and elbows which is great news if you practice arm balances as well and downdog and plank.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Hold the dumbbells up by your shoulders, with your elbows out at a 90-degree angle.
  • Without leaning back, extend through your elbow and raise the weights directly above your head. Then slowly return to the starting position.

Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.
N.B this can also be done seated if prefered or if you  have low back issues

3) Dumbbell Bent Over Row
Another pulling exercise :) - these help strengthen your entire back (upper middle and lower) plus shoulders, biceps and triceps.

  • With a dumbbell in each hand (palms facing your torso), bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist; as you bend making sure to keep your back straight and your core engaged. The weights should hang directly in front of you as your arms hang perpendicular to the floor and your torso. This is your starting position.
  • While keeping the torso stationary, lift the dumbbells to your side. keeping the elbows close to the body.
  • On the top contracted position, squeeze the back muscles and hold for a second.
  • Slowly lower the weight again to the starting position as you inhale.

Aim for three sets of 10-12 reps.

4) Standing Internal Dumbbell rotations

These help take care of the rotator cuff (the set of 4 muscle and tendons that keep the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa or shoulder socket). The rotator cuff is really important for both shoulder stability and smooth movement. Unfortunately repeated chaturangas and planks place alot of stress on the rotator cuff. In particular, the muscle at the front (subscapularis) which controls internal rotation. Use these internal rotation exercises to help strengthen and balance your rotator cuff.

  • Hold a light dumbbell or cable handle attachment in one hand with the elbow of that particular arm creating a 90 degree angle between your upper arm and your forearm.
  • Your forearm should be parallel to the floor and your elbow should be tucked against your side.
  • Internally rotate your forearm (i.e bring your fist inwards, across your body) ensuring it stays parallel to the floor.
  • Hold the contracted position before rotating externally to return to the starting position.

Repeat for 3 sets of 12 – 15 repetitions per arm.

Hope you've found this post useful! Part 2 - exercises for the lower body coming soon!


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