Your favorite yoga pose says a lot about your preferred kinds of movement. Love forward fold? You must find freedom in flexibility. Can’t get enough of chair pose? You’re all about strength. Some asanas have singular purposes, it’s true. But plenty of poses work double-duty to strengthen and lengthen your muscles at the very same time, says Jess Penesso, yoga teacher and founder of The Sweat Method.
“It is so important to balance strength with stretching for healthy joints that allow you to practice yoga your whole life,” says Penesso. “If we are only stretching and not strengthening in our yoga practice, we run the risk of putting unnecessary stress on our cartilage where our bones meet at our joints. Because we don’t have nerves in our cartilage, we don’t realize we’re wearing this down until it’s gone and there is an injury.” A handful of yoga poses strengthen the muscles while you stretch to decrease wear-and-tear in the cartilage.
5 yoga poses for strength that stretch your whole body, too
1. High lunge
“High lunge strengthens the glute muscles, quad of the front leg, arms, and back muscles while stretching the hamstring and hip flexor on the back leg and chest,” explains Penesso.
How to do it: Start standing with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips and step your right foot forward 2 to 3 feet. Stay on the ball of the back left foot and bend into right leg at a 90-degree angle with the knee directly above ankle. Bend your left leg and draw your tailbone down towards the floor and your left hip forward. Begin to lengthen your back leg and pull your right hip into your mid-line. Bring arms up around ears and spiral pinky fingers towards one another.
Here’s how to make high lunge a heart-opener:
2. dolphin pose
Don’t let the name fool you. There’s nothing cute about dolphin pose. It works your arms and core while stretching your hamstrings and shoulders.
How to do it: Start in a table top and bring your forearms to the floor. Grab for opposite elbows to measure the distance in between your forearms and then place forearms on the floor parallel to one another. Spread your fingers wide on the mat to press the finger pads into the mat. Start to walk your feet towards your face keeping your legs lengthened. You can keep a soft bend in the knees if this feels better on your hamstrings. Engage your core by pulling your belly towards your spine. Look forward 6 to 12 inches.
3. Plank pose
Yes! Plank pose is a stretch as well as strengthener. “Plank strengthens the shoulders, core, and quad muscles while stretching the hamstrings,” says Penesso.
How to do it: Starting from downward dog, shift your hips forward so that they’re in a straight line with shoulders. Press the ground away with your hands while pulling them towards one another. Broaden your collar bone. Keep hips in line with shoulders, and bring toes in 2 inches while pressing the heels back to activate the backs of the legs. Pull the belly into the spine.
The right way to plank:
4. Triangle pose
“Triangle pose stretches the hips, hamstrings, chest, and spine while strengthening the thighs, back, and obliques,” says Penesso.
How to do it: Start standing and step the left foot back 3 to 4 feet. Turn your left foot parallel to the back of the mat and keep the right foot facing forward to the front wall. Keep legs lengthened. Align the right heel with arch of left foot. Bring your arms out parallel to the floor reaching actively out to the sides with palms down. Start to reach right arm forward towards the front wall as you bump your hips to the back of the room, bending from the hip joint. Keep the right side of the body long and keep reaching until it is no longer possible. Bring right hand down to the shin, a block, or the floor and place the back of hand against the shin. Press back against an imaginary wall behind you to open your chest.
5. Warrior III
Warrior III stretches the hip flexor and the quad of your lifted leg while strengthening the glutes, standing leg, back, and shoulders.
How to do it: Start standing and raise arms overhead, spiraling pinkies towards one another. Start to shift your chest forward as left leg starts to lift off the floor until the head is in line with the hip and lifted leg. Flex through the lifted foot, activate arms, and pull belly button into spine. Draw left hip down in line with the right and pull hip into the midline.
New to yoga? Start here:
Pro tips: crisscrossing your downward dog will give you a hip stretch and these moves will help you nail your handstand press.