Do These 10 Yoga Poses to Strengthen and Tone Your Core + Upper Body

Are you looking to increase strength in your upper body? Wanting to get more strength and definition in your core, chest, shoulders, and arms? Yoga can help with that! In addition to getting swimsuit ready, increasing your upper body strength will help you progress in your yoga practice.
Sure, having a strong upper body will make you an arm balance and inversion extraordinaire, but a strong upper body also aids in better posture, better breathing, and can lessen the risk of injury on the mat and in general.
Maintaining a regular yoga practice will definitely create more strength in your arms and upper body, but there are certain yoga poses in particular that will help create a stronger, more stable, and toned upper body.

Here are 10 effective yoga poses to strengthen and tone your core + upper body:


1. Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)

Plank Pose or High Plank is a great yoga pose to strengthen your arms and shoulders – and this Upward Plank Pose does the same but also allows us to simultaneously stretch the shoulders and chest.
Let’s try it:

  • From Dandasana, place your hands on the mat behind your hips with your fingers pointing towards your sits bones
  • Stack your shoulders over your wrists and lift your hips towards the ceiling
  • Root your heels to the mat and press into the bottoms of your feet
  • You can either gaze toward your feet or if you desire a more intense stretch in your chest, relax your head back
  • While your quadriceps and core should be engaged, the strength behind the lift should be in the arms and shoulders
  • Hold for a few breaths, then repeat


2. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)

Side Plank Pose is another plank variation that will strengthen your upper body and prepare you for arm balances and inversions. Side Plank allows you to isolate and strengthen one arm at a time which will help prevent muscular imbalances.
Let’s try it:

  • From Plank Pose, move your left hand to the center of the yoga mat with your wrist slightly in front of your shoulder
    Slowy rotate to the outside edge of your left foot. Stack your right leg on top of the left or place the right foot in front of the left for help with balance
  • Be sure your hips, knees, and ankles are aligned
  • Be sure your legs, core and shoulders are engaged as you lift the hips and extend your right arm toward the sky
  • Gaze up at your right thumb
  • Repeat on the opposite side


3. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

Down Dog is practiced frequently in Vinyasa classes to reset, stretch and relax, and also flow between sequences. Not only does Down Dog stretch the back body – it also works wonders for your shoulder mobility and upper body strength.
Let’s try it:

  • From Table Top Pose, curl your toes under and lift your hips up and back
  • Keep your feet hip-distance apart and release your heels towards the earth to feel your calves and hamstrings gently open
  • Your hands are shoulder distance and your fingers are spread wide, pressing each individual fingertip into the mat to protect your wrists
  • Draw your shoulders down your back as you engage your lats, biceps, and triceps to keep your hands rooted to the mat
  • Keep your core engaged and your head relaxed
  • Hold for ten breaths, drop to Table Top Pose for a few breaths, then return to Down Dog


4. Tolasana (Scale Pose)

Tolasana strengthens the upper body because you utilize muscles in both your arms and shoulders to lift your entire body off the ground. If you need to modify this pose, try placing yoga blocks underneath your palms for more space to lift yourself up.
Let’s try it:

  • Begin in Lotus Pose or Sukhasana (cross-legged) if Lotus Pose is not part of your practice
  • Place your palms on the earth beside your sits bones
  • Press down with your hands while lifting your sits bones off the mat
  • Keep your core as active and engaged as your arms
  • Hold for a few breaths, then repeat



5. Bakasana (Crow Pose)

Bakasana is a yoga pose that will help you cultivate confidence, balance and upper body strength. Crow Pose will also help prepare you for inversions as you balance your body weight on your hands. Bakasana strengthens your shoulders, arms, core and wrists.
Let’s try it:

  • From Malasana, plant your palms, and lift onto your tiptoes
  • Lift your sit bones, bend your elbows into Chaturanga arms, and place your knees on the back of the upper arms as close to your armpits as possible
  • Shift your upper body forward until your weight is in your hands
  • Engage your core, squeeze into the midline and lift your toes off the mat
  • Hold for a few breaths, then repeat


6. Chaturanga Dandasana (Low Plank Pose)

Chaturanga requires solid tricep strength to hold your shoulders at a 90 degree angle. When practiced correctly, this pose will strengthen your triceps, shoulders, arms, wrist, and abdominals.
Let’s try it:

  • From Plank Pose, shift your weight slightly forward so your shoulders are past your wrists
  • With your heart reaching forward, slowly bend your elbows and keep your upper arms glued to your ribcage
  • When your elbows are in line with your shoulders, engage your core, quadriceps, and arms to hover your body off the mat with control
  • Take a few breaths, and then take a Child’s Pose

For more tips on correct alignment in your Chaturanga to build more core strength, check out 5 Tips to Practice Chaturanga Correctly.

7. Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose)

Tittibhasana will also help you cultivate balance and arm strength, but it can be more intense than Bakasana because of the different leg placement. In Firefly Pose, your legs are extended out in front of you versus bent and resting on your arms in Crow Pose – which requires more arm strength and flexibility in your hips and hamstrings.
Let’s try it:

  • From Malasana, plant your palms on the mat, lift your hips high and walk your hands back towards your glutes, bringing your shoulders under your knees
  • Form a 90 degree bend in your elbows and lower your tummy between your thighs
  • Drop your glutes down and allow your inner thighs to rest on your upper arms
  • Lift your feet off the mat as you shift your weight into your hands
  • Once you begin to stabilize, straighten your legs parallel to the earth


8. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose)

Wheel Pose is a deep backbend that strengthens and stretches much of the body at once. When practicing Urdhva Dhanurasana, your back body is engaged and your shoulders, arms, and wrists are working hard to lift your upper body. Wheel Pose is also a great stretch for your front body.
Let’s try it:

  • Begin reclined on your yoga mat with your knees bent and your feet on the ground
  • Slowly walk your heels back towards your glutes
  • Reach your arms overhead and place your palms to either side of your head with your fingertips just above your shoulders and facing the body
  • Your elbows should be pointing straight up to the sky and no wider than your shoulders
  • Press into your hands and feet to bring the crown of your head to the mat
  • Be sure your knees are hip-distance apart and your elbows are shoulder-distance apart
  • Slowly begin to straighten both arms and lift your head off the mat as you send your hips and chest towards the sky


9. Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)

Headstands are an awesome way to build upper body strength, reverse your body’s blood and energy flow, and also use your strength to stabilize and balance in this pose. This supported variation is also a forearm and shoulder strengthener since you are pressing into your forearms and shoulders to keep pressure off your neck and head.
Let’s try it:

  • From Dolphin Pose, interlace your fingers pinky finger side down
  • Place the crown of your head on the mat and the back of your head in your clasped hands
  • Straighten your legs and walk your feet towards your head, stacking your hips over your shoulders
  • Be sure you continue to lift through the forearms and shoulders to alleviate pressure and compression from your neck and head
  • Lift one leg and use the stability in your shoulders and forearms along with your core to find your balance. When you’re ready, lift the second leg
  • Remain in your Headstand for a few breaths, then repeat


10. Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand)

Pincha Mayurasana is a more advanced inversion because the weight is now solely on your forearms. Without the added support of your head, your upper body will be working hard to support your inverted body – strengthening your back, shoulders, and forearms.
Let’s try it:

  • From Dolphin Pose, continue to walk your feet closer to the top of your mat to bring your hips over your shoulders
  • Lift your right leg, bend your left leg, fire up your core, press into your shoulders and gently make your way into your Forearm Stand
  • Set your gaze on your yoga mat in between your forearms

These 10 yoga poses are sure to work multiple muscles in your upper body, from your back, to your shoulders, biceps and triceps. Many of these poses are more advanced, so pick which poses are part of your practice and work on gaining strength and proper alignment. You will be surprised at how fast your upper body strength will increase.

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Leta Stevens

A Chicago twenty-something, trying to live the healthiest, happiest life that I can. Corporate retail professional by day and an avid fitness freak by night. As a nationally qualified NPC bikini competitor, I love all things health and fitness. I am a (self-proclaimed) wannabe Betty Crocker and I follow flexible dieting practices. I am currently studying to become a certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist.

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