Yoga to improve your strength
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There are a variety of reasons why people want to be more active every day; yoga is an easy and effective way to achieve that movement goal and your motivation may simply be that you want to improve your general well-being and feel better - if so, here is a 5 Exercises in 5-minutes Morning Yoga Routine >> that I previously posted about. Alternatively, or once you are ready to build on those exercises and make things more challenging, yoga can also be a great way to improve your body’s strength and balance, despite there being lots of misconceptions that it's just for relaxing, stretching and meditating.
I have picked out just 4 of my favourite exercises, all of which can be done at home, without any equipment, and rely solely on your own body weight. They all require a lot of self-discipline, activation and focus on the correct muscle groups to have positive effects, but if done correctly can really help you build a strong baseline for strengthening your body.
Now I am sure most of you know what the plank is - it is extremely effective for core strength as it activates ALL of the core muscles which in turn increases stability and balance.
Start in a push up position and then lower yourself onto your forearms - your forearms should be flat on the ground and your elbows below your shoulders. Keep your body in a straight line from your head to your heels, engage your core with your back completely flat, head facing down relaxed and your bum in-line (not pointing to the ceiling.) Hold for 10-30 seconds to start with, and repeat 3 times, gradually increasing the length you hold the plank pose over time.
If you are just starting out, it can be good to practice in front of the mirror so you can do quick checks on yourself and make sure you are in a straight line - sometimes the reality is much different to how it feels :)!!
Once you feel good and can hold the plank comfortably for 30 seconds or more, you can introduce a side plank, where instead of resting in between repetitions you do a plank series: 30 seconds regular plank, 30 second left side plank and 30 seconds right side plank before returning to beginning to repeat. You achieve the side plank position by rotating your body to one side, keeping just one forearm on the ground, pointing the other arm straight up towards the ceiling, and keeping your hips raised and your core engaged.
This position strengthens your glutes and hamstring muscles while also helping to open the hips, shoulders and back, and increasing flexibility.
To get into the bridge pose position, you start on your back with knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, hip-distance apart. Bring your feet up towards your bum, as close as you can and have your arms straight and relaxed alongside your body, with your palms facing down. Then inhale, press your feet into the ground and raise your hips towards the ceiling, activating your glutes and hamstrings in the process, and focus on keeping your hips from dropping towards the ground. Hold for 10-30 seconds before slowly lowering yourself to the ground, rest and then repeat 3 times, gradually increasing the amount of time you hold the bridge pose position for over time.
Warrior I Pose
The Warrior I pose, also known as Virabhadrasana I, is the first of a 3-step warrior pose sequence, but the one I will focus on to start with today. This pose targets your entire body and strengthens your legs, glutes, and your hips whilst the upper body movement also stretches and builds power across your shoulders, in your back and also your arms.
Traditionally in a yoga routine, the Warrior I pose is a natural transition from the downward dog position. However here I will explain it as a standalone exercise: start in a lunge position, leaving your hands down on the ground in front of you, and turn your back foot outwards at a
45-degree angle. Roll your back slowly until your torso is in an upright position, and then reach both of your arms towards the ceiling, with your fingers spread. Then deepen the bend in the knee to 90 degrees (or as deep as you can go) whilst keeping your torso and arms both
stretching towards the ceiling. Hold this pose for 5-10 deep breaths, then lower your arms, place your hands on the ground, switch your legs and repeat 2-3 times on each leg.
The focus here is not how deep you can go, even though over time you should be able to deepen your knee bend. Focus on staying balanced (widen your stance by moving your front foot more out to the side if needed), keeping your key muscle groups engaged (especially to avoid the front knee from drifting inwards!). You should feel the Warrior I Pose working everywhere!!
I love this exercise because it is really an example of how the entire body needs to work together to execute the pose; you need strength in your legs, arms, and core!
You start in a standing position and as you inhale raise your arms, with your palms facing inwards so your biceps should be close to your ears. As you exhale, bend your knees into a squat position, as far as you can by dropping your hips back and down - you will be leaning slightly forward but keeping your core engaged, chest open, your arms stretched and your weight back towards your heels. Hold this position for 3-5 breaths and repeat 3 times, extending the length of time that you hold the pose, and bringing your feet closer together as you improve.
A great addition and transition from basic Chair Pose is to the Revolved Chair Pose which adds an additional layer to the exercise. So, once you have mastered the Chair Pose, you can try to drop your arms into a prayer position in front of your chest and twist to one side with the upper body, using your left knee to support your right elbow and vice versa. Hold this position also for 3-5 breaths and repeat 3 times each side.
It is important to note that for all these exercises the amount of time or number of repetitions are provided solely as a guide, and this should be personal for everyone. Start where you feel comfortable (and that doesn’t mean don’t push yourself) but it's not a race you have to build your body in its own time. Too many times people overdo it and push themselves too far for the first time and then can’t work for a couple of days and then don’t get into a rhythm of completing the exercises. As always, in all my blogs, the common theme here is consistency, consistency, consistency. Eventually once you build up and get better in all these exercises, you can try progressions to increase difficulty, such as holding a more difficult version of the pose, holding the pose for longer, completing more repetitions or incorporating free weights. Monitor your own progression and try to make at least 1% improvement each time and you are well on your way to feeling fitter, healthier, and stronger.
Go for it!