If you would like to strengthen your upper arms but, like me, you are not into weight lifting and you find push-ups too hard, this blog is for you. You may wonder what arm strengthening has to do with yoga, and with yoga for back pain. Quite a lot actually: weak arms prevent us from doing yoga poses such as dog pose and plank pose efficiently. When done with good alignment, these poses benefit the back and abdominal muscles, strengthening muscles as well as bones. Moreover, strong arms assist us in carrying things, so the back and shoulders don’t have to do overwork. Our muscle mass reduces with age so if we want our body to keep functioning well it is important to give strengthening some attention.
Starting position: alignment
The first two strengthening exercises are mainly for the triceps, the muscles at the back of your upper arms. The back and torso have to be well aligned to ensure these exercises are safe for the lower back.
Start on all fours and then pay attention to the following:
- Place the hands underneath the shoulders.
- “Step” the knees back so that your body is in a straight line from the shoulders to the knees.
- Don’t allow the lower back to sink down: instead lift the lower ribs a little and/or tuck the tailbone under slightly.
- Engage the abdominal muscles with every exhalation. Release this with the inhalation.
To learn more about how we can engage abdominal muscles to keep the lower back safe, please have a look at my video for abdominal strengthening. The third session of this series explains exactly how to use the abdominal muscles in the plank pose and in this arm-strengthening exercise so that doing these exercises won’t hurt your lower back. If you are not sure how to engage the abdominal muscles with the breath, please check out the first, free session to learn this important skill.
From the basic starting position, bend the arms with your exhalation and straighten them again with the inhalation. It is like a classic press-up but easier.
- Keep the elbows facing backward and the arms close to the body.
- Make sure the body stays in one line and the lower back doesn’t start to sink down.
- If this exercise is still hard only lower the trunk half way.
- An alternative way to start practising this exercise if the arm muscles are weak is from standing, with the hands on a wall (or a bench as on the picture below).
- Repeat a few times and slowly build up over the days.
- Don’t forget the breath: coordinate the movement with the breath and work slowly. In this “mindful” way this exercise is also less boring!
This exercise is similar to the one above but turn your fingers a little inward so the hands are at a diagonal angle. When you bend the arms to lower the torso, allow the elbows to move outward. Do the wall/bench version if necessary and repeat a comfortable number of times.
Exercise 3: the biceps
The biceps (the muscles in the front of our upper arms) work when we bend the arm to make a pulling movement (rather than pushing as in the push-up). Hence the most familiar exercise is straightening and bending the arm with a weight. The alternative that I use is without weights:
- Bend your right arm 90 degrees and face the palm up.
- Place the left palm on the right.
- Push up with the right hand as the left hand resists this pressure and pushes down.