Use these simple yoga poses to strengthen, sculpt, and tone your shoulders.
The shoulders are the most mobile joint in the body. And because most of us spend our days sitting at our desks, driving from one place to another, and looking down at our cell phones, many of us suffer from rounded, protracted shoulders and a forward head. This poor posture is not only uncomfortable, but it can lead to debilitating pain and weakness of the neck and shoulders down the line.
In order to loosen up the shoulders evenly, it is important to put them through their full range of motion. Use these yoga poses two to three times per week to improve range of motion and mobility, while also toning up and sculpting those shoulders.
Baby Cobra | 5 reps
This exercise strengthens the back of the shoulders and muscles that surround the shoulder blades and spine.
- Start by lying face down on your mat. Bend your elbows and place your palms on your mat in line with your ribcage. Your elbows should point straight up toward the sky.
- Untuck your toes and bring your legs together. Actively press the tops of your feet into the ground and take an inhale to lift your head, chest, and palms up off the mat.
- Keep the back of your neck long by looking at the top of your mat and squeeze your shoulder blades together. You should feel the backs of your shoulders and the muscles surrounding your spine strengthening.
- Hold for three breaths, then slowly release back down. Repeat five times.
Bird Dog | 10 breaths per side
This exercise is commonly used in yoga classes because it works all sides of the shoulders and improves forward mobility of the shoulder joint.
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Stack your shoulders directly over your wrists and stack your hips directly over your knees. Engage your abs and pelvic floor.
- Inhale to pick your right hand up and reach your right arm out in front of you while simultaneously lifting your left leg out and back behind you. Your outstretched hand should be in line with your shoulder and your back foot should be in line with your hip. Reach long in opposite directions with your right hand and your left foot.
- Exhale to release back down.
- Switch sides and alternate for a total of 10 breaths per side.
Plank Pose | 8 breaths
This simple yet challenging pose strengthens the shoulders and core.
- Begin in a tabletop position. Stack your shoulders over your wrists, then walk your hands slightly forward so that your wrists are a few inches in front of your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide and press your palms into your mat.
- Tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the ground to come into a high plank position. Make sure your heels are lifted, your shoulders are stacked over your wrists, and your hips are level with your shoulders.
- Hold for eight slow breaths. If you feel any strain in your lower back, lower your knees to the ground to modify. Be sure to keep your hips in a straight line with your shoulders.
Downward Facing Dog | 8 breaths
This classic pose increases forward mobility and shoulder strength. It also supports the strengthening of many surrounding muscles like the triceps and the muscles surrounding the ribs.
- Begin in a tabletop position. Stack your shoulders over your wrists, then walk your hands forward so that your wrists are a few inches in front of your shoulders.
- Tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the ground to come into a high plank position. Take a deep breath in, then exhale to lift your hips up towards the sky, making a V-shape with your body.
- Rotate your biceps forward and tighten your core. Gaze towards your belly button and hold for eight slow breaths.
Chair Pose with Bound Arms | 8 breaths
This exercise increases mobility by strengthening the back of the shoulders while opening up the front of the shoulders.
- Start standing with your big toes together and a little space between your heels.
- Sit your hips back like you are going to sit in a chair, and airplane your arms back behind you. Lift up through your triceps and pinky fingers to feel your shoulders and arms working.
- Next, bring your hands together and interlace your fingers. Make sure to have a little bend at the elbows. Continue using the back of your shoulders and arms to lift your arms back behind you and open the chest.
- Hold for eight breaths.
Warrior 2 | 8 breaths per side
This standing pose builds shoulder strength and mobility.
- Begin standing sideways on your mat with your feet out wide. Then, turn your right foot so that the toes face the top of your mat.
- Bend your right knee, bringing the thigh parallel to your mat. Reach your arms out to a T- shape, spreading your fingers wide. Gaze over your right fingertips.
- Engage your biceps, triceps, shoulders, and abs. Hold for eight breaths, then switch sides.
Side Plank Pose | 5 breaths per side
This yoga pose improves mobility by strengthening both the abs and all sides of the shoulders.
- Begin in a high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists. Engage your abs and bring your feet together.
- Shift your weight into your right hand and spin both heels down to the right so that your left foot is stacked on top of your right. Flex both of your feet. Lift your left arm to the sky to come into a side plank position.
- To modify, bring your knee down to the mat, just underneath your hip, with your shin sitting widthwise across your mat.
- Squeeze your abs, quads, and glutes and lift your left hip towards the sky. Keep your right shoulder stacked over your wrist as you hold for five breaths. Switch sides.
Locust Pose | 8 breaths
This exercise increases mobility by strengthening the back of the shoulders and stretching the front of the shoulders and chest.
- Start by lying face down on your mat. Place your forehead on the mat so that the back of your neck is long. Straighten your arms down alongside your body, turning your palms to face down. Untuck your toes and bring your legs together.
- Inhale to lift your head, chest, arms, legs, and feet off the ground. Turn your palms to face inward and lift up through your triceps and pinky fingers. Keep the back of your neck long by looking at the top of your mat and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Hold for eight breaths, then slowly release back down.
Dolphin Pose | 8 breaths
This exercise strengthens the shoulders, while also increasing forward mobility of the shoulder joint.
- Lie on your belly and prop yourself up on your forearms. Tuck your toes under and engage your abs and quads.
- Inhale to lift your hips parallel with your shoulders, coming into a forearm plank position. Exhale.
- Inhale and walk your feet a few inches towards your arms, lifting your hips in the air to create an upside-down V-shape with your body. Keep your shoulders stacked over your elbows.
- Continue pressing the ground away with your forearms and engage your abs. Hold for five to eight breaths.
Single Leg Bound Forward Fold | 8 breaths per side
This pose improves internal rotation of the shoulders.
- Begin seated on the floor with your right knee bent and the foot on the ground. Straighten the left leg out in front of you and flex the foot. Hug your right knee into your chest.
- Inhale to reach both arms overhead, then exhale to hinge at the hips, folding forward and reaching both arms straight out in front of you with the palms facing inward. Fold about half way, bringing your right shoulder inside of your right thigh.
- Then, wrap your right arm around the front of your right shin and wrap your left arm behind your lower back. See if you can interlace your fingers behind your lower back. If the hands don’t reach each other, that’s ok. Hold for 8 breaths, then switch sides.
Reverse Tabletop | 8 breaths
This modification of upward plank pose is great for shoulder mobility, strengthening and stretching the shoulders in a retracted position.
- Begin seated with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Place your palms on the mat a couple of inches behind your hips with your fingers pointing toward your feet.
- Press into your palms and inhale to lift your hips up towards the sky. Re-adjust your feet if you need in order to stack your knees over your ankles. Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists.
- Engage your lower abdominals and look straight up towards the sky. Hold for five to eight breaths.