11 Bodyweight Strength Exercises That Are Actually Yoga

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As a certified personal trainer and yoga teacher, I work with a lot of athletes who are reticent to try yoga. This happens for several reasons, among them the fact that learning the poses can be a lot harder than you’d think. There are literally hundreds of poses, each demanding strength and coordination. It’s essentially like learning an entirely different language. But if you already strength train at the gym, there are yoga poses that will feel very familiar to bodyweight strength exercises.

In fact, some of the best yoga poses for building strength are those that have a bodyweight exercise equivalent, which are exercises in which you build muscle by supporting the weight of your body. Below are some of the best bodyweight exercises for strength that just happen to be yoga.

12 Yoga Poses That Are Essentially Bodyweight Strength Exercises

These strength-building yoga poses have a surprisingly strong resemblance to bodyweight exercises. Keep in mind, what makes something yoga isn’t the shape but how you hold yourself in the shape. Slow your breath. Notice where you’re holding unnecessary tension. And hold for time.

(Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia)

1. Boat Pose

Yes, the exercise you dread most. Boat Pose (Navasana) is one of the best yoga poses for building core strength. It targets all of the abdominal muscles, particularly the deep, deep transversus abdominis and lower portion of the rectus abdominis. It also strengthens the easily overlooked muscles of the core, including the hip flexors, pelvic floor, and lower back muscles.

This yoga pose is identical to a V-sit, the challenging core exercise found in many ab workouts. V-sits are sometimes performed dynamically as V-ups, where you go from lying on your back with your arms extended straight over your head and your legs straight on the floor and then you contract your core muscles to fold your body up, piking your legs into the V-sit position and then relaxing back down before beginning the next rep. Holding yourself in that oh so challenging peak position is Boat Pose.

Practice Boat Pose

Bridge Pose
(Photo: Andrew Clark)

2. Bridge Pose

Just like the Glute Bridges included in regular strength training workouts, Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is a strong workout for the glutes.

Here again, the difference is that you hold your body in the top position of the bodyweight exercise, demanding that you engage all of the muscles in the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and core muscles.

As a personal trainer, I actually prefer the Bridge Pose approach because the isometric contraction of the glutes helps you more readily activate your glutes during other exercises. Breathe into the pose and squeeze your glutes (but not too tightly) as you bring your awareness to how these strong muscles are supporting your body against the resistance of gravity. Bonus: Squeeze a block between your thighs to ensure you engage your adductor muscles.

Practice Bridge Pose

Hiro Landazuri practicing Half Locust pose with his legs on the floor, shoulders up and hands clasped behind his back
(Photo: Andrew Clark)

3. Locust Pose

Yoga has numerous backbending and back-strengthening poses, but Locust (Salabhasana) is probably the most familiar to gym goers thanks to its resemblance to the exercise known as Superman.

In both exercises, you are lying on your belly and contracting all of the muscles along your spine as well as your glutes, hamstrings, and shoulders to simultaneously lift your upper and lower body off of the ground.

It’s a powerful pose to strengthen the muscles along the entire posterior body that are often underworked and overstretched due to our everyday tendency to slouch or spend your training time leaning forward. Athletes who do a lot of core work tend to focus on the abdominals, but it’s equally important to target the lower back extensors. This is an essential yoga pose to incorporate into your strength routine. Option to clasp your hands behind your back and reach your knuckles toward the wall behind you.

Practice Locust Pose

Plank Pose
Plank Pose (Photo: Andrew Clark)

4. Plank Pose

As with bodyweight training, yoga has a variety of plank poses. Plank Pose (Phalakasana) is a carbon copy of high plank, the bodyweight strengthening exercise in which you are in the top position of a push-up with your arms straight and your glutes, quads, and core engaged.

This exercise and yoga pose also strengthens the upper back, shoulders, arms, and wrists. You want to draw your navel toward the spine and push your heels toward the wall behind you to really engage your core muscles. Also think about drawing your kneecaps toward your hips to activate your quads. Make sure to keep a straight line in your body from your head to your heels like a stiff board—hence the name plank! (Conversely, Forearm Plank is an exercise that yoga has borrowed from strength-training workouts.)

Practice Plank Pose

Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Chaturanga (Photo: Andrew Clark)

5. Low Push-Up or Chaturanga

Yoga push-ups, known as Chaturanga Dandasana, aren’t quite an exact replica of bodyweight push-ups most people are familiar with from calisthenics, but both exercises target the same muscles: the pectoralis major and minor in the chest, the triceps in the back of the upper arm, the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles in the shoulders, the upper back muscles such as the rhomboids and upper traps, and the core muscles.

With Chaturanga, the body remains in the lowered position with you squeezing your elbows toward the ribs and contracting your core. As with push-ups, you want to keep your spine neutral, core tight, hips in line with your body, and gaze straight down at the floor between your palms. It’s not easy.

Practice Chaturanga

A person demonstrates Side Plank in yoga
(Photo: Andrew Clark)

6. Side Plank Pose (Vasishthasana)

Whether you are doing them at the gym or on your yoga mat, Side Planks are tough. But precarious balancing position strengthens the obliques, which are the abdominal muscles on the sides of your torso, along with the rest of the core muscles.

Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana) in yoga is extra challenging because instead of having your entire forearm to support your body, your balance on your outstretched hand. This reduced base of support challenges your core muscles to steady your body. That’s how you build strength.

Practice Side Plank Pose

Woman demonstrates Dolphin Pose
(Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia)

7. Dolphin Plank Pose

This pose is similar to the regular forearm plank that most athletes have a love-hate relationship with. It’s a solid isometric hold that strengthens the core muscles without flexing the spine as you would in abdominal crunches.

The important thing to remember about Dolphin Plank Pose is to draw your navel toward the spine to build tension in your core. Make sure to keep a straight line in your body from your head to your hips.

Practice Dolphin Plank Pose

8-10.Warrior Poses + Lunges

Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana I and II) as well as High Lunge in yoga have a lot of crossover with the forward lunges you practice at the gym. The arm positions are somewhat different and there’s a little spinal twist in the Warrior poses, but you still engage and strengthen the same lower body muscles (quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves).

Each of these improves core strength because the narrow base of support with a staggered stance requires the core muscles and small stabilizing muscles in the glutes and hips to activate and help steady challenging your balance.

Practice Warrior 1, Warrior 2, and High Lunge

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

11. Goddess

There isn’t an exact match between a bodyweight squat and a yoga pose. But Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana) comes close.

As with most yoga poses, instead of performing reps in rapid succession, as you might with bodyweight exercises, Goddess Pose is a static hold in the lowered position. That stillness is one of the powerful strengthening benefits of yoga. Holding a position in which your muscles are under tension is known as an isometric contraction. This type of muscle engagement helps build strength and increase muscular endurance. There is also some evidence to suggest that isometric exercises may decrease blood pressure. 

The primary difference between sumo squats and regular bodyweight squats is that the sumo squat exercise targets the easy-to-overlook inner thigh and hip rotator muscles, including the gluteus medius. This is a result of your feet being positioned significantly wider than hip-width apart and turned slightly outward rather than pointing straight ahead. Goddess Pose utilizes a similar foot position and that same wide stance to stretch your hips and adductors of the inner thighs.

Practice Goddess Pose

Two women on yoga mats practicing bird dog
(Photo: JulPo | Getty)

12. Bird Dog Pose

One of my all-time most recommended bodyweight exercises and yoga poses is Bird Dog. Here, the exercise and the yoga pose are identical. Both exercises are performed from hands and knees.

The emphasis here is on core stability. As the opposite arm and leg are lifted from the floor and extended in front and behind the body, respectively, you have to engage the entirety of your core as a cohesive unit to keep your chest and hips square to the mat.

Practice Bird Dog Pose

As can be seen, there are strengthening yoga poses that are almost identical to the bodyweight strength training exercises you already practice. When you’re already familiar with a similar bodyweight strength exercise, it makes it easier to understand how to do the yoga pose.

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