At first glance, yoga seems like a series of simple stretches and graceful bends, but if you've ever taken a butt-kicking mat class, you know that those moves require real strength to accomplish (Downward Facing Dog is supposed to be a "resting" position?!). Consistent practice will improve your poses, sure, but if you really want to master the mat, you might want to consider taking some of your sweat sessions outside the studio. To master challenging yoga poses, try these no-equipment exercises recommended by BJ Gaddour, CSCS, bodyweight training expert and author of Your Body is Your Barbell.
If you’re struggling with Bridge Pose …
Fix it with a Hip Thrust!
The yoga bridge position is a back bend, so it’s important that your lower back is strong enough to support the move. Gaddour recommends training with hip thrusts. “It’s basically a plank for the back side of your body,” he says. “The best way to ensure you nail the position is to start with your lower back fully compressed into the floor. This keeps your lower back fixed and forces all of the movement to come through your hips.”
To do a hip thrust:
Start: Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90-degree angles. Place your feet on the floor hip-width apart. Keep your weight placed in the center of your feet. Keep your hands on the small of your back to support the move.
Move: Crunch your abs and tilt your pelvis so that your lower back is flat against the floor. Then push your feet and raise your hips as high as you can without arching your back. Hold this at the top before you reverse the movement.
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If you’re struggling with Chaturanga …
Fix it with a Blast-Off Pushup!
Chaturanga requires both arm strength and core strength to lower yourself slowly while maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Train yourself for this yoga staple with a Blast-Off Pushup. This move essentially reverses Chaturanga and is great for improving core stability. Plus, because it’s also a pushup, it gives your arms, shoulders, and chest the strength you’ll need to gracefully flow from Plank to Up Dog to Down Dog.
To do a Blast-Off Pushup:
Start: From the start of a standard Pushup position, push your butt back as far as you can by bending at the knees, hinging at the hips, and fully extending your arms. (Like a Downward Dog with your knees bent.)
Move: Fire out by extending your ankles, knees, and hips into the bottom of a regular push up. From here, perform a Pushup to get back into the starting position.
If you’re struggling with Chair Pose …
Fix it with a wall sit!
Chair is yoga’s version of a squat, which means it requires two things: strong thighs and good knees. Wall sits are great prep for chair because they allow you to perfect the form by supporting some of your weight. “The position shifts a greater emphasis to the front of your thighs, helping you build up all of the muscles surrounding your knee to ensure that your knee tracks properly,” says Gaddour. This means that your muscles will be ready when you tackle this pose without the wall.
To do a Wall Sit:
Start: Stand in front of a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms in front of you or overhead.
Move: Sit into a Squat position with the tops of your front thighs parallel to the floor and your hips, upper back, and head in full contact with the wall. Sit as tall as possible and hold this position.
If you’re struggling with Warrior III …
Fix it with a Staggered Hip Hinge!
Warrior III is an exercise in multi-tasking. Not only are you balancing on one leg, but you also have to have your hips square, and that’s hard to do! “A staggered hip hinge teaches your body what it feels like to keep your hips and shoulders squarely ahead throughout the movement, while one leg is doing most of the work,” says Gaddour. Without this practice, it’s common for the hip of the balancing leg to open up, which is incorrect form.
To do a Staggered Hip Hinge:
Start: Standing, place your leading leg firmly on the floor. With your feet hip-width apart, place the toes of your trailing leg on the floor so they are aligned with the heal of your leading leg. Try to keep your weight on the leading leg throughout the move. To make the move harder, you can elevate the trailing leg on a bench.
Move: Push your hips and hamstrings back as far as you can (as if closing a door with your butt) until your trunk is parallel to the floor, arms reaching down. Keep your gaze on the floor. Pause at the bottom then push your hips forward and come to a full stand, squeezing your glutes at the top.