If you're working on developing long lean muscles to flaunt at the beach, it's time to learn yoga arm balances. Arm balances are an incredible way to achieve ridiculous definition in your upper limbs. From the inside out, they activate the deeper large muscles closer to the bone, as well as the tiny superficial muscles on top.
Although weights are great for toned arms, yoga postures work especially well because they require isometric contraction of the muscles, which is key for contour. When muscles contract isometrically, they don't push or pull, bend or extend, but simply squeeze inward towards the bone.
To build strength before you dive into your arm balances, I recommend you master the following poses:
1. Forearm Plank
Lie on your stomach resting on your forearms. Align your forearms with your shoulders and your shoulders directly over your elbows. Check to see that your wrists line up with your elbows. Make sure that your hands face straight forward and that your palms are flat.
Curl your toes under, inhale, and on your exhale, elevate your whole body — but leave your forearms and balls of your feet on the ground.
You should feel and execute a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels. This means that you need to lengthen your tailbone towards your knees and lift your abs in towards your spine (this is activation of the deepest transverse abdominal muscles). Soften your upper back to iron out any curvature of your spine. Make sure that your legs are straight.
Start with 10 to 30 seconds a day (depending on your starting strength). Every two to three days, add 15 more seconds until you are able to hold forearm plank for two minutes.
2. Modified Chaturanga Push-Ups
Come onto your hands and knees. Shift your hips forward so that your body forms a diagonal line in space (like a see-saw at rest) and is straight from the crown of your head to the base of your tailbone (with your knees and legs still on the ground).
Keeping your elbows sealed alongside your ribs, bend your elbows to ninety degrees, performing a push-up. Your chest moves forward ahead of your hands as you lower.
Press back up to starting position. Start with 5-10 reps minimum and build to 20. Once you master these modified Chaturanga push-ups, move to full Chaturanga push-ups (same as the modified version but with knees and legs off of the ground, like a normal push-up).
3. Modified Lolasana Lifts
Place a yoga or exercise mat on the ground with two yoga blocks.
Come onto your knees and cross your calves. Place the blocks lengthwise along your thighs with the top of the blocks in line with your knees.
Inhale, and on an exhale hollow out your abdomen. Then, press your hands into the blocks. At the same time as you exert force into your plams, hike your heels up towards your buttocks so that your whole body suspends into the air like a pendulum (just your hands remain on the block).
You will be dangling with your face and body almost parallel to the floor. If you can’t get your whole body off of the ground, support yourself on your toes and practice lifting just your buttocks keeping your toes on the ground. Progress when ready.
Once you're hanging, hold for two breaths. Release back down to a seated position. Switch the crossing of your legs and repeat. Do two sets.
Work your way up to holding this pose for five breaths.
4. Crow Shifts (Video Below)
Place a block horizontally on your mat. Step into a squat on the block using your hands on the ground to assist you. Bring the inner edges of your feet's arches together. Open your knees into a butterfly position.
Place your palms on the floor shoulder-width apart and flat, with your fingers spread wide. Bring your inner knees to just below your outer shoulders. Begin to shift your weight towards your hands, pressing firmly into your fingertips as you do so. Engage your core and squeeze your inner knees against the outside of your upper arms. Avoid lifting your hips high into the air.
Do five repetitions. Rest. Repeat again.
Julie Wilcox, MS is a registered yoga teacher through YogaWorks and the founder of The Julie Wilcox Method. She received a bachelor in arts in English and American literature from Harvard University and a masters of science in nutrition and dietetics from New York University. Wilcox has written yoga and nutrition articles for Forbes, FoxNews, Greatist and more.