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Best Yoga Poses for Strong Shoulders

Reading Time: 5 minutes

DATE: 2023-10-02

Strong shoulders look powerful, but they also help you function in day-to-day activities more easily and with less pain. If you’re not into lifting, yoga is a great alternative for building strength in the shoulder muscles. Try these poses for the ultimate shoulder-burning workout. 

What Are the Shoulder Muscles? 

Exactly what are you strengthening when you work on your shoulders? This major joint is mostly supported by four muscles: 

  • Subscapularis. This muscle connects the middle of the scapula (shoulder blade) to the top of the humerus (upper arm bone). 

  • Supraspinatus. The supraspinatus connects the top of the scapula to the top of the humerus. 

  • Infraspinatus. This muscle attaches at the bottom of the scapula and the top of the humerus. 

  • Teres minor. The teres minor connects the side of the scapula to the humerus. 

These are the muscles that allow you to move your arms, rotate your shoulder, and stabilize and protect your shoulder joint. Other muscles that support the shoulder include the rhomboids that stretch from the scapula to the spine; the trapezius that is in the upper back behind the shoulder; and the deltoid on the outside of the shoulder. 

Learn More: Do Yoga Teachers Need to Know Anatomy? Yes, All 3 Types

Strong Shoulders = Less Pain and Other Benefits

Strengthening your shoulders can be an aesthetic goal, but there are many more reasons to build up these muscles. Managing pain is one of the best. Arthritis, injuries, or surgery can cause shoulder pain.

By building strength in the muscles that support the shoulder joint, you can reduce pain from any of these sources. Stronger shoulders help you move more efficiently and put less stress on the joint. Even if you don’t currently have shoulder pain, strength training can reduce the risk you will have painful injuries. 

Strong shoulder muscles can also provide these benefits: 

  • Improved posture – Strong muscles around the shoulders make it easier to keep them back and down rather than slumping forward. 

  • Increased shoulder joint mobility – Better range of motion in the joint reduces injury risk. 

  • Improved athletic performance – Stronger shoulders make it easier to perform in sports that rely on upper body strength. 

  • Improved functional movements – Functional movements are the things you do every day, like lifting objects from shelves. Strong shoulders help you perform these movements correctly, minimizing injury risk. 

Here are some tips for making yoga a regular part of your strength routine

The Best Yoga Poses for Strong Shoulders and Upper Body Strength

Yoga offers so many benefits for both mental and physical health. While flexibility is probably what first comes to mind, yoga is also effective for improving strength. Using just body weight, you can effectively strengthen most areas of the body. Try these poses to build major shoulder and overall upper body strength. 

1. Cat-Cow

This is a perfect beginner pose to start building shoulder strength. It provides a good stretch of the spine, back, and shoulders while also improving strength. Position yourself on your hands and knees on a mat. Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees. 

Look up as you drop your stomach down, letting your spine sag. Then, look down and arch your spine so it rounds upward. Repeat these two movements several times. 

2. Downward Facing Dog

Downward facing dog is a great next progression from cat-cow. It’s challenging but not too difficult for most beginners. Start slowly by holding the pose for 10 or 15 seconds and increase the time to progress as the shoulders get stronger. 

To do downward facing dog, start on your hands and knees. Tuck your toes under and lift your hips up. Straighten your legs and arms until the body is in an upside down ‘V’ shape. Press the heels and palms down into the mat to hold the position. Focus on drawing your chest and thighs in. Keep your head in line with your arms. 

3. Dolphin with Head Taps

From downward facing dog, transition to dolphin pose. Bend your arms and place your forearms on the mat. Walk your feet a little closer to your elbows, keeping your legs straight. Lower your head down and gently tap it on the mat. Raise back up and repeat. Increase the reps as you get stronger. 

4. Plank with Variations

Planks are great for shoulder strength. As a bonus, they also build core strength. You can do high plank with your hands on the mat or low plank with your forearms on the mat. In both types, press up strongly through your arms and hands to avoid letting your neck sink into your shoulders. Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe, and do not let your hips sink or raise above this line.

Just holding plank pose is a good workout for shoulders. Use variations to progress as you get stronger. Side plank loads more weight on each shoulder.

In standard plank, you can load the shoulders more and improve core strength by adding mountain climbers. Lift one foot at a time and reach the knee toward your elbow in high plank or triceps in low plank.

Learn More: Yoga props are a great way to modify poses and improve your yoga practice. 

5. Chaturanga

Often used in sequence with downward facing dog, chaturanga is very challenging in terms of shoulder strength. Start in a high plank. Shift forward as needed until your shoulders are over your fingertips. 

Keep your arms close to your sides as you bend at the elbows and lower your body about halfway to the floor. At this point, your shoulders should be in line with your elbows, which are at a 90-degree angle. 

This pose is similar to doing a push up. If it is too difficult, use a similar modification. From high plank, first lower your knees to the mat and then lower your body using your arms. You can also make this move more difficult by treating it like a push up. Lower your body slowly up and down focusing on good form. 

6. Warrior II 

Try warrior II if you are not ready to put the pressure of all your body weight on your shoulders. This is a standing pose that can help you build shoulder strength gently. Start in downward facing dog. Step your left foot between your hands on the mat. Turn your right foot out to a 45-degree angle. 

Raise your upper body with arms out in a ‘T’ shape. Your left arm will be extended straight over your left leg and your right arm behind you and over your right leg. Bed your left knee keeping it aligned over your left heel. Straighten the right leg. 

Hold this position with your arms out straight and your head turned so that you are looking over your left arm. Just holding the arms in this position helps to build shoulder strength. Move back into downward facing dog and repeat with the right leg forward and left leg back. 

For overall upper body strength, try this series of intense yoga poses


If you have significant shoulder pain or an injury or have undergone shoulder surgery recently, you might need to avoid some of these poses. They could put extra strain on the joint causing more pain and injury. Talk to your doctor or surgeon to get recommendations for gentle shoulder strengthening exercises and to get the go-ahead to do tough yoga poses. 

Yoga is a versatile practice that goes well beyond a spiritual practice or a way to become more flexible. You can build major strength using your own bodyweight and by holding these challenging poses.

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