3 Downward Dog Variations for Head-to-Toe Strength

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Feel good about your day and great about your ability with this one yoga move.

downward dog

Think about your day so far. What have you done?

You probably hopped in the car to run errands. Maybe you opened a social media app to post an update or check in on friends. At some point you probably got hungry and prepped a meal.

Notice any pattern? Between sitting in the car, hunching over your smartphone, and bending over pots and cutting boards, your body hasn't moved much. In fact, it's been in a stooped state that's not that great for blood flow or easy breathing.

The downward-facing dog yoga pose is one move that can serve as an antidote to all that tension in your body. Even if you’ve never set foot in a yoga class, chances are you know this pose: It’s the one that looks like an upside-down V.

In yoga, the downward dog is one of the go-to poses for getting the kinks out. But it's also a move that can seriously tone your arms, shoulders, and core. And you'll get a pretty good stretch all along your spine and down the backs of your legs.

We know what you might be thinking right about now, "Sounds nice, but no way can I do that." But hear us out. The downward dog can be easily modified to suit a wide range of fitness levels.

Follow along as we show you three different variations. Try just one of them or try them all, then add the one that feels just right to your exercise routine.

How to Use These Exercises

All you need is a wall, chair, or mat. Wear comfortable clothing, and feel free to wear your shoes.

Once you're in position, think about bracing your core for good stability. Try to get your legs as straight as you comfortably can-without locking or hyperextending your knees. You'll want your shoulders to be relaxed, not pulled in toward your neck. And don't forget to breathe deeply and rhythmically for three to five breaths.

You can do the downward-facing dog on its own whenever you need to hit reset on your day or as part of a yoga flow to build total-body strength.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Variation #1: Downward-Facing Dog with Wall

How to do it: Stand at a wall about arm’s length away with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on the wall.

Hinging from your hips, walk your hands down the wall until your torso is parallel to the floor or as far as you can comfortably go with good form. Engage your back, and keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Hold for three to five breaths.

Bend your knees, and take baby steps toward the wall, inching your hands up the wall as you return to standing.

Variation #2: Downward-Facing Dog with Chair

How to do it: Stand facing the back of a chair. Place your hands lightly on the back of the chair, and straighten your arms.

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Hinging from your hips, take a few steps back so that your spine becomes parallel with the floor. Straighten your legs as much as comfortable without locking them out, and lengthen your spine, keeping it neutral from head to tailbone. Breathe here for three to five breaths.

Bend your knees, and take baby steps toward the chair, rounding your back slightly as you return to standing.

Make it easier: Keep your knees soft, or bend one knee at a time for a hip stretch.

Variation #3: Downward-Facing Dog on the Mat

How to do it: Get down on all fours with your knees underneath your hips and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Make sure your palms have good contact with the floor, and engage your belly.

Press into the floor with your hands and feet, gently drawing your hips toward the ceiling so your body forms an upside-down V. Engage your back, and keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Feel the stretch in your legs, but let your knees bend and heels stay lifted as much as you need to. Breathe here for three to five breaths, then gently return to the starting position.

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