Fitness Magazine

Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter

Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice

Warrior 3 Pose

Lower body strength is vital to so many of our daily activities, from the simplest tasks, such as, getting out of bed in the morning and moving around the house as we start the day, to elective activities, such as, getting up and down in the garden on a lovely spring day, to unexpected events, such as helping to move furniture for your best friend. So, from from my perspective, we are talking about strengthening the muscles around your hip, knee, and ankle joints as well as the bones that make them up. I’ve designed this Lower Body Strength Practice for you with all that in mind.
In previous posts we have described how yoga asana practices can build both muscular strength and bone strength. Modern exercise physiology and other research has given us suggestions for how long we might want to hold our static poses to either build new muscle or new bone. And although different timings are suggested in the literature, I’d recommend that when you try out these poses on your own, you start by noticing when you start to feel tired or weak or shaky as you try holding the poses. Make a mental note of how long it was before those sensations arose and then make that your starting goal point. And as you practice over time, add a few seconds to your baseline hold until you can safely work up to my suggested hold times. 

Research on bone building has suggested that holding poses or doing weight-bearing poses for up 10-70 seconds will turn on the bone-building activity in thin bones. For building new and stronger muscles, you will want to shoot for 90 second holds of the static poses. So, for combining these two goals, I suggest that you gradually work your way up to 90-second holds over the course of a few weeks or even months if you tire quickly when you start out. I will emphasize both the static poses variations and dynamic mini-vinyasa sequences (moving in and out of a particular pose). The mini-vinyasa sequences make use of strength, while at the same time requiring and challenging agility and balance, two of the other skills we want to develop in yoga for healthy aging!
And even though the following sequence is designed to address lower body strength, keep two things in mind. First, any time you are doing a yoga asana practice, you get way more then just your intended focus. So, even though I am recommending the following poses for lower body strength, know that you are also likely getting some core strengthening, upper body strengthening, and a decent amount of opening or stretching as well. Second, this is by no means an exhaustive list. I am focusing on some of the more common and accessible modern yoga poses, but you could add others on your own, if you find they challenge your lower body strength.

Warming Up
 

Dynamic Reclined Hip Stretches: Since we will be working with all the joints of the lower body, it is nice to start by warming them up to their fuller range of motion. Do this a few times on each side. 
Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
Active Practice
1. Bridge pose: Do six rounds of dynamic Bridge pose, inhaling your hips up and exhaling them down. Then come up into the pose and try to hold it for six breaths, gradually working up to a 90-second hold.
2. Locust pose: Lying on your belly, do six rounds of full or half Locust, inhaling while lifting your chest, head and either one or both legs, and exhaling back to the starting position. Then come up into the pose and try to hold it for six breaths, gradually working up to 90 seconds
over time. Take your time with this one, as it can be challenging for some lower backs.
Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
3. Boat pose: Sit with your knees bent and your feet on the floor in front of you. Hold onto the back of your knees and rock back to balance on your buttocks with your feet just off the floor. See how long you can stay before your front thighs begin to tire. If Version 1 is easy, try Version 2, which involves bringing your shins parallel to the floor and holding there. If Version 2 is easy, try Version 3, letting go of your knees and stretching your arms forward. Finally, if Version 3 isn’t challenging enough, try Version 4, straightening your knees so your upper and lower body forms a “V” shape. Start with six breaths and work up from there.
4. Hunting Dog pose: Come to your hands and knees. Extend one leg back behind you with your knee straight and toes on the floor. Keep your pelvis and lower back steady as you lift up your back leg about parallel with the floor. Hold for six breaths, gradually working towards 90-second holds. Repeat on the other side, of course!

Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
5. Mountain pose: Practice Mountain pose with a block between your thighs and your feet set so you feel a nice squeeze of your inner leg muscles against the block. Stand for 60-90 seconds with your legs actively squeezing the block. This will strengthen your inner thigh muscles in addition to working all of the standing muscles in your legs.
6. Dynamic Arms Overhead pose with Heels Lifted: Starting in Mountain pose (with or without the block in the previous pose), inhale your arms overhead and lift your heels a few inches off the floor, keeping the balls of your feet evenly on the floor. Then exhale as you return your arms and heels to the starting position. Repeat six times. Then try to hold your heels up for six breaths, adding time gradually. This is great way to strengthen your calf muscles and work on balance!
7. Powerful pose (Utkatasana): From Mountain pose (with or without a block between your thighs), inhale yours arms overhead. Then exhale into high squat, with your knees bending forward, your hips sitting back a bit and your torso leaning out over thighs a bit. Then inhale back to Mountain pose with your arms overhead. Repeat six times. Then try holding the pose for six breaths, gradually lengthening over time. This pose works your hips, knees and ankles.

Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
8. High Lunge: From Mountain pose, take an easy forward fold, placing your hands either on blocks by your feet, or on the floor. Then step one leg way back into a high lunge as you bend your front knee. Position your front knee over your front ankle joint and keep your feet hips-distance apart, side to side. Press down into your front foot and the ball of your back foot and try to use your arms less for support to increase the work of your legs. Start with six breaths and gradually increase to 90 seconds over time. Repeat on the other side.
9. Straight Leg Standing poses: You’ll be doing a dynamic sequence as a warm up for the full static hold. I will use Triangle pose to illustrate this, but you could do this with Pyramid pose as well. Start with your legs apart and feet aligned as usual for Triangle. Inhale your arms up parallel with the floor, and then exhale into Triangle. Inhale back up with arms out to sides, and then exhale your arms down to your sides. Repeat six times. Then hold full Triangle for six breaths, and work on increasing your time in the pose. Repeat on second side. So, do the dynamic sequence as a warm up for the full static hold.

Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
10. Bent Knee Standing poses: You’ll be doing a dynamic sequence as a warm up for the full static hold. I will use Warrior 2 to illustrate this, but you could do this with Warrior 1 and Extended Side Angle Pose as well. Start with your legs apart and feet aligned for Warrior 2. Inhale your arms up parallel with floor, and then, as you exhale, bend your front knee over the front ankle joint. Inhale while straightening your front knee and exhale as you release your arms to your sides. Repeat for six rounds, and then hold the full pose for six breaths, working up to 90 seconds gradually. Repeat on second side.
Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
11. Balancing Poses: You’ll be moving with your breath to enter the pose. I will use Warrior 3 to illustrate this, but you could do Half Moon Pose, Tree Pose or Eagle Pose similarly. Stand with your feet and torso aligned as for Warrior 1 pose. Then inhale your arms overhead. Next, exhale and bend your front leg over your front foot, and as you inhale, tip your torso forward over your front leg, pivoting onto the ball of your back foot. Exhale and step your back foot toward your front foot about six inches. On your next breath cycle, with hands to hips, tip forward and balance on your front foot, straightening your front knee, lifting your back leg up for Warrior 3.  Hold for six breaths, then step back foot down to the floor. While in the pose, attempt to keep your hips square with the floor beneath you, and work toward getting your back leg and your torso parallel with the floor. Repeat on second side. Gradually add more time in the pose.
Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
Cooling Down
After strong standing pose work, it is a treat to rest your legs nicely for a few minutes. I recommend any of the following three poses:

Savasana with a bolster under the knees (see Corpse Pose Variations): 
Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
Easy Inverted pose:
Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice
Legs Up the Wall pose (Viparita Karani), my favorite:
Featured Sequence: Lower Body Strength Practice

Aim for 10 minutes to try and cultivate the Relaxation Response for your body and your mind!


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