Forget the gym — this yoga-inspired workout builds a stronger core and arms in just 5 moves

a woman performing the cobra pose on a yoga mat
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Want to strengthen your upper body and core without needing weights? We’ve found a five move routine that gently challenges the body, especially the arm and core muscles, using just your body weight and a mix of yoga-inspired movements.

The routine comes from yoga and meditation teacher Esther da Costa and can be completed anywhere you have space to roll out one of the best yoga mats. Most of the moves involve planting your feet, knees, or elbows onto the ground, so a mat will help to alleviate pressure from your joints.

Yoga is a great way to strengthen the core by engaging various muscles in a variety of poses, helping to improve stability, balance and abdominal strength. But it’s also an effective form of exercise for toning and strengthening the arms body by engaging the upper body muscles through weight bearing poses and movements. 

What is the routine?

Using Costa's demonstrations below, you should aim to spend 30-45 seconds on each of the five exercises. Rather than focus on holding one yoga pose in each section, the workout adds extra positions and challenges to each part.

Costa's tips for getting the most out of the routine are to try and keep your movement controlled, keep tuning into your body, and try to link your movements with your breath. She notes, "I inhale as I lower, exhale as I push up."

Costa also explains that she loves to combine upper body and core in her workouts because they are very complementary to each other and frequently feature in Yang-style yoga. This is a more active form of yoga that focuses on promoting strength and stamina.

By integrating exercises such as triceps push-ups, kneeling dolphin push-ups, kneeling plank push-ups, forearm plank holds, and table top hover holds, the workout above engages both the upper body and core muscles simultaneously, offering an efficient approach to strength training. 

The exercises challenge the arms, shoulders, chest, and back muscles, promoting muscular endurance, strength, and definition throughout the upper body. Additionally, the incorporation of transitions between different poses enhances flexibility, coordination, and balance, like many Pilates exercises for strengthening your core

Throughout the routine, emphasis is placed on engaging the core muscles, including the abdominals and lower back, to provide stability and support during each movement. This focus on core engagement not only helps to strengthen the midsection but can also improve overall posture.

The combination of movements and static holds will help to activate deep stabilizing muscles while also targeting larger muscle groups, helping to enhance balance and functional upper body strength.

The yoga-inspired nature of this workout also emphasizes mindfulness and breath awareness, promoting a mind-body connection. By synchronizing breath with movement, you can deepen your awareness of muscle engagement and alignment, maximizing the benefits of each exercise. 

This workout approach not only enhances physical strength but can also boost feelings of calmness and happiness. If you're looking for a way to develop that mind-body connection away from your mat, then it's worth adding this short breathing routine into your day to build mental strength too. 

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.