How To Do Downward Dog

Chloe Freytag demonstrating a Down Dog in a blue tank top and yoga pants

 

A favorite among most yoga students, downward dog is an outstanding pose for stretching the low back, hamstrings, lower legs and feet. When you arrive in this pose, there is almost an instant sensation of relief as tightness along the entire back of your body is released. Anyone and everyone – yoga student or not – should learn how to do downward dog.

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There is a reason downward dog is repeated so frequently during almost all yoga practices. It is a pose like no other. Not only is it simple for most people to do, but is feels good to nearly everyone. In addition, it is one of the most malleable poses since it can be adjusted to go deeper or lighter almost instantly by applying more or less pressure through the hands, arms and back. And if you’ve ever owned a dog you know instantly where this pose got its name. The position of downward dog is inherent in dogs because of the release it provides in the spine.

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More than just a stretch for the spine, however, downward dog is a pose of strength. It takes back, shoulder and arm muscles to push the body into its proper position for Downward Dog. The deeper you want to stretch, the more you need to push through your upper body muscles and the more you work on isometric strength.

One of the unique benefits of Downward Dog is the stretch in the lower leg, achilles and feet. No other pose provides this kind of stretch to a place on your body that can be so tight and prone to injury. Tight calves pull on achilles tendons which pull on the bottom of the feet. When you are able to stretch all of those in one simple pose, you should definitely take advantage!

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How To Do Downward Dog

1) Begin in a kneeling position on your mat with hands directly under shoulders, fingers spread wide.

2) Tuck your toes under and engage your abdominals as you push your body up off the mat so only your hands and feet are on the mat.

3) Press through your hands moving your chest gently toward your thighs and your heels gently toward the floor.

4) Relax your head and neck and breathe fully.

The below video shows how to perform downward dog as well as adding in a push-up.

What Muscles Does Downward Dog Work?

Downward dog is a favorite amongst most yogis because of the incredible stretch for the entire backside of your body. Specifically downward dog stretches the back, hamstrings, calves and ankles. It can even stretch the bottom of the feet when performed correctly.

Benefits of Downward Dog

There are many reasons you should incorporate downward dog into your workouts. Here are just a few:

Stretches the Hamstrings

Hamstrings are universally tight amongst most people, but particularly among athletes. Downward dog is known for its instant relief of hamstring tightness and ability to open up the back of the legs.

Low Back Health

With over 80% of the population in the United States reporting some type of lower back pain in their life, finding a stretch like the downward dog to keep that area healthy is a must. If your low back is tight or sore, the downward dog will give you instant relief.

Strengthens the Upper Back

While focusing on the amazing stretch benefits in a downward dog, people often forget they are using upper back and shoulder muscle to help guide the body into this deep position. Downward dog promotes a strong, healthy upper back.

How Many Calories Does Downward Dog Burn?

People often ask how many calories they are burning in their workouts. Most exercises will generally burn about 100 calories for every 10 minutes you are working at higher intensity. Bottom line – the harder you work, the more calories you burn. The benefits of the downward dog are uniquely different from a high calorie burn activity such as running or cycling. Results are not necessarily reflected in the calorie burn. However, keep in mind that a good yoga practice, which includes downward dog, can be a great way to burn the calories desired. So get your yoga on!

Other Exercises Similar to Downward Dog

If you like the downward dog and the results you get from it, here are a few more exercises you might want to try.

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How To Do Yogi Squat Pose

How To Do Dolphin Pose

Incorporating Downward Dog Into Your Workouts

Downward dog is a great pose to practice any time on its own. However, you could also incorporate it into other workouts to mix them up. Here are some ideas to make that happen.

Use Downward Dog In A Yoga Workout

Yoga is a fantastic workout not only for your flexibility, but also for your overall strength. Incorporating the downward dog into your yoga practice opens the back of the body and strengthens the shoulder and back muscles. Try this short yoga series designed to do at home.

At-Home Yoga Workout

Cat-Cow- (5 repetitions for warm-up)

Downward Dog – Plank – ChaturangaUpward Dog – (repeat series 5 times)

Crescent Lunge Right – Warrior 2Warrior 3

Downward Dog – Plank – Chaturanga – Upward Dog –Downward Dog

Crescent Lunge Left – Warrior 2 – Warrior 3

Downward Dog – Plank – Chaturanga – Upward Dog –Downward Dog

Chair Pose– Hold 1 minute

Eagle Pose – Hold 1 minute per side

Pigeon Pose – Hold 30 seconds per side.

Child’s Pose – Hold as long as you like.

Use Downward Dog In a Stress Relief Workout

One thing we know about yoga is that it challenges both the body and the mind and it helps relieve stress and tension. Downward dog is included in this yoga practice designed to get your mind to focus and relieve your stress by breathing and focusing on the present.

Yoga To Relieve Stress: The key to effectiveness in this practice is to hold each pose for at least five slow, deep breaths. In addition, practice keeping your attention focused on your breathing and your body. Do your best to keep your mind from wandering back to your busy life.

Hold each of the following poses for at least 5 slow breaths, then transition directly to the next pose.

CHILD’S POSE

CAT POSE

COW POSE

CAT POSE

DOWNWARD DOG

CRESCENT LUNGE RIGHT

DOWNWARD DOG

CRESCENT LUNGE LEFT

DOWNWARD DOG

WARRIOR 3 RIGHT LEG

PLANK

DOWNWARD DOG

WARRIOR 3 LEFT LEG

PLANK

CHILD’S POSE

Use Downward Dog in a Push-Up Challenge:

Downward Dog is also great for upper body strength. When you combine it with a push-up you will get your stretch AND your strength all in one. Try this push-up challenge for a stronger upper body and beautiful arms.

Push-Up Challenge: Try to perform each exercise for 10 reps going from one to the next with no break in between. Take time to rest at the end and repeat if you still have the strength!

Kneeling Push-Up

Shoulder Tap Push-Up

Downward Dog Push-Up

Push-Up T

Tricep Side Push-Up (10 each side)

Here are 3 more workouts that incorporate downward dog:

12 Yoga Poses To Help Alleviate Back Pain

11 Essential Yoga Poses For Runners

15 Push-Up Variations You’re Going To Want To Try

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