4 Drills to Help You Prepare for Forearm Balance
Whether you’re working toward pincha mayurasana (forearm balance), looking to refine your practice of it, or just want to add more upper-body strengthening into your regular asana routine, here are a few simple—yet challenging—pincha preps and drills to include in your practice.
1. Forearm Plank Variations
Just as a classic plank is a fantastic prep for handstand, forearm plank is an excellent prep for forearm balance. In this pose, you’re bearing weight through your arms, and your hands and forearms are in the same position they’ll be in for pincha mayurasana, but you’re not asking your shoulders and arms to bear the entirety of your body weight.
To set up, come onto your forearms and knees, stacking your shoulders over your elbows and your knees under your hips. Your forearms should be parallel to each other, palms facing the floor, and fingers spread comfortably and evenly apart.
For many people, keeping the forearms parallel in pincha mayurasana is quite challenging—the elbows tend to splay out, which internally rotates the upper arms and compromises shoulder stability and balance. A cue to “resist your forearms toward each other” or “hug into the midline” can be helpful, but when you’re already upside down trying to balance in pincha, it’s easier said than done! That’s where forearm plank comes in.
If you typically bring your hands together and clasp them in forearm plank to keep your elbows from splaying, try this instead: Set up with your forearms parallel, palms facing down, and while keeping your elbows and forearms where they are, walk just your hands out a bit. Moving the hands out can help the elbows to stay in without changing the parallel relationship of the forearms.
You can also place a yoga block at its lowest and widest setting on the floor between your hands. With your forearms parallel to each other, clasp the sides of the block so your fingers wrap around the far edges and your thumbs rest on top of the block.
From this setup, reach your right leg and then your left leg back to come into a forearm plank, keeping your shoulders stacked over your elbows and your gaze slightly forward. Press the backs of your thighs up toward the sky, but avoid sticking your butt up in the air. You may need to walk your feet back a little to find this alignment.
Hug your forearms toward each other, push the floor away with your wrists and elbows, and reach back through your inner heels. These same actions are essential in forearm balance, only then you’ll be reaching up through your inner heels instead of back.
To build strength for pincha, work up to a one-minute hold (or longer!) while maintaining smooth, even breathing. If this variation feels unsustainable, try lowering one or both knees to the floor (being sure to change sides halfway through if one knee is down).
For an added challenge, lift one foot off the floor, without letting that hip roll open. Change sides after 30 seconds.
For even more challenge: On an inhale, lift your right foot off the floor. On an exhale, bend your right knee and tap (or attempt to tap!) your right outer upper arm with it. On an inhale, re-extend your right leg, returning to a one-legged forearm plank. On an exhale, lower your right foot to the floor, returning to forearm plank. Switch sides. Continue for ten rounds or about 30 seconds.
Plank walks are another great way to build strength for forearm balance.
Start in a traditional plank on your hands, with shoulders over wrists. Lower your right forearm, aligning your elbow under your shoulder; then lower your left forearm to come into forearm plank. Nope—you’re not going to stay there! Walk your right hand back up to bring your wrist under your shoulder; then walk your left hand up to come back into regular plank.
Repeat, this time lowering your left forearm first. Continue for ten rounds or about 30 seconds, alternating starting sides.
Try your best to keep your hips low and stable.
You can also practice this variation with both knees on the floor, slightly behind your hips as they would be for a traditional kneeling plank pose.
2. Dolphin and L-Pose on Forearms
Because dolphin pose is your starting place when moving into pincha mayurasana (and if you don’t have a strong, stable starting place, you’re not going to get very far!), holding dolphin for time is another excellent way to build strength for forearm balancing.
As in the forearm plank variations above, practice this dolphin with your forearms parallel, walking your hands out a little or holding a block if you like.
Begin on forearms and knees, forearms parallel, elbows under shoulders, and knees under hips. Tuck your toes under and press up into dolphin pose, keeping your shoulders stacked over your elbows.
If your lower back rounds, rise onto (or higher onto) the balls of your feet, and keeping your hips high, bend your knees, which may allow you to find more length through your spine.
If this feels challenging enough as is, remain where you are. If not, explore walking your feet forward, closer to your elbows. Your heels might be able to touch the floor, but it’s also okay if they don’t.
Gaze back toward your shins. Hug your forearms in toward each other and continue to push the floor away with your wrists and elbows.
Work up to a hold of one minute or longer.
You can also experiment with lifting one leg at a time. (If you’re holding for time, be sure to change sides halfway through.)
If you’re ready for an additional challenge, you can try a forearm version of L-pose at the wall. It’s essentially the same as L-handstand, if you’re familiar with that, but on forearms. As with L-handstand and traditional handstand, the L-variation of forearm balance actually requires more upper-body strength than classic pincha mayurasana, but balancing is much easier since your feet are on the wall.
Sit with your back against a wall on your mat and extend your legs (as in dandasana). Note where your heels are, and then come to forearms and knees, placing your elbows where your heels just were and stacking your shoulders right above your elbows.
This “leg’s length away from the wall” setup is a pretty good starting place, but as you move into the pose, you may find that you need to come down and move your arms a little closer or a little farther away from the wall to adapt the setup to your body proportions. Eventually, you’ll figure out your ideal starting place.
From forearms and knees (hands out or holding a block if you like), press up and back into dolphin, keeping your shoulders over your elbows.
Hug your forearms toward each other, push the floor away with your wrists and elbows, and place one foot and then the other on the wall at hip height.
Shoulder-over-elbow alignment is essential to L-forearm balance, so if your shoulders are too far forward or back once you come up into the L, lower down and adjust your starting position. Continue to hug your forearms in, push the floor away with your wrists and elbows, and press your feet into the wall.
You can gaze slightly forward, toward your hands, or drop your head so you are gazing toward the wall (but note that your head will not be on the floor—this is not a headstand!)
Here, too, you can hold for time, working up to a one-minute hold eventually, but if you begin to feel fatigued or like you’re starting to collapse into your shoulders, come out of the pose.
3. Turbo Dog Push-ups
Turbo dog push-ups are inspired by the pose turbo dog from Forrest Yoga and are a superb way to build upper-body strength (particularly as far as the lats, triceps, and serratus anterior are concerned) and to perfect your parallel forearms for pincha, but they can be quite challenging (after all, that’s kind of the point!).
Begin in downward facing dog. If you found it helpful to turn out your hands in the previous preps, you may want to turn them out here as well. Gaze slightly forward and begin to bend your elbows, pointing them straight back, as though you were going to come into dolphin.
Don’t actually lower them all the way to the floor; instead, hover your elbows above the floor and then straighten your arms to return to downward dog. Continue to hug your elbows in toward each other and aim to bend and straighten both arms together (not one at a time).
Repeat a few more times, working up to ten repetitions. Keep in mind that these push-ups don’t have to be very big! It’s fine to bend your elbows just a little bit.
You may find that, along with building strength for forearm balance, these preps enable you to simultaneously lower both of your forearms all the way to the floor, making it possible for you to transition right into dolphin from down dog. From dolphin, you might also be able to straighten both arms simultaneously, coming right back to down dog from dolphin!
These can be particularly useful transitions to incorporate into a flow. For example, moving from down dog to dolphin to forearm balance and back to dolphin then down dog will allow you to sneak a pincha mayurasana into your sequence without too much disruption to your flow.
4. Pincha Press-ups with Prayer Hands
Most of the previous preps focused on keeping the forearms parallel without having to balance on them. This prep, on the other hand, lets you work toward balancing on your forearms without keeping them parallel—but without compromising shoulder stability either.
Bring your mat to a wall, and set up on forearms and knees, this time facing the wall and about five inches away from it. Keep your forearms on the floor, but bring your hands into a prayer position. (You can also clasp your hands if you prefer; just make sure to tuck your bottom pinky in so that you don’t crush it.)
Keeping your shoulders above your elbows, tuck your toes under and press up into dolphin. Hug your forearms toward each other and push your wrists and elbows into the floor. Maintaining these actions, begin to walk your feet forward —as close to your elbows as possible while still maintaining shoulder-over-elbow alignment. Your head will remain off the floor. You can gaze back toward your legs or slightly forward toward your hands.
Next, on an inhale, lift your left leg up, and continuing to push the floor away with your forearms, see if you can float your right foot away from the floor, perhaps bringing it up to meet your left foot for a variation of forearm stand. It’s fine for your heels to rest on the wall, but continue to hug your forearms toward each other, push the floor away, and reach up through your inner heels. If your heels are on the wall, these actions may help you to, eventually, move both heels away from the wall together.
(Over time, you may feel comfortable practicing this variation without the wall as well.)
Stay for a few breaths, but come out of the pose if you start to feel fatigued or are no longer able to maintain optimal alignment. Lower one leg at a time and then switch sides.
Now you have the tools you need to work toward forearm balance!
For even more strength-building drills in a video format, try Dianne Bondy’s class “3 Drills to Build Strength for Inversions and Arm Balances.”
Enjoy the challenge!
Kat Heagberg is the editor of Yoga International and has been teaching yoga since 2005. She loves to write about ways to make challenging poses more accessible, the power of language in yoga culture, and to offer encouragement and advice to new yoga teachers. Though she initially trained in alignment-based styles of yoga (which continue to inform her practice and teaching), Kat likes teaching vinyasa flow best of all. Read her work and take her classes here on Yoga International!