Here’s the yoga sequence a coach uses with his older clients to help them gain strength, endurance, and balance.
There are lots of reasons yoga is good for you. It can lower your stress levels and help you sleep better, research shows. It can improve your blood pressure and your cardiovascular fitness. But if you think of yoga as gentle, slow, and meditative, you may be surprised to learn that it can also be a serious strength builder.
That’s an important benefit, because maintaining strength is a huge part of healthy aging. Among other benefits, it’s linked to improved bone density, better balance and mobility, and less loss of muscle mass as you get older, which helps prevent you from becoming frail and prone to falling. Strength training even helps prevent chronic diseases, reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, arthritis, and other conditions.
But strength training doesn’t have to involve lifting dumbbells or going to the gym. If that kind of exercise doesn’t appeal to you, you’re in luck: A low-impact workout like yoga can give you the same muscle-maintaining benefits, according to strength and conditioning coach Reda Elmardi, C.S.C.S., who often uses yoga-based sequences with older clients.
“Yoga poses build strength, stretch the muscles and joints, and strengthen your core,” Elmardi says. And that’s exactly what you want to accomplish in order to keep moving easily and feeling steady and strong.
Even better, you don’t need to do a long, complicated yoga workout to reap these benefits, Elmardi says. The six poses below will help you build strength while also supporting your joints and firing up your core muscles (the ones that help with balance). Aim to do them two to three times each week.
Get and stay fit with SilverSneakers! Choose from dozens of different Community classes, visit a participating fitness location, or join one of our 20+ SilverSneakers LIVE online classes. Check your eligibility here.
How to Use the Yoga-for-Strength Workout
Elmardi likes to start this routine with a minute of deep breathing: Simply inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If you’re feeling especially stressed, make your exhale slightly longer than your inhale. Then do each of the postures below.
If you’re an exerciser who likes to move through a workout more quickly, that’s OK, too. You can modify the routine by spending only a few seconds in each pose, but repeating the entire sequence three times.
Either way, you’ll be on your way toward building strength with yoga.
As always, safety is key. Get your doctor’s OK before beginning any new exercise program. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Pose #1: Cat-Cow
- Start on all fours with your hands below shoulders and knees below hips.
- Slowly round your back up toward the ceiling (like a cat) while tucking your chin toward your tailbone.
- Then reverse the movement by arching your back (think about a cow) while lifting your hips and head.
- Form tip: Focus on raising your head and tailbone to get into the cow position rather than dumping into your lower back.
- Alternate between cat and cow for one minute (or for a slow 10 reps — five with back rounded, five with back arched).
Standing Cow Variation: If you have trouble with floor-based exercises, try the standing cat-cow. Press play to follow along:
Pose #2: Supported Side Plank
- Lie on your left side with your legs extended and hips stacked.
- Prop your upper body up on your left elbow and forearm. Your left elbow should be bent 90 degrees and be positioned directly under your shoulder.
- Brace your core by contracting your abs forcefully as if you were about to be punched in the gut.
- Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders.
- Hold this position for five breaths, or as long as you can.
- Switch sides so that you’re lying on your right side, and repeat.
Supported Side Plank Variation: If it’s uncomfortable to have both legs extended, try the modified version shown below. The bottom knee will be bent 90 degrees and you will lift your hips, so you are in a straight line from shoulders to knees. You can even do this with both knees bent.
Standing Side Plank Variation: If you’re unable to get on the floor, try this standing variation using a sturdy chair for support.
Like these poses? Try a SilverSneakers Yoga Class! You’ll be guided through a series of seated and standing yoga poses designed to increase flexibility, balance, and range of motion. It’s offered both in-person at participating SilverSneakers fitness locations (review the gym’s schedule for exact times), or online with SilverSneakers LIVE.
Pose #3: Downward Dog Facing a Chair
- Stand facing a sturdy chair about arm’s length away with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. (You can place the chair so the seat is facing you, as shown, or so the back of the chair is facing you.)
- Hinging from your hips, take a few steps back so that your spine becomes parallel with the floor, or as far as you comfortably can.
- Hold for five to 10 deep breaths, or as long as you can.
- Bend your knees, and take baby steps toward the chair, rounding your back slightly as you return to standing.
Downward Dog Variations: This exercise can also be done facing a wall or — more challenging — hinging forward to the floor. Find instructions for other downward dog variations here.
Pose #4: Plank
- Lie on your stomach with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and forearms flat on the floor. Focus your eyes between your hands. (You can also do the move with your knees on the floor.)
- From here, lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from head to ankles. (If you’re keeping your knees on the floor, lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to knees.)
- Hold for five to 10 deep breaths, or as long as you can with good form.
Plank Variations: If the traditional plank is uncomfortable for you, try one of the elevated Plank Progressions found here.
Pose #5: Seated Crescent Lunge
- Sit toward the edge of a sturdy chair that does not have arm rests.
- Turn your body to the left so that your left leg is forward, and your right leg is behind you.
- Place your left foot flat on the floor. Your left thigh will be on the chair.
- Extend your right leg behind you. It’s OK to bend the knee, but try to have the ball of your right foot touch the floor.
- Press both feet into the ground so you feel a squeeze in your leg muscles .
- Brace your core, engaging the muscles around your belly button.
- Roll your shoulders down and squeeze your shoulder blades in.
- Keep your hands on your waist or raise them above your head as far as you comfortably can.
- Keep your head neutral and gaze forward.
- Hold for five to 10 deep breaths, or as long as you can.
- Return to start and repeat on the other side.
Pose #6: Warrior II
- Begin in a staggered stance, with your left foot forward and right foot back.
- Turn your left toes out so they’re pointing straight ahead.
- Bend your left knee about 90 degrees, keeping your knee above your ankle and heel.
- Keep the outer edge of your right (back) foot firmly on the floor. Engage your belly.
- Extend your arms out at your sides with your palms facing down and gaze out over the middle fingertips of your left hand.
- Breathe here for three to five slow, deep breaths, then
- Gently return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side.
Form tip: To really engage your core and reduce any stress on your lower back, tuck your tailbone slightly. Think about eliminating any curve in your lower back and imagine there’s a string pulling the top of your head toward the ceiling.
See our sources:
Yoga and sleep: BMC Psychiatry (2020) The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Yoga and cardiovascular health: Harvard Health (2021) Yoga Benefits Beyond the Mat
Strength training and improved bone density: ScienceDirect (2018) Muscle strength rather than muscle mass is associated with osteoporosis in older Chinese adults
Strength training and improved balance: Leiden University (2015) Impaired standing balance: Unraveling the underlying cause in elderly
Strength training and mobility and age-related muscle loss: PLOS One (2021) The mobility limitation in healthy older people is due to weakness and not slower muscle contractile properties
Frailty and fall prevention: Aging Research Reviews (2018) The age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function: Measurement and physiology of muscle fibre atrophy and muscle fibre loss in humans
Strength training and chronic diseases: Frontiers in Physiology (2019) Resistance Exercise Training as a Primary Countermeasure to Age-Related Chronic Disease
Take Your Favorite SilverSneakers Classes Online!
SilverSneakers members can access live fitness classes and wellness workshops through SilverSneakers LIVE. See the latest schedule and RSVP for classes here.
Not a member? If you have a Medicare Plan, it may include SilverSneakers—at no additional cost. Check your eligibility instantly here.
Not eligible for SilverSneakers? You can still get 200+ free SilverSneakers On-Demand videos and stay in touch with us by creating your online account.