Think Outside the Mat and Try These 9 Yoga Block Exercises for Building Strength

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Photo: Getty Images/vitapix
It's a total myth that reaching for a yoga block when you can't quite touch the floor or slipping one under your hip to make a pose comfier is cheating, or in some way making your practice easier. According to Kelly Clifton-Turner, yoga instructor and director of education for YogaSix, it's quite the opposite. If you're not incorporating yoga block exercises into your flow, she says, you're likely doing yourself a disservice. "Most bodies will benefit tremendously by using blocks, as the three levels of height allow for countless ways to customize and support a person's practice," Clifton-Turner explains.

And yoga blocks aren't just handy when you're flowing through your Vinyasa practice—they can be great tools for strength training, too. Whether you're swapping your typical dumbbell for a block or using the equipment to add a resistance or balance challenge to a move that's become a little too easy, a yoga block might be just what you need to level-up your workout. But don't just take our word for it.

Below, fitness pros share 9 yoga block exercises to help you build your strength

1. Traditional shoulder press

How to do it: Put your hand into a fist and place the yoga block on top of your knuckles. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, glutes engaged, slowly press your fist towards the ceiling while balancing the block on your wrist. Fully extend until your bicep reaches your ear, then slowly descend.

Why it's so great: Ridge Davis, celebrity trainer and Puma athlete, loves using a yoga block in this staple arm-strengthening move. "The balancing component of this move is great for building the stabilizer muscles around the shoulder joint," he says, noting that these smaller muscles are more prone to injury if they're not strong throughout their full range of motion.

2. Single-leg glute bridge

How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Place your left foot on top of a yoga block while the right leg extends straight up towards the ceiling. Drive through your heel to lift your hips off of the ground until your hips are aligned with your knees and shoulders. Slowly lower down to the starting position and repeat, then switch sides.

Why it's so great: "Putting the yoga block under the foot [in a bridge] gives this exercise a bigger range of motion," says Davis. "In turn, this will activate more muscle fibers, which helps to develop stronger glutes and hamstrings."

3. Superman

How to do it: Lie face-down with your arms reaching forward, making the letter "Y." Place one block under each hand. Keeping your arms straight, lift your hands off the blocks while lifting your chest bone off of the floor. Lower back down and then repeat.

Why it's so great: Davis says this is a great exercise for bettering your posture. "Adding the blocks really challenges and isolates the posterior deltoid, or back of the shoulders," he says, adding that these muscles are key for optimal shoulder strength.

4. Chest press with inward pressure

How to do it: Lie face-up on your back. Extend your hands over your chest, palms applying inward pressure on a yoga block. While maintaining this pressure, bend your elbows and bring the block to your chest, then extend your arms back to starting position.

Why it's so great: This move targets that hard-to isolate area between your chest and the front of your shoulder, says Davis.

5. Power lunge for arms and back

How to do it: Assume a lunge posture with your chest at a 45-degree angle over your knee. Engage your core and hold a yoga block overhead in two hands with your biceps by your ears. Move the block to one hand and bring both arms behind your back. Then transfer the block into the opposite hand, bringing your hands overhead again. Continue to move through this 15 to 20 times, transferring the block from one hand to the other overhead and behind your back. Then switch sides, going in the opposite direction.

Why it's so great: Jess Penesso, a yoga instructor and founder of The Sweat Method, says this exercise is one of her go-tos for shoulder strength.

6. Yoga block balance

How to do it: Place your yoga block on the shortest and widest setting. Step onto the block and bring your arms out to a "T" position. Lift your opposite leg out to the side while engaging the core. Try holding this for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Why it's so great: Try this move once and you'll see why Penesso loves it. (Okay, spoiler: It engages nearly every muscle in your body.)

7. Boat pose with block

How to do it: In boat pose, place a block between your inner thighs and squeeze them together. Keep your arms and chest lifted with your core engaged. Lower halfway down to a low boat while squeezing the block, then come back up to a high boat. Repeat.

Why it's so great: This exercise really burns out your core while strengthening your inner thigh muscles, says Penesso.

8. Tricep push-up with blocks

How to do it: Start in a plank position with blocks on the highest setting in front of your middle fingers. Lower halfway down with your elbows tight to your ribs into a tricep push-up until your shoulders hit the blocks. Then push up.

Why it's so great: "This is great to build strength and see how low you should actually be going in those chaturangas," says Penesso.

9. Block booty lift

How to do it: Start in tabletop position, and place one block behind your right knee. Bend your knee and flex your foot to keep the block firmly in place. Press through your heel and lift your bent leg up and back behind you towards the ceiling; then lower back into tabletop. Repeat 15 to 20 times then switch legs.

Why it's so great: Do you feel your glutes burning? That was Penesso's master plan.

A yoga block isn't the only multipurpose workout tool out there—here's how to stretch using a massage ball. And these are stability ball back exercises you can try. 

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