Yoga is known to decrease stress and increase body awareness and flexibility. But despite its seeming superpowers, it falls a little short in one area: dynamic, pulling movements.
“All of yoga involves pushing,” says Trina Altman, certified yoga teacher and creator of Yoga Deconstructed. “There’s no pulling. It’s bodyweight training, so you’re missing out on external resistance from a weight or a stretchy band.”
With that in mind, Altman created a series of unique exercises using a yoga blanket and two blocks to incorporate pulling and strength-based movements into her yoga classes. “Most yoga poses involve being in an end range of motion, and that’s where we’re very weak,” she explains. “By doing blanket exercises, you have to strengthen in your end ranges of motion, so it’s going to help you with your yoga poses.”
Altman shared 10 of her favorite blanket exercises to help you balance out your regular yoga practice, build strength, and reduce your risk of injury.
1. Blanket Slide
Do this exercise to target the pulling muscles along your back and help balance your shoulders from all the pushing done in traditional yoga poses.
Lie on the blanket on your stomach with arms extended in front of you, hands on floor, and gaze toward floor. Draw shoulders down back as you press into hands and bend elbows to pull body across the floor. As hands near hips, lift shoulders and legs to come into a slight backbend. Reach hands back out in front of you to continue pulling yourself straight across floor.
2. Sliding Side Split
Your inner thighs are often stretched in yoga classes. Use this exercise to strengthen them as well.
Stand tall on a blanket with feet slightly wider than hip width and hands on hips for balance. Engage core, then push into feet and use inner thighs to pull your legs together. Reverse the motion and push legs back out. Continue to repeat.
3. Block Tap
This move targets the “turnout” muscles in your hips to help you prepare for standing balance poses.
Lie on back with a yoga block between heels and legs turned out. Bend knees to bring legs into a tabletop position. Slowly lower heels toward the floor, keeping core engaged (no arching your back off the floor), and balancing block between heels. Lift legs back up and repeat.
4. Sliding Forearm Plank
This variation of a forearm plank builds core and shoulder strength to prep your shoulders for the transition between downward-facing dog and plank and when lowering during chaturanga.
Kneel with a blanket under knees and forearms resting on two yoga blocks. Slide knees out into a kneeling forearm plank. Pause for two counts and then pull knees back in. When you slide out, focus on keeping neck long and abdominals lifted.
5. Heel Push and Pull
Try this footwork move to strengthen your hamstrings, which will help balance out all the backs-of-the-legs stretching done in yoga.
Lie on your back with both legs straight, a blanket under your heels and block between your ankles. Keeping hips still, push into heels and drag the blanket toward your butt. (You can also do this exercise with your legs turned in and turned out as variations.) Push legs back to starting position and repeat.
6. Hamstring Slide With Internal Rotation
For an additional hamstring challenge, use this move to target the backs of your legs and create strength and balance in the lower body.
Lie faceup with your head and torso resting on the blanket. Place a yoga block between your knees to activate inner thighs and place feet wider than hip width on the floor for internal rotation. Extend arms straight up. Push into heels to drag your torso toward feet then push back to starting position. (You can also do this exercise with your legs in parallel or turned out for additional variations.)
7. Yogi Leg Lift
Many yoga poses focus on stretching the hip flexors. Try these leg lifts to strengthen your hip flexors and keep hips balanced.
Sit tall with legs extended out in front of you and arms by sides with fingertips resting on the floor for support. Without leaning back or rolling your pelvis under, lift right leg off floor. Lower it slowly with control. Repeat on other side. (If you have tight hamstrings or difficulty sitting up straight, you can sit on top of a folded blanket or a yoga block.)
8. Floor Eraser
Strengthen your chest and prepare for arm balances and handstands with this move.
Come into a modified plank position on knees with hands on the blanket, shoulder-width apart. Engage chest muscles to slowly draw hands together, using the blanket to slide across floor. Make sure neck stays long and shoulders and lower back don’t collapse. Slowly push hands back out to starting position and repeat.
9. Sliding Side-Over
Use side-overs to strengthen your spine and obliques for side bending, a movement that isn’t usually trained in yoga.
Lie on back with entire body on the blanket, legs extended straight out. Hold onto your right wrist with left hand. Use obliques to pull right wrist toward left foot, so you come into a banana shape. Return to starting position for one rep. Then repeat on left side.
10. Swimming Cobra
Try this cobra-with-a-twist to strengthen the pulling muscles in your shoulders that aren’t easily targeted with traditional yoga poses.
Lie facedown with arms extended out straight and the blanket gathered between hands. Legs are extended long with abs and glutes engaged. Making a circular breaststroke motion with hands, pull the blanket toward you as you bend your elbows and lift your chest into extension. Push arms forward and lower chest with a relaxed neck to complete the movement. Only lift chest as high as you can without pinching in your lower back—like cobra pose.