Downward Dog

Dose

Perform this exercise for 1 minute two times each day. Once you can place the heels on the ground and straighten the upper back, progress to the next exercise.

Purpose

Tension in the muscles along the back of the body can contribute to many musculoskeletal issues. This exercise stretches these structures while challenging the muscles of the shoulders and upper body. 

Method

Start in a push-up position, with the hands under the shoulders and the toes on the ground. The foot, hip, and shoulder should form a straight line. 

Walk the hands back along the floor toward the feet while dropping the heels towards the ground. Push your hips straight up towards the ceiling, so that the body form and upside down ‘V’ shape. Walk your hands as close to the feet as possible while keeping the heels on the floor to feel a stretch in the back of the legs. 

Once you are in a stretched position, push the upper back into a straightened position, so that the chest pushes toward your ankles. At the same time you push your back into a straightened position, bend one knee and push the opposite heel into the ground. This will maximize the stretch on that side. 

Once you have pushed the back into a straightened position, and focused the stretch on one of your legs, lean the hips away from the leg you are stretching. This will create a bend in the trunk that will stretch the muscles on the side and under the arm. 

Once you have held this maximally stretched piston for a second, transition to the other side by lowering the hips slightly and repeating the process on the other side. 

Common Mistakes

• Rounding the upper back. Most people’s upper backs are stiff, and the area rarely stretches unless it is emphasized. If the upper back is rounded during this exercise, it will be less effective in opening the chest and strengthening the upper back. To avoid excessive rounding the upper back, imagine there is a stick running from your tailbone to your neck, and your spine is attached to the stick. You can also perform the exercise next to a mirror and look to make sure your spine is straight. 

• Not using the arms to push into the stretch. While this stretch is easy to feel in the back of the legs, you need to actively use the upper body in order to get the full benefit. Try to imagine pushing the floor away with your hands as you use your shoulders to push the hips into the ceiling. This will activate the shoulder and extend the upper back.

•Not keeping the feet straight. For a maximum stretch in the calves and feet, try to point the second toe of each foot directly forward, rather than angled out to the sides. 

Progression Threshold

Once you can put both heels on the ground and straighten the upper back simultaneously, move on to the next exercise.