The warrior yoga poses not only have a strong name but are also total-body strengthening moves. They improve balance and flexibility, stretching your hips, calves, arms and torso. Once you have warrior I down, you can flow into warrior II and warrior III to further challenge yourself.
Even though warrior I looks like a simple yoga pose at first glance, correct technique is important to get the most benefits.
- What is warrior I? Also called virabhadrasana I, warrior I is a standing yoga pose in which you are in a lunging position, with one leg bent in front and the other leg straight behind. Your arms are lifted up overhead, with the palms touching or arms held shoulder-width apart. It can be used as a standalone position or transitioned into one of the other warrior positions (more on those below) or other yoga poses, such as downward-facing dog.
- Who can do the warrior poses? Warrior I is safe and recommended for most people. If you have pain, stop and modify the pose as needed. If you have any pre-existing conditions, including recent surgeries, talk to your doctor. "For those with (or needing) hip or knee replacements, ask your physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon before attempting any of the warrior poses," Deborah Charnes, C-IAYT, certified yoga therapist, says. "Anyone with torn rotator cuffs, frozen shoulders or other injuries affecting shoulder range of motion will likely need to modify the arm and hand movements. Balance-challenged people can use a railing, wall, chair, or table to help them stay in the pose longer."
- What muscles do the warrior poses work? The three warrior poses are all full-body exercises, strengthening both the body and the mind. "Warrior I opens the groin and strengthens the arms, legs, glutes and core," Whitney Berger, certified yoga instructor and owner of WhitFit NYC, says. Warrior II works the same muscles but provides more of an inner-thigh stretch and works more of the deltoid muscles in the arms. Warrior III is a more advanced move, as you are balancing on one foot. This pose strengthens your hamstrings and glutes, as well as all of those smaller muscles in your feet and ankles that provide balance and stability. It also is a great move to strengthen all your core muscles.
How to Do Warrior I
- Step your right foot forward in a lunge position, toes pointing forward.
- Turn or pivot on your left heel so your toes turn out at about a 45-degree angle.
- Bend your right knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Keep your left leg straight.
- Bring both arms up toward the ceiling. You can touch your palms together or keep them shoulder-width apart.
- If you'd like, move your gaze up toward your thumbs, allowing your chest to open up.
- Both hips should be facing forward; don’t let them turn.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
- You can move into downward dog pose to reset before doing this same pose with the left leg forward.
Warrior I Form Tips
Even though warrior I seems fairly straightforward, keep these tips in mind to maximize its benefits.
Keep Shoulders and Hips Forward
Berger says it is very important to make sure your shoulders and hips are facing forward. Don't let them turn to the side. Think about lifting your front hip bones up and pointing them straight ahead. You may need to slightly adjust your back foot position if you can't keep your hips squared to the front.
Watch Your Back Foot Alignment
The toes of your back foot should be turned out about 45 degrees so your hips can be in the right alignment. "Everyone's hips are different, but your foot shouldn't be parallel to the mat like warrior III," Berger says. "You want to be slightly turned."
Fully Extend Arms
Berger says another common mistake with warrior I is not fully extending your arms overhead. If you don't, you miss out on the benefits of opening up your chest and stretching your torso.
This move also relieves tightness in your shoulders. But if you have a prior shoulder injury and don't have a full range of motion, lift your arms up as high as you can.
Warrior Pose Variations
You can modify the warrior I pose if you have balance issues or leg injuries. Once you're confident in warrior I, you can progress to warrior II and warrior III.
Seated Warrior I With Chair
This is a good modification of warrior I if you have balance issues, a prior injury or don't have the strength or flexibility to properly hold warrior I.
- Sit in a chair or stool with your legs in front of you.
- Move your left leg to the side and bend your knee.
- Move your right leg straight behind you, turning your toes out by about 45 degrees.
- The chair should be supporting most of your weight as your bottom remains in the seat, while your legs are in the lunge position.
- Turn your body towards your bent leg and extend both arms overhead.
- You can place your palms together or keep your arms shoulder-width apart.
- Try to keep your hips and shoulders facing toward the bent leg.
As you feel more comfortable in this position, you can lift your butt slightly off the chair to test your balance and strength. You can sit back down as needed.
You can easily flow into warrior II from warrior I. Instead of being overhead, your arms are parallel to the floor and your hips are turned to the side instead of straight forward.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your side.
- Lift both arms out to the side until they are shoulder height, palms facing down.
- Bend your right leg until your thigh is parallel to the ground.
- Your back leg should be straight, with your toes pointed straight ahead and your foot parallel to the mat.
- Hold this for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Return to starting position and repeat with the other leg in front.
Warrior III, also known as airplane pose, is a more advanced pose that challenges your lower-body muscles and balance. Berger says this is the move that really works the small muscles in your feet and ankles, which improves balance and stability to prevent falls.
Charnes cautions that if you have osteoporosis, poses in which you stand on one foot, such as warrior III, should be avoided, or you should talk to your doctor first.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Lift your left foot off the ground behind you.
- Bring your hands to your chest in a prayer position.
- Hinge at the waist, and as you bring your torso parallel to the ground, let your left leg extend straight back behind you.
- Bring your arms straight behind you, in the same alignment as your leg.
- Once you get your balance, bring your arms out straight in front, stopping when they are in alignment with your back.
- Keep both hips level and pointing down at the floor.
- Keep your gaze down at the floor.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
- You can step back into warrior I or return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other leg.
Berger says to help improve stability in this pose, keep your support foot planted into the mat, with your leg slightly bent. Keep your core tight.
5 Benefits of Warrior Yoga Poses
Yoga has many physical and mental benefits for all ages. An April 2019 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that yoga is particularly helpful for those over the age of 65 for improving strength, balance, flexibility and mental health.
The warrior poses in yoga have many benefits, including:
1. Strengthening Your Legs
All three warrior positions strengthen your legs, including your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. They also build up strength in your calves, ankles and feet. In particular, warrior poses are a great way to strengthen your quadriceps muscles, which are important muscles that support and protect your knee.
An August 2021 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at standing yoga poses and muscle activation. They found that the warrior I pose had the highest muscle activation or contraction in the quadriceps of the front leg, while it was the quadriceps of the back leg during warrior II. In warrior III, the hamstring muscle is worked the hardest.
2. Strengthening Your Upper Body
The sustained arm position in warrior I helps build endurance and strength in your shoulders, back and arms. In warrior II, you extend your arms parallel to each side, which works your deltoid muscles, along with your back muscles.
Warrior III also works your deltoid muscles, along with the scapular stabilizing muscles. The warrior poses won't build muscle mass in your arms, but they will strengthen your upper body and promote good posture.
3. Improving Flexibility
Warrior I is a great pose to increase your flexibility in your upper and lower body. It stretches the hip flexors in the front of your hips, inner thighs, hamstrings and calves. As you have your arms overhead with this pose, it stretches your torso, arms and chest.
With the different hip and foot placement of warrior II, you get more of an inner-thigh stretch, while warrior III will stretch your hamstrings and calves. These are all great moves to improve your posture and prevent muscle imbalances if you sit for long periods of time.
4. Improving Balance
Warrior I and II poses strengthen your core, however, warrior III is the best move to improve your balance. Standing and balancing on one foot works all the small muscles in your ankles and feet. These muscles help improve your stability and balance and to help prevent falls. It also improves your lower-body flexibility, which also helps your muscles work more efficiently to improve balance.
5. Boosting Mental Health
Yoga poses like the warrior poses are helpful in "promoting mindfulness," Berger says. In addition, research has found that regular yoga practice, particularly Hatha yoga, which often includes the warrior poses, can improve mental health.
One small February 2018 study in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine found that after 12 hour-long sessions of Hatha yoga over four weeks, participants had significantly reduced stress, anxiety and depression.
A February 2023 study in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that Hatha yoga improved mental health and sleep quality in older adults during the COVID-19 crisis.
- International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity: "The Effects of Yoga Compared to Active and Inactive Controls on Physical Function and Health Related Quality of Life in Older Adults- Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials"
- International Journal of Preventative Medicine: "The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Training Benefits and Injury Risks of Standing Yoga Applied in Musculoskeletal Problems: Lower Limb Biomechanical Analysis"