Downward Dog Exercise Guide

Reviewed by Valerie Zeller Valerie Zeller Printable version

Downward Dog is an integral part of yoga practice that helps the student easily flow from one position to the next. When done correctly, this iconic pose should leave your shoulders, core and legs feeling strong and engaged in a deep stretch.

Downward Dog

How to do Downward Dog


From your hands and knees, pull your belly button to the spine to activate the core. Press firmly into your hands and feet to raise your knees off the floor coming into and inverted ā€˜Vā€™ position. Have the knees slightly bent whilst simultaneously directing your heels towards the floor, stretching the back of the legs. Aim to create a straight line with your spine from hands to hips, pull your belly button to your spine and pull your lower ribs into the body. Press your hands firmly into the floor and make space between the arms and the ears. Hold for a few breaths. The bend the knees and lower carefully to come back to all fours.

A common mistake in this pose is to have a rounded lower back rather than a straight spine. To correct this, especially if your Hamstrings (back of things) are tight is to bend the knees deeply and aim to tilt the coccyx up to the ceiling slightly more.


  • When you have heavy knees, strengthen the heart and pull the lower ribs back. It will transfer some of the weight from your arms and elbows to your thighs.

  • When you have lower back problems, stretch your feet to nearly mat-width and bend your knees slightly and lift your hips forward. Bring your lower belly in to cover the lower back and let the neck be long.

  • When you're only practicing this position, make an L formation with your index finger and thumb on the ground. Place a block between your hands and push tightly while you dig your forearms into the board. Tuck in.

  • Pregnant women will perform this posture in brief, 30-second increments to maintain adequate blood supply to the uterus and fetus.

  • With close thighs, remain in the pose for 2-3 breaths before relaxing and placing the hands on the ground before going into Child's Pose for 2-3 more breaths.

  • When you have bad knees, bend your knees to relieve the tightness on them as well as your hamstrings.

  • In a more relaxed posture, move more weight onto your left hand and legs to lighten the weight on your right foot. Reach your right hand toward the top of your left leg, then move it down to touch.

Exercise Benefits

  • Arm Strength

  • Flexibility

  • Leg Strength

Illustrated Guide

Learn how to do downward dog from this step-by-step illustrations:

Downward Dog 1
Downward Dog 2
Downward Dog 3
Downward Dog 4

Muscles Worked

The muscles used for downward dog may change slightly based on the your trained range of motion and technique, but in the most general case, the muscles used for downward dog are:

Primary Muscles

  • Abs
  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • Triceps
  • Deltoids
  • Pecs

Synergyst Muscles

  • Traps
  • Glutes

Frequently Asked Questions

What muscles does Downward Dog work?
Downward Dog works abs, calves, hamstrings, triceps, deltoids, pecs.
What is Downward Dog good for?
Downward Dog is beneficial for conditioning, for stretching and to strengthen. It works the best for arms, chest, core, legs, lower body, lower legs, shoulders, upper body, upper chest, upper legs and waist, as it works abs, calves, hamstrings, triceps, deltoids, pecs. Downward Dog is a great bodyweight exercise for men, men over 50, women and women over 50.
Is Downward Dog a good exercise?
Downward Dog is a popular bodyweight exercise for abs, calves, hamstrings, triceps, deltoids, pecs.

Training, Progressions and Regressions

Interested in how to improve your Downward Dog faster?

Downward Dog Training and Progressions

Standards and Averages

Wonder how do others perform in Downward Dog and how should you?

Downward Dog Standards and Averages


Wonder how to work the same muscles with other exercises?

Downward Dog Alternatives


Wonder how to make Downward Dog either easier or more challenging?

Downward Dog Variations

Discover more

Muscles Worked

Target muscle(s) Abs, Calves, Hamstrings, Triceps, Deltoids, Pecs
Synergyst muscle(s) Traps, Glutes

Related exercises

Discover more