Downward Dog

Traditionally a Yoga posed but commonly seen in Pilates classes because of the crossover between the disciplines.

Did you know?

Joseph Pilates was a Yogi prior to creating his Pilates repertoire. That’s why you see so many similarities!

I get a lot of questions about this pose…


Why do it?

  1. A deep all in one stretch that builds strength too.
  2. It is an energising stretch, there is scientific evidence for that too!

The shoulders, upper back and our back line into our hamstrings, calves and feet are all placed in a lengthened position ironing out muscles that commonly get tight in our western-style living, too much of our time spent sitting.

Downward dog

Check out the images to notice that your arms (if you stood up) would be over head and your upper back between your shoulder blades would be in a little bit of extension – definitely NOT rounded at all!Downard dog Pilates

Have a go…

Right now…sitting or standing

Take your arms up to the ceiling.

Notice as your arms brush past your ears your upper back (between your shoulder blades) naturally will extend a little so we can reach that little bit more whilst protecting our shoulder joints. It’s what us physios call a COUPLED movement!

Sadly, due to sitting we get tight and stiff in our upper back putting our shoulders at risk of injury when we reach up. If you are stiff between the shoulder blades you might notice you lent back a little and your rib cage lifted instead? If that’s the case do the same exercise again but this time DON’T let the ribs lift. You might find you cant get your hands right up to the ceiling, in which case you have a limitation in your upper body! Maybe in the shoulders, maybe in your thoracic spine…

I want to improve how?

Muscles are connected through fascia – which I like to define as the cling film of our body, tight networks of fascia and/or muscle bulk leads to the challenges you face in perfecting your downward dog.

The art is not to force the pose but work with your own limitations beginning slowly but regularly to stretch out those tight areas, releasing tension and enabling free movement later down the line. Force posture and risk injury!

Work out where you are tight or stiff….

It could be your shoulders and upper back that you are struggling with. If you have had an injury it may be the extension needed in your arms is not feasible, in which case just modify your pose, there are plenty of ways to do that, it’s ok not to look like the perfect upside down V, you can still get the benefits of the stretch at the level that is right for your body!

IDownward dogt could be your hamstrings and calf muscles that are problematic, this is most common and results in your back rounding as you try to straighten your legs. In a desire to have beautifully straight legs most people succumb to allowing the upper back to round, completely defeating the posture.

By rounding in the upper back you offload the stretch in your hamstrings and also off-load the shoulder and upper back muscles too! It’s also a tonne harder to support the pose and creates tension rather than the energising stretch we are aiming to achieve.


Engaging the shoulder blades down your back and using your deep abdominal and adductor muscles to achieve a downward dog will come with practice!

Check out the series of videos I am developing with top tips and exercises you can do to achieve your perfect Downward Dog, how quickly you will achieve this will depend on the repetitions you are able to do each day! Take a before and after photo, please share with me so I can watch you progress!

Today’s tips

  1. If you have the shoulder flexibility and upper back extension KEEP THIS throughout the pose.
  2. Only then, explore how straight you can get your legs.
  3. DO NOT compromise the extension in the arms and back to accommodate straight legs.
  4. Lift your heels up too offload the back line if you are tight, you can work on stretching them later!

Shoulder injury? Or tight in the upper body? Then try coming onto your forearms on a chair instead.

Follow Phoenix Freedom Pilates Facebook for a series of videos with tips and exercises to help you achieve your best Downward Dog!

Link to FB top of the blog!

Please comment below if you found this helpful, ask questions, engage with me!

It’s the best way for me to produce stuff that I know is valuable to you!

All the best,