How to Do Downward Dog: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do downward dog to help with total body strength, flexibility, and mobility, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Woman-in-workout-clothes-doing-downward-dog-position

How to Do Downward Dog: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do downward dog to help with total body strength, flexibility, and mobility, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Woman-in-workout-clothes-doing-downward-dog-position

How to Do Downward Dog: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do downward dog to help with total body strength, flexibility, and mobility, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Woman-in-workout-clothes-doing-downward-dog-position

How to Do Downward Dog: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do downward dog to help with total body strength, flexibility, and mobility, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Woman-in-workout-clothes-doing-downward-dog-position
Table of Contents

If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you’ve probably heard of or done the downward dog pose. This full-body exercise can also be useful in physical therapy, whether you want to reduce pain, build strength, improve mobility, or increase flexibility.

While many PT exercises target specific muscle groups, downward dog is unique because it works many different muscles in your body, from strengthening your core to taking pressure off your spine (and so much more). Read on to learn more about the benefits of downward dog, plus how to modify the stretch to meet your needs. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Downward Dog Stretch?

Downward dog, also called downward-facing dog, is a full-body stretch that involves putting your body on all fours (not unlike a dog) and lifting your hips upward while straightening your legs so your body forms an inverted "V" shape. In yoga, it’s used as a resting pose or a transition pose. In physical therapy, it can be used to reduce pain and improve function throughout the body. 

What Muscles Does Downward Dog Work? 

The downward dog stretch works several muscles and tissues in the body, such as your arms, upper back, shoulders, calves, glutes, and feet. Downward dog also opens your chest and shoulders, which can be helpful if you sit in the same position frequently for work or school. The inversion position of downward dog can allow for spinal traction, gently taking pressure off your vertebrae. 

Downward Dog: Benefits

Downward dog is a versatile exercise that helps to improve strength, mobility, and flexibility throughout your body in large and small muscles. It’s especially useful for: 

  • Relieving neck, shoulder, and back pain

  • Lengthening hamstrings and calf muscles

  • Building strength in your shoulders, arms, and core

  • Aligning your spine and reducing strain on your vertebrae

  • Improving strength in the muscles of your hands and feet

Along with reducing pain throughout your body, increased strength, mobility, and flexibility may also help you with everyday activities, such as getting up off the floor or playing with your kids or grandkids. Strengthening the tissues in and around your feet can help reduce the risk of injury when you’re walking or jogging. If you practice yoga, strengthening your hands and wrists can help you with other poses, too. 

Downward Dog: Exercises and Modifications

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Downward Dog

Downward Dog

Downward Dog

Downward Dog

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To do downward dog: 

  • Get into a comfortable position on your hands and knees. (Doing this on a yoga mat may be more comfortable.) 

  • Lift your knees off the floor as you bring your hips back and up toward the ceiling. 

  • Keep your arms straight while you stretch your chest toward your feet, bringing your head between your arms.

  • Relax into the position by taking a few deep breaths. 

  • Bend your knees and return to the starting position. 

With each rep, you should feel a stretch in your legs, hips, and back. You may also feel your shoulders and core muscles at work. 

Everyone is different, so you may need to modify the downward dog stretch to meet your needs.

Downward Dog Modifications

Downward Dog Modifications

Downward Dog Modifications

Downward Dog Modifications

To make downward dog easier:  

  • Put your hands on a chair to reduce pressure on your wrists, and move into the downward dog pose. As you practice this move more, you will build tolerance and have less wrist pain and discomfort. 

  • Bend your legs even more to make the stretch a bit easier.

To make downward dog harder: 

  • Deepen the stretch by reaching your heels toward the floor and straighten your knees as you take a few deep breaths. 

  • Try lifting one leg off the ground while in downward dog, extending it straight back to further challenge your glutes, core, and balance. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References 

  1. Cheng, Y.-H., Hsu, C.-Y., & Lin, Y.-N. (2019). The effect of mechanical traction on low back pain in patients with herniated intervertebral disks: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Rehabilitation, 34(1), 13–22. doi:10.1177/0269215519872528

  2. Gothe, N. P., & McAuley, E. (2015). Yoga Is as Good as Stretching–Strengthening Exercises in Improving Functional Fitness Outcomes: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 71(3), 406–411. doi:10.1093/gerona/glv127

Table of Contents
What Is a Downward Dog Stretch?What Muscles Does Downward Dog Work? Downward Dog: BenefitsDownward Dog: Exercises and ModificationsTo do downward dog: To make downward dog easier:  To make downward dog harder: How Hinge Health Can Help YouReferences