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Apex Yoga Sequencing - Breaking Down the Key Muscles

When sequencing a yoga class towards an apex (difficult) pose, or difficult type of pose, it is helpful to break things down simply by asking two questions:

1) What muscles need to be strong for this pose?

2) What muscles need to be long (flexible) for this pose?

Sometimes a muscle needs to be both long AND strong, and there are a million little nuances to this, but if you understand generally that certain muscles groups need to work hard in a pose, while others may need to demonstrate flexibility, you can start to weave anatomical intelligence into your classes.

*Malasana: Deep Squat.

Here is an example of how I would break down an "apex pose" by muscle group, find poses that fit, and arrange it into a sequence:

***Keep in mind, this is a basic overview which attempts to come up with a very simple and easy sequence of poses that will prepare the body for a deep squat. There is no end to the depth that one could analyze this, so the purpose isn't to have the most innovative analysis, but the simplest basic understanding of what is going on in the muscles during malasana.

Apex pose: Malasana (low squat)

Key Muscles that need to be STRONG:

  • The entire back must be strong to maintain a tall posture in a deep squat (erectors, deep spinal muscles, QL, etc.)

  • Glutes, all 3 (minimus, medius, maximus) - Need to be strong to allow the knees to pull outwards (abduct) and to externally rotate the femur and create torque, therefore creating power and stability in the hip joint

  • Anterior shin muscles, and ankle/foot stabilizers - strong for dorsi flexion of the foot and balance/arch stability.

  • Hip external rotators (deep six) - Again for knees to pull into external rotation & abduction

  • Rhomboids and trapezius - to keep the shoulder blades drawn back and prevent rounding the shoulders forward

Key Muscles that need to be LONG/flexible:

  • Adductors - Inner thigh muscles will be tight in most people, they must be flexible to allow the knees to move outwards.

  • Posterior shin (Calves) must be long and flexible to reach full ankle dorsi flexion in a low squat.

  • Stretching the pectoralis (chest) muscles will help allow the shoulders to stay drawn back.

YOGA POSES that strengthen and lengthen the right muscles, as mentioned above:

For hip flexibility (inner thighs, and getting used to external rotation and abduction):

  • Baddha Konasana

  • Prasarita

  • Warrior II

  • Trikonasana

  • Runner's Lunge

For spinal strength, and maintaining an upright posture, as well as gluteal strength:

  • Cat/cow (warm up the spine gently)

  • Shalabhasana (locust) variations, including arms by hips, "cactus arms", and superman (arms reach forward)

  • Bridge pose (glut. max)

  • Utkatasana (glute. max & erectors) - Wide stance

  • Lunge (is basically a medium squat with one leg forward)

For ankle mobility:

  • Downward facing dog will be used as a transition pose often. Practice with heel raise/lower

  • Balancing poses like tree


Warm up:

  • Bridges

  • Cat/cows

  • Down dog with heel raises and calf stretch

  • Sun salutation "B" (3x)

Main Sequence: (each pose performed on each side for 5 breaths before moving on, for simplicity)

  • High Lunge

  • Warrior II

  • Triangle

  • Utkatasana

  • Runners Lunge

  • Prone backbends (spinal strengthening, several variations)

  • Down Dog

  • Find tadasana

  • Squat down for malasana

Cool Down (Need to stretch out what was working hard)

  • Anterior shin / Top of foot stretch from Downward facing dog

  • Twists (neutralize the spine, prepares you for forward folds)

  • Forward folds (stretches out the erectors and deep spinal muscles which work very hard in squats)

  • Supine figure-4 (gluteal and deep six stretch)

  • Savasana (rest and decompress)

This is an overview of how you may start to think about breaking down poses to make a sequence if the only concern you have is warming up the proper muscles for your apex pose. Obviously there are other considerations like mood and choreography, but this should give you a format for anatomical breakdown of yoga poses and yoga sequencing.


In Peace,

Anthony Davis

Minneapolis, MN, USA

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