The 5 Warrior Warm-Up

I know some of you out there aren’t yoginis. You’d rather lace up your running shoes, hop on your bike, or do whatever other activity calls your name. I know your type well, and I must admit to having a part in bringing many of you to the yoga mat — even if it’s just for a few poses — because my philosophy is that yoga helps you do anything better, and it’s my mission to prove it. This is my attempt to get you to sprinkle some yoga into your workout, the quick and easy way; but beyond that, my hope is that you will be intrigued enough to integrate more yoga into your fitness routine.

Yoga can be a great warm-up for other physical activities, with its emphasis on balance, flexibility and focus. All these qualities help to improve your technique in other areas. Yoga can also help with injury prevention, by limbering up your muscles, addressing your body’s imbalances, and fostering strength and flexibility. Yoga also encourages a focus on the breath. By being able to concentrate on your breathing, transitioning your movements with grace, and cultivating an awareness of body balance and alignment, you’ll get more out of your chosen sport and be less injury-prone.

Why “warrior” poses, you ask? Isn’t yoga supposed to be about non-violence and positive energy? Well, ancient Hindu mythology can be pretty action-packed, with lots of sex, violence and intrigue. If you are interested in the full story of Virabhadrasana, the Warrior poses, a good version can be found here.

Mythological references aside, I like to imagine the strength and courage of a warrior in these poses; after all, becoming a peaceful warrior to fight against your own inner challenges and doubts is a noble quest indeed.

The warriors are strong, heat-building poses, and perfect for a warm-up sequence. By coordinating these movements with your breath, you will generate internal heat.

Try this 5 Warrior Warm-Up and unleash your inner yogini. You can link all the poses together in a flow (as I’ve instructed below), or do them individually. If you practice them as a flowing sequence, repeat 3 to 5 times. Start and finish in downward facing dog (see  Bonus section below).


Warrior I

  1. From downward dog, step your right foot up between the hands and drop the back heel so the left foot is flat and at an angle.
  2. Bend your right knee, dropping your hips into a deep lunge as you inhale and reach the arms up overhead into warrior I.
  3. Hold for 5 deep breaths and transition to warrior II.

Style Notes:

  • Square the hips forward by pulling your left hip back.
  • The back leg is energized and straight while the front knee bends.
  • Keep the fingertips reaching high as your hips drop down.
  • To challenge your balance, gaze up toward your hands.


Warrior II

  1. From warrior I, open your arms to the side and turn your hips to the left.
  2. Bend your front knee to come into a lunge; your knee should be directly over your ankle. This lunge is deeper than warrior I, so your hips should lower more.
  3. Hold for 5 deep breaths and transition to reverse warrior.

Style Notes:

  • You may need to adjust your feet by widening your stance and turning the outer edge of your back foot more parallel (vs. angled inward).
  • Your arms should be at shoulder height; reach the fingertips away from one another.
  • Drop your shoulders down your back and gaze out over your front fingertips.


Reverse Warrior

  1. From warrior II, lighten up on your lunge (soften the knee bend).
  2. Drop your left hand to the back of your thigh as you lift the right arm up and back.
  3. Lean back and look up.
  4. Hold for 5 deep breaths and transition to warrior III.

Style Notes:

  • Don’t take too much weight in the hand on your back thigh.
  • Reach through your top arm to help open the side body; think about creating space between your ribs.


Warrior III

  1. From reverse warrior, bring your hands to your hips.
  2. Shift forward, and keep your right leg straight and strong as you lift the left leg.
  3. As the leg comes up, drop your torso down.
  4. Arm options:
    a. keep your arms at your sides with the shoulders back, palms up (as shown in photo);
    b. take your arms out to the sides like airplane wings;
    c. full expression of the pose is to take the arms overhead by your ears.
  5. Balance here for 5 deep breaths, slowly lower the back leg.
  6. Step back to downward dog and transition to fallen warrior.

Style Notes:

  • Keep your body one straight line, from your head to the foot of the lifted leg. The full expression of the pose will look like the letter T.
  • Work to not lift the hip of your lifted leg; keep both hips squared towards the ground.


Fallen Warrior

  1. From downward dog, come into a push-up position with your shoulders lining up directly over your wrists.
  2. Keep your left leg straight as you bring the right leg under you and out to the side, with the foot flexed and the leg as straight as possible.
  3. Allow your right hip to drop down until you feel the stretch.
  4. Hold for 5 deep breaths and step back to downward dog.

Style Notes:

  • Keep the back leg straight and strong, with the toes tucked under and the front of your leg facing the floor.
  • Don’t drop your head; keep head lined up with spine.

Repeat all 5 poses on the left side to complete the sequence.

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Down Dog

In the 5 Warrior Warm-Up, down dog serves as a resting/transition pose. Below it’s used with three leg variations to stoke your inner fire and cultivate deep, rhythmic breathing — not to mention opening your hips too.

Holding each variation for 45 seconds to 1 minute should feel very challenging. If that’s too much, try 30 seconds for each.


Burnin' Down Dog I

  1. From downward dog, lift your right leg up.
  2. Do not open the right hip as you lift your leg; square your hips towards the floor.
  3. Flex your foot, with toes pointing down and heel lifting up.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Style Notes:

  • Engage your core to help lift the leg higher and stabilize your body.
  • Think of one straight line from your right wrist, reaching up to your right heel.


Burnin' Down Dog II

  1. From version 1, open your right hip by turning your toes to the right.
  2. Keep your right foot strongly flexed.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Style Notes:

  • Engage your core to stabilize your body.


Burnin' Down Dog III

  1. From version 2, bend your right knee and let your foot fall back towards your rear. This is the full hip opener.
  2. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Style Notes:

  • Let the weight of your lifted leg work to open the hip.
  • Try to keep the shoulders squared to the floor, vs. allowing one shoulder to lift with the hip. That way you’ll create length in the side body.

Is your down dog on fire yet?

Namaste, Margaret

Photo Credit: Larry Stanley,


April 01, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Wow, this looks great! Am going to have my class try those burning dogs tonite!


April 05, 2010 at 6:42 pm

As always, I love Margaret’s writing and her photos 🙂


April 07, 2010 at 12:18 pm

This is great! Thanks!


April 08, 2010 at 10:36 pm

You are so right. The warrior poses are my favorite. It is a personal inner strength. Thanks for sharing. We moved to FL and I haven’t gotten back into finding that special place with yoga yet. Take Care

Suzie Cooney from Maui

April 12, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Aloha, I really like your approach and style of yoga. It’s good for someone like me who is not that graceful to focus on smooth transitions. You make it look so easy! You are definitely strong and graceful. I also like your photos and steps to help with the poses.

Thank you for the inspiration. I think I’ll try a few now!
Suzie Cooney

Margaret Burns Vap

April 13, 2010 at 5:47 pm

thanks everyone for the feedback! keep firing up those down dogs! 😉

Deborah Besanson

April 20, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Love the down dog versions, haven’t seen all of those before!
Going to do this before I hit the sheets tonight:)
Thank you also for the beautiful photos to learn by!


April 23, 2010 at 7:38 am

interesting…. looks like a wonderful way to a great start for a full day or a excellent wind-down. i do like more jog/walking/running activities… but this would be a nice start before or after.

Margaret Burns Vap

April 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Hi Pamela, I’d definitely recommend it more as a warm-up for prior to your other activities. More restorative yoga ideas for after can be found at and

aida salvador

April 26, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Thanksss a lot


April 26, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I am 66 years young and would love to do yogi but every bone in my body tells me no way. So
convince me I’m not to young to learn.

Margaret Burns Vap

April 26, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Hi Acelia, I’ve had many yoga students in their 60s and 70s. I’d recommend finding an instructor who can give you a few private intro sessions to help you explore poses that work best for you. Make sure that you share your history with him/her: injuries, illnesses, anything that affects how you feel and how you move. Yoga is for all ages, as it can be modified to suit. Wishing you all the best in pursuing a practice! Namaste.


October 07, 2010 at 6:25 am

How is the alignment of the feet on the warriors?
Are the legs on different train tracks? or
the front heel is align with the angle of the back foot?

Margaret Burns Vap

October 07, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Hi Ruby, the position of the feet is often taught differently, and it really depends on what feels most balanced for you. Experiment with heel to arch, heel to heel, and more diagonal space between the feet (feet on “different train tracks”). Namaste.

Casey McNutt

March 29, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Awesome! Never thought to use these styles to extend the stretch – my hips and flexors are usually tight after my running – this will really help to stretch that out!

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