Downward Facing Dog Yoga Muscle Anatomy

Downward Facing Dog

“Downward Facing Dog” also called as “Downward Dog Pose” and “Adho Mukha Shvanasana”. It is one of the most recognized Yoga poses and stereotyped in movies for Yoga and this shows the popularity of it. Many styles of Yoga use this pose to rest or connect with other Asana.

Why this pose? Well, this pose has wide range of benefits. From calming the mind to relieving tension and mood swings. From improving digestion to relieving headaches. It lets you to stretch a number of muscle groups in the leg and also to build strength in the shoulder.

The compound nature of Downward Dog Pose makes it difficult. For executing this pose, a large number of muscles need to contracted and lengthened. If any of those muscles are missed, the pose will be out of alignment.

In this article, you will learn about which muscles are lengthening and which are contracting during the Download Facing Dog Pose. So, let’s start with the anatomy behind Downward Dog.

Muscles Lengthening


Hamstrings are the flexors of the knee and extensors of the hip. But here you can see the hip flexed and knee extended. Hamstrings need to be lengthened so that they don’t restrict the hip flexion as a result of lack of flexibility. Usually, it is the Lateral Hamstring i.e. Rectus Femoris that is more limiting compared to Medial Hamstrings.


This calf muscle is powerful plantar flexor of the foot. Here, if the foot is plantar flexed, it will disturb the balance during Downward Dog Pose hence Gastrocnemius is lengthened.


Soleus is also a plantar flexor of foot. It is also being lengthened and requires flexibility.

Gluteus Maximus:

Gluteus Maximus, like the Hamstrings, is an extensor of the thigh. Thigh is being flexed in Downward Facing Dog so it is being stretched instead of contracting.

Latissimus Dorsi:

Lats not only involved in adduction of arm but also in scapular retraction. In Downward Dog, scapula protracts so Latissimus Dorsi lengthens.

Teres Major:

Teres Major does the retroversion of arm but here you can see the arm is in anteversion state so the Teres Major is being stretched thus requires flexibility.

Pectoralis Minor:

The major actions of this muscle are stabilization, internal rotation, depression and protraction of the scapula. It also elevates ribs for inspiration. Here, it is stretching.


Rhomboids retract the scapula that is exactly opposite of what is required for this Yoga stretch. Rhomboids will be lengthened as a result.

Posterior Deltoid:

Posterior Deltoid extends the arm at the shoulder but in Downward Facing Dog Pose the arms are flexed at shoulder joint and hence Posterior Deltoid is stretching.


Intercostals normally assist to elevate rib cage and help in lung expansion. But in Downward Facing Dog Pose, the rib cage depresses favouring expiration so the Intercostals stretch for effective expiration.


Downward Facing Dog Yoga

The contraction of Diaphragm increases the area of chest cavity favouring inspiration while in expiration, Diaphragm is stretched as in here.

Muscles Contracting


Downward Facing Dog Yoga

Quadriceps work antagonistically to the Hamstrings. Here, their contraction will flex the leg at the hip joint and also extend the knee. This way, you will reach the position as shown in the picture. Their strength will definitely help.

All four Adductors and Pectineus:

Downward Facing Dog Yoga

There adductors will not only adduct the leg but also act as flexors of the thigh upon their contraction in Downward Dog.

Tensor Fascia Lata:

Downward Facing Dog Yoga

Tensor Fascia Lata acts as a hip flexor and internal rotator so you can understand, it is contracting here.

Psoas and Iliacus:

Downward Facing Dog Yoga

These muscles work together to flex your hip and hold the anterior pelvic tilt. Hence, contracting here.


Downward Facing Dog Yoga

Dorsiflexors such as Tibialis Anterior assist in dorsiflexion of the foot. By dorsiflexion in a pose like Downward Facing Dog, they provide the balance required.

Triceps all 3 heads:

Triceps of both side make sure your arms are extended at the elbows so that they can act as supports for the upper body in Downward Facing Dog.

Infraspinatus Downward Facing Dog:

Downward Facing Dog Yoga

Infraspinatus is a rotator cuff muscle. Means it provides the stability to shoulder joint and also involved in external rotation of the arm.

Teres Minor :

Teres Minor is also a rotator cuff muscle works with Infraspinatus in stabilizing the glenohumeral joint as well as external rotation of the arm. Its strength is as important as the strength of Infraspinatus.

Flexors of forearm and fingers:

The wrist and finger flexors lying in the anterior forearm flex the fingers so that hands get anchored to the ground and wrist flexion will also be favourable for Downward Facing Dog and reduces fatigue that will result with direct apply of force.

Quadratus Lumborum:

Quadratus Lumborum will contract to flex the lumbar spine so the rounded posture will be reached as you can see in the model.

Spinal Extensors:

Spinal Extensors will extend the thoracic spine. It will be crucial for the correct execution of the Downward Facing Dog Pose.

Easyflexibility Downward Facing Dog Pose Program

The difficulty of this pose lies in its compound nature. To do this pose correctly a large number of muscles need to lengthen Fortunately Zaichik Stretching Techniques (ZST) specialize in focusing in on problematic muscles.

Each one is taken apart and lengthened. Because the resistance is minimized, this is done very quickly. Most people see a huge difference, in just one training session.

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