Why you can’t do Reverse Prayer if you have BIG muscles

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Reverse prayer, also otherwise known as Penguin Pose or Pashchima Namaskarasana. It helps to improve flexibility in the shoulders, arms, wrists, chest and back. Supposedly easy to learn, and quick to do – for most. However for some, it looks like they have to pop their arms out to achieve it. 

To figure out why some find the pose challenging, let us first understand the muscles and movements involved: 

  1. Internal rotation of the shoulder. Muscles involved in this action are in the rotator cuff. Subscapularis is contracting to create internal rotation of the upper arm. Infraspinatus and teres minor are external rotators of the humerus, so they are being lengthened in this action. (https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0515/p3079.html#:~:text=The%20rotator%20cuff%20is%20composed,humeral%20head%20against%20the%20glenoid.)
  2. Flexion of the elbow. The three muscles involved are the brachialis, brachioradialis and biceps brachii. They connect the upper arm to the forearm, and when they contract, they become shorter and pull the forearm toward the upper arm. (https://www.healthline.com/health/wrist-flexion)
  3. Extension of the wrist. The primary muscles involved are: extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor carpi radialis brevis and the extensor carpi ulnaris. (Neumann DA. Wrist. In: Falk K, ed. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby/Elsevier; 2010:216-243.)

Obviously any injuries to the above mentioned areas would make the pose impossible to achieve. However, if you are loaded with muscles and showing up in a Yoga class, chances are probably low that you are suffering from any injuries (or you are stupid like me). The challenge then is most likely related to flexibility of those areas involved in this reverse prayer pose. For example, tightness of the infraspinatus limits internal rotation of the humerus and therefore making reverse prayer pose challenging. The solution would then be easy. Increase flexibility of the muscles involved in the pose, and progress gradually.

But… for the extremely muscular one… the challenge may actually be a ‘structural’ issue instead. How muscular? Arnold Schwarzenegger muscular.

The challenge probably then comes in twofold: 

  1. Limitation in the degree to which they can move the arm to the back due to a well built out ‘wings’ aka latissimus dorsi.

  2. Limitation in the degree of elbow flexion due to their mountainous bicep. You see, normal average people can probably flex their elbow to around 160 degrees. But when one has a bicep as high as Mt. Everest, the degree to which you can flex becomes a lot narrower…


For this special group of individuals, unless they lose all that bulk, they probably may never ever be able to touch their back… Let alone do the reverse prayer pose.

Rumour has it that the sticker is still on his back till this day…