Quick Facts

  • Sanskrit (Original): Tri Pāda Adho Mukha Śvānāsana
  • Etymology: Three (tri); leg (pāda); downward (adho); dog (śvāna), pose (āsana)
  • Fun Fact about the pose: This three-legged variation of Downward-Facing Dog is jokingly also known as Fire Hydrant Dog. Can you guess why?
  • Asana Type: Inversion
  • Main length muscle groups: muscles_length_muscle_groups
  • Main strength muscle groups: Adductors, articularis genu, vastii, muscles of the feet, muscles of the wrists and hands, pronator quadratus and teres, triceps brachii, serratus anterior, rotator cuff, deltoids, biceps brachii; lifted leg: gluteus muscles
  • Vinyasa Breath: Inhale and exhale possible

How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step

  • 1 The foundation of Three-Legged Dog or Down Dog Split is Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
  • 2 From this pose, push your hands firmly into the ground, especially the hand opposite the foot you’re going to lift.
  • 3 Lift one leg straight up in the air and bend the knee to bring the heel close to the buttock.
  • 4 Push the toes of the other foot firmly into the ground. Beware not to overstretch the toes. You want to have a solid grip with your foot on the mat. Maintain a micro bend in the knee to prevent it from rolling inward. At all times keep the knee pointing forward.
  • 5 Open your hips by pushing the knee of the lifted leg up and back and externally rotating the thigh.
  • 6 Contrary to the archetype of Downward-Facing Dog, you can lift your head a little bit more here.
  • 7 While pushing the hands further into the mat, raise the lifted leg higher and open the hip further. Draw the lifted foot closer towards your back.
  • 8 Engage the glute muscles of the lifted leg side.
  • 9 Keep pulling the navel to the spine to maintain the engagement of the abdominal muscles as this will give you stability in the pose.

Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose

  • Create strength and stability with the arms: Since you only have three pillars in Three-Legged Dog (hence the name of the pose), you need to pay special attention that your foundation is stable. This is why you want to create strength and stability with your arms. Not only do you have to push them firmly into the ground, you also have to focus on the external rotation of the upper arms and the pronation of the forearms. You can find a detailed explanation of these two actions in Downward-Facing Dog.
  • Keep the core engaged: Another important factor to create stability in Three-Legged Dog is the engagement of the core. Draw the navel in and up towards the spine as this will engage the abdominal muscles and give you an extra lift in the pose. You will need this since you’re missing one pillar of support in this pose.
  • Create a long line of energy: Imagine you have one long line of energy from your palms all the way up into the toes of the lifted leg. Enhance this energy by pushing the hands in the ground, lifting the shoulders, pushing the tailbone further up, and pulling the toes of the lifted foot away from you.
  • Keep the weight evenly distributed: Practitioners often tend to let all the bodyweight collapse onto the side of the leg that is on the ground. This may result in a shortened waist and arched back as soon as the other leg raises. Work against this tendency by consciously lengthening both waistlines. To do so, actively press the thigh of the standing leg back and up. Also, lift the other leg entirely, i.e. start lifting it from the root of the thigh instead of only throwing the shin up.
  • Focus on opening the frontline: Downward-Facing Dog Variation Stacked is a backbend. However, instead of focusing on arching the back, focus on opening the frontline instead. This means that you push the chest forward (i.e. towards the ground) and the thigh of the lifted leg backward.

Adapting The Pose Through Modifications


  • What’s the difference between a regular four-legged chair and a three-legged chair? Exactly: the position of the legs. If you struggle with balance and stability in Three-Legged Dog Variation Stacked, bring the feet together before lifting one leg. This way, the bottom foot is further in the middle, making it easier to distribute the weight of your body evenly.
  • If the hip-opening is challenging you, stay with the more basic version of Three-Legged Dog and keep the hip closed. You can still bend the knee and pull the heel toward the buttocks. With practice, you will be able to open the hip bit by bit.

Level Up

  • Note that Three-Legged Dog Variation Stacked is already a demanding pose as it is and a challenging variation of the archetype pose. However, if you want to challenge yourself even more, try it one-handed (making it a two-legged dog!). Lift the arm opposite to the lifted leg, i.e. when the right leg is lifted, let your left arm leave the ground. You can bring it straight behind you and let the back of the hand rest on your lower back.
  • You can also stay longer in this position and use it for various warm-up movements such as opening and closing the hip or circling the lifted foot, shin and thigh.
  • If you want to deepen the stretch on the waistline, you can even turn your head to look underneath the armpit of the lifted-leg side.

Benefits of Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana Variation Stacked

  • Similarly to its mother pose, Three-Legged Dog Variation Stacked strengthens the entire body from the upper body, including the arms and shoulders, to the core, the spine, and the legs. 
  • At the same time, it stretches the ankles, the calves and hamstrings of the standing leg and the hip and quadriceps of the lifted leg.
  • This pose is the perfect transition pose, especially in dynamic yoga styles such as Vinyasa Yoga or Inside Flow. Most notably, it makes the transition from Downward-Facing Dog into one-legged standing poses such as Virabhadrasana I or Anjaneyasana easier.
  • In addition, it helps you gain awareness of your hip position and, thus, trains your body intelligence and can improve your hip flexibility.
  • Due to the reduced foundation, Three-Legged Dog Variation Stacked also improves your balance, which also trains your focus and concentration, and thus calms the mind.

For me, Three-Legged Dog with the knee stacked is the perfect warm-up pose for my hips, especially when I want to take them into more dynamic transitions. I love working the pose dynamically by alternating between opening and closing my hips.


Content Manager at Inside | Passionate Yoga Teacher

FAQ: Common questions about this pose

While it certainly is most commonly practiced as a transitional pose in dynamic and flowing yoga styles, you can also make Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana Variation Stacked a static pose and hold it for several breaths. This way, the pose becomes a great strength exercise and also gives you time to find balance and stability. You can also hold it but work dynamically in the pose, for example by altering between opening and closing the hip, making circles with the legs, or drawing the knee in and extending the leg again. There are no limits to your creativity (except for your balance and strength maybe). If, on the other hand, your intention is to use this pose in preparation for the step forward between your hands, you can play with opening and closing the hips in alternation. The same applies if you want to transition into Wild Thing, for example. In this case, opening the hip is a great preparation for the backbend you’re going to do.

If you can keep the heel on the ground, good for you! However, just like in Downward-Facing Dog, lifting the heel doesn’t make the pose less perfect. Remember that the focus should rather be on lifting the tailbone and tilting the pelvis forward. If you need to lift the heel in order to do so, that’s absolutely fine. Apart from that, you will be more likely to keep the foot engaged when you’re balancing on the ball of the foot. This way, you can get a better grip on the floor and avoid sliding away.

If you notice that you’re not able to lift the leg higher than, let’s say, parallel to the floor, then you either need to build more strength in your upper body to hold you or you need more flexibility in your hip, especially the hip flexor. Work on your upper-body strength in poses like Dolphin or Plank. Especially your shoulders need to do a lot of work here, so once they become stronger, you will find it much easier to hold the pose with three pillars only. If your hip flexors are just not giving you enough space to lift the leg higher, then keep up with your yoga practice and focus on hip stretches such as Pigeon, Mini Warrior or Dancer. In both cases, be patient. With constant practice, you will notice that it becomes easier. And with every repetition of Three-Legged Dog, you will be able to lift a leg a tiny bit higher.