Karen: Hey Naomi, how's your new yoga class going?
Naomi: It's awesome! It helps me relax so much and I'm getting in shape too...!
Karen: Cool! I tried yoga once, but the poses were so hard--my body is not that flexible.
Naomi: Yeah, I've been learning a new pose this week--the crow! I have to work up to it slowly because I need to get stronger and I don't want to injure myself!
Tom: Hi April, how's your friend Lisa doing?
April: Hi Tom! She's fine.... Why do you ask?
Tom: To be honest, I really like her. I'm working up to asking her out on a date... do you think she'll go out with me?
April: I don't know--you should ask her!
Meaning: to build slowly or progress to something, especially when you are not able to do it yet and need to develop strength or skills first.
In Example 1, Naomi talks about starting slow in her yoga pose to become flexible and strong enough to do it correctly or easily. She doesn't want to push herself until she is ready because she wants to avoid an injury.
In Example 2, Tom is shy and nervous about asking Lisa (April's friend) on a date. He's been thinking about it and is building up the courage to ask her out.
Usage notes: "work up to it" means "work up to something." Note that this idiom form is "work up to + noun." So, you can use the gerund (verb + ing) in this idiom too! See Example 2: "working up to asking her out...."
The idiom "to work up to it" was taken from Unit 5 (At the Beach) in LSI's textbook Speaking Transitions for Level 4 Listening/Speaking classes.