Practicing yoga can stretch out your body after a swim, relieving neck, shoulder, and back stiffness. Active poses, like Extended Side Angle (explained below), build strength and flexibility; while recovery poses, like Bridge (explained below), restore balance and alignment. Swimmers who practice yoga can tap deeper into the natural flow of breath and movement, making each stroke even stronger. Read on to learn how yoga can improve your swimming!
Benefit Your Stroke
Yoga has many benefits that will enhance your swimming skills:
- Increased flexibility
- Stronger core muscles
- Improved kicking power
- More stamina
- Greater mental focus
- Restored and revitalized energy
If you're looking for an intense strength-building practice, try Ashtanga, Bikram, or Power Yoga. If you'd like stretching with more flow, try Vinyasa or Hatha Yoga. Play around with different styles and teachers until you find a good fit.
Create Alignment & Balance
Swimmers, in particular, must pay extra attention to the stabilizing muscles of their joints to create a strong and powerful stroke. Although swimming is low-impact, the repetitive movements can still create imbalances in your body. Yoga "asanas" (Sanskrit for "poses") restore balance by opening up the chest and shoulders while strengthening the legs. The coordinated movement of arms, torso, and legs in yoga poses can teach swimmers greater integration between their limbs, leading to a more effective stroke.
Gain Flexibility & Strength
Tight pectoral muscles and inflexible hips can cause other parts of your body — like your rotator cuffs — to overcompensate when you swim. This can wear you down quickly! Gentle yoga stretches aid in the recovery process, while more powerful poses build strength in weaker or neglected muscles. Many yoga poses provide both stretching and strength building. A typical yoga class will flex and employ every part of your body, creating overall suppleness and power.
Breathe Deeply & Focus
"Pranayama" (Sanskrit for "breathing exercises") practiced with asana brings more awareness to your breathing in any capacity — on or off the mat, in or out of the pool. This enhances your body's circulation and cardiovascular strength, leading to more efficient and powerful strokes!
A high VO2 max, the measure of your aerobic capacity, is crucial for competitive and endurance swimming. A vigorous yoga practice with pranayama will increase and strengthen your body's aerobic capacity. Swimmers who cross-train with yoga can maximize the amounts of fresh, oxygenated blood pumped to their working muscles!
Yoga Poses for Swimmers
The following poses can be incorporated into your warm-up and cool-down. Hold each pose for several breaths, but come out of any if you feel pinching or jarring pain. Move slowly in and out of each pose, keeping your breath smooth and even. If you're struggling to breathe, ease up a bit. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities.
Full-Body Strengthener: Extended Side Angle Pose
Extended Side Angle Pose — Parsvakonasana (PARZH-vuh-ko-NAHS-uh-nuh) — relieves stiffness in the shoulders and back. It also strengthens the legs while stretching and toning the abdominal muscles.
- Extend your arms sideways to shoulder-height. Spread your feet so that they are as wide apart as your wrists. Turn your right leg out 90 degrees so your toes point to the top of your mat. Bend your right knee until your right thigh is parallel to the floor (you may need to widen your stance). Keep your right knee directly over your heel. Slightly turn in your left toes. Align the heel of your right foot with the arch of your left foot.
- Keep your back leg straight. Inhale and draw your left hip slightly forward.
- Exhaling, lower your right arm to rest on your right thigh.
- Reach your left arm up towards the ceiling, and then extend your arm over the top of your head. Your left bicep should be over your left ear, and your fingertips should be reaching in the same direction your front toes are pointing. Keep your chest, hips, and legs in one straight line, extended over your front leg.
Turn your head to look up at the ceiling. Keep your throat soft and your breathing smooth. Relax your face.
- To deepen the pose, place your front hand on the floor next to the arch of your front foot.
- Exhaling, slowly come up to a standing position with your arms extended at shoulder height. Turn your feet and body so they are facing the same direction, and then step your feet together. Repeat on the opposite side.
Shoulder Strengthener: Side Plank Pose
Side Plank Pose — Vasisthasana (VAH-shees-THAH-suh-nuh) — strengthens your wrists, forearms, and shoulders. It also tones the abdominal muscles and improves balance. Please avoid this pose if you have a serious arm, shoulder, or wrist injury.
- Start in Plank Pose (the top of a push-up): Palms flat, body extended, wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Bring your feet together and press your weight down through your right hand and forearm. Then, roll your body to the right, balancing on the outer edge of your right foot. Beginners can lower their right knee and shin to the mat, keeping their hips lifted while building strength in the arms and torso.
- Extend your left arm to the sky, reaching through your fingertips as you lift your hips and firm the triceps of both arms. Feel the muscles across your shoulder blades flex, firm your thighs, and press through your heels and into the floor.
- Bring your body into one straight line. Gaze at your top thumb.
- Hold for up to a minute. Exhale as you release, slowly coming back into Plank Pose and then onto your hands and knees. Repeat on the opposite side.
Full Body Stretch: Upward Bow Pose / Wheel Pose
Upward Bow Pose (also sometimes called "Wheel Pose") — Urdhva Dhanurasana (OORD-vuh DAHN-yoor-AHS-uh-nuh) — is a full body-opener that stretches the shoulders, chest, upper back, spine, and thighs. It opens the lungs, stimulates the thyroid and pituitary glands, and is known to be therapeutic for asthma and mild depression. Do not practice this pose if you have a back injury or severe carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Begin by lying flat on your back with your arms at your sides. Bend your knees, keeping your feet parallel and aligned with your hips. Draw your heels close to the edges of your buttocks.
- Reach your arms up overhead, and then bend your elbows so that you can place your palms on the floor at either side of your head. Keep your forearms parallel as you extend your fingers toward your heels. Reach your elbows directly up toward the ceiling.
- Inhale as you press your feet firmly into the floor and lift your hips upward toward the ceiling. Contract your buttocks, thigh, and abdominal muscles to support your lower back.
- Keep your feet and legs parallel. Press through the palms of your hands and lift your shoulders off the mat, bringing the crown of your head to the mat. Make sure your arms remain parallel — do not let your elbows splay to the sides. Hold for a few breaths.
Exhale as you straighten your arms, lifting your head completely off the floor. Press the weight of your hands equally through your index fingers. Draw your chest toward the wall closest to your head.
- Do not rest your body weight on your head. Do not crunch your neck. As you gain strength and flexibility, you will be able to lift your head off the mat!
- Hold for up to twenty breaths. Release the pose by first bringing the crown of your head to the mat, and then your whole body.
Rest & Recovery: Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose — Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (SAY-too BAHN-duh shar-vahn-GAHS-uh-nuh) — is a chest- and neck-opening pose that helps reduce stress and anxiety. It calms the mind, and is known to be therapeutic for individuals with high blood pressure. Do not perform this pose if you have a neck injury.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Press your feet and arms into the floor as you lift your hips toward the ceiling.
- Keep your thighs and feet parallel — do not roll to the outer edges of your feet or let your knees drop together. Roll your shoulders back and underneath your body. Clasp your hands and extend your arms along the floor beneath your pelvis.
- Hold for up to one minute, then exhale and release by slowly rolling the spine along the floor, vertebra by vertebra.
Go With the Flow
Adding yoga to your cross-training regimen can be a great way to increase flexibility, strength, and mindfulness. Yoga's combination of breath work and flowing movement can turn your simple pool session or intense workout into a peaceful, moving meditation.