Yoga For Swimmers – 5 Simple Poses for Smoother Swimming
What do Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams, David Beckham and LeBron James all have in common?
Well, other than being world-class athletes they all swear by the benefits of regular yoga practice.
Because swimming and yoga are like long lost soulmates. They compliment each other in incredible ways. Just a couple of poses per week is enough to build greater mobility, develop your core and improve your recovery.
The results? A smoother stroke, less risk of injury, more efficient stroking and best of all, a healthier body and mind.
In this post, we’ll cover how yoga can help you become a better swimmer and show you five incredible poses you can do today (hint: you won’t have to renounce all worldly pleasures and don yogic robes).
So, if you’re ready to roll out the mat, let’s go.
5 Reasons Why Yoga For Swimmers Is Important
1. Boosts Your Body’s Natural Integrity
Swimming regularly is just about one of the healthiest things you can do. But, as with any exercise, rigorous training can lead to muscle imbalances over time.
Things like tight shoulders, hips and hamstrings are common. Plus because we swim with our arms in front most of the time, the muscles on the front of our body tend to be a little stronger than those on the back (which can lead to hunchback posture).
But don’t fret because yoga helps you to selectively strengthen underdeveloped muscles while releasing tension from overly-taught muscles at the same time. Talk about a win-win.
The result? A bulletproof body that moves and feels like a million bucks.
2. Improves Functional Strength
To the inundated, yoga might not seem like a great way to build strength. After all, there are no heavy barbells, no heaving, straining or grunting (which is traditionally essential).
But, don’t underestimate yoga’s ability to strengthen your body. Because holding certain poses can develop impressive relative strength.
I say relative because just like in the pool, what counts is how strong you are relative to your bodyweight. Not how much you can squeeze out on the bench press.
Yoga for swimming uses your body’s resistance to build stronger motor-neural patterns allowing you to apply more force when you need it most.
3. Enhances Recovery
Ever got in for a swim and you just feel…sluggish? Well, chances are you just weren’t properly recovered from your last session. Because half the battle of getting fit is looking after what happens outside the pool.
Yoga helps chill you out by lowering your cortisol (the stress hormone) and encouraging your body to restore itself following intense exercise. What’s more, research has shown that yoga helps cool inflammation.
So, with just a few gentle poses per week, you’ll ready to take on the next session sooner rather than later.
Are you starting to see how effective yoga for swimmers can be?
4. Increases Body Awareness
As you know, swimming is a technical sport. And it comes with a list about a mile long of things to focus on when you’re in the water.
You know the drill….Keep those elbows high! Keep those ankles loose! Kick from the hip! Keep a streamlined position! And the list goes on.
Regular yoga practice improves your proprioception (fancy word for body awareness) which helps you to more accurately ‘feel’ what your limbs are doing in the pool. This makes it much easier to focus on what you’re doing wrong and implement feedback from your teacher.
5. Better Breath Control
Not many people realise it but both Yoga and Swimming are forms of exercise that require coordinated breathing and movement patterns.
In fact, there’s good evidence to suggest that both sports are so relaxing (compared to say running) because they both require controlled rhythmic breathing patterns.
Yogic breathing, also known as pranayama trains you how to use your lungs to their maximum capacity for super swimming results.
5 Yoga For Swimmers Poses For Smoother Swimming
Now that you know why you need to be doing yoga, here’s how!
The locust pose is the ultimate shoulder health hack. It focuses on strengthening the muscles of the upper back and posterior chain – of which most are under-active in swimmers.
These muscles include the lower trapezius, the rotator cuff, the rear delts, the lower back and the hamstrings.
This one-stop-shop pose is especially effective if you spend a good chunk of your day sitting hunched over a computer or if you’ve been struggling with a bout of swimmers shoulder.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie down on your mat, arms at your sides with your forehead and feet resting on the floor.
- Breathe in and lift your head, collar bones, arms and feet and tailbone off the floor (keep your eyes looking down).
- Reach through the crown of your head and lengthen your spine all the way to your toes.
- Breathe naturally while holding this position for 30 seconds.
- Relax back down to the floor, breathe here for a few moments before repeating 3-4 times.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward dog is an excellent pose for building strength in the ‘catch’ position for all strokes. And the gentle inversion places enough resistance on your shoulders to develop overhead stability which reduces your risk of injury.
The pose also stretches out your hamstrings and chest – two more generally tight muscles on most swimmers. Beyond muscles, down dog is known to be calming for the nervous system and hanging out for a few breaths is a great way to relieve stress.
Here’s how to do it:
- Begin on all fours, press your arms into the ground and tuck your toes.
- Slowly extend your legs, supporting more weight on your arms as you move your hips back rising into the pose.
- Focus on pulling your shoulder blades down and back away from your ears.
- Try to elongate your spine as much as you can by aiming your tailbone to the sky (bending your knees is ok to keep length).
- Stay in this position for five to ten breaths before returning to your hands and knees.
Thread the Needle
Thread the needle is a fantastic pose to work on your thoracic mobility. This just means we want it to loosen up your upper spine – an area that can become stiff and a little rounded when you’ve got many years racked up in the water.
Here’s how to do it:
- Come to a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
- Inhale as you extend your right arm out in front of you and place it on the ground.
- Exhale as you move your left arm across your chest underneath you.
- Gently lower your right shoulder until it’s touching the mat
- Take five to ten breaths in this position before repeating for the other side.
Face-Down Shoulder Stretch
The sweeping overhead movements of your arms in swimming cause your chest, biceps and anterior shoulder muscles to become knotty and tight. This pulls your shoulder joint forwards (or ‘internally rotates’ them, as the physios would say).
This is precisely the reason why you’ll see so many competitive swimmers with ’rounded shoulders’, often hunched over, scoffing their post-training bowls of porridge.
This face-down pose targets exactly those overstimulated muscles fibres and helps draw the neural signal out of them so they can relax again (and let your shoulders go back where they came from).
This one can be intense, so take it easy at the start!
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie facedown on your mat, extending both arms out, palms facing down so your body forms a ‘T’.
- Use your left hand to gently push your body onto your right-hand side, bending your left leg and placing it behind your right knee.
- Try to get your shoulders stacked on top of each other, but if that’s too intense, just rotate until you feel a good stretch across your chest.
- Relax here and take five to ten breaths before returning to the centre.
- Repeat steps one to four on the opposite side.
No, this didn’t make the list because it’s got the same name as the stroke. In fact, this one is specifically breaststrokers (although all swimmers will benefit from it).
It’s not uncommon for breaststrokers to suffer from stiffness in their hips thanks to the nature of the kick. The butterfly pose will help you release any tension with a good dose of external hip rotation.
With a greater range of motion in your hips, you’ll also be able to snap those legs back more effectively and enjoy a mini speed boost every time you kick.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit comfortably on your mat with your legs extended in front of you.
- Bend your knees and bring your heels as close to your bum as you can.
- From here allow your knees to fall open sideways, bringing the soles of your feet together.
- Keep length in your spine and place your hands on your ankles.
- Don’t push your knees down – let gravity work its magic!
So there you have it. Five reasons to add yoga to your routine, plus five poses to get you started on your yogic journey!
These poses were specially selected to address the most common areas of tension and strain that swimmers face, they can really help improve the success of private swimming lessons. But there are literally hundreds of Yoga poses waiting for you to discover them.
In terms of how often you should them, these poses are gentle enough to do every day if you wish. But doing them two or three times per week will get you the bulk of the benefits with less time commitment.
Perhaps try them before or after your next swimming session and see how you feel? We bet you’ll love it!
As they say in the world of yoga: Namaste!