Yoga for swimmers

Body position, reach, strength and flexibility in the hips, shoulders and neck – all key features of good swimming. This sequence develops them all.

I started swimming again recently and was surprised at the quality of both my front crawl and breaststroke, surprised in a good way that is. In the past I’ve neglected the kick in front crawl and focused on the arm stroke, but in the pool over the last few weeks I’ve been pleasantly surprised at my ability to kick well in front crawl. I have also experienced a fluid, strong and balanced breaststroke. I put this down to a good overall level of fitness and strength that I put down to my current yoga practice.

This led to some googling of swimming for yoga. There are plenty of videos to watch, but the more I watched the more I saw that they neglected, what for me, are keys features of good swimming:

  • maintaining a good body position in the water
  • being able to stretch and reach forwards and pull back effectively
  • being able to breathe on each side comfortably in front crawl
  • flexible hips to be able to generate a powerful breaststroke kick

The videos also overlooked some asana (poses) which I think are very useful for developing good swimming technique. I’ve written my sequence below:

Grounding

I start my practice sitting cross-legged, taking a few breaths to encourage relaxation and to bring my focus to what I’m about to do.

Limber

Before stretching or asana it’s important to warm-up, first with some limbering exercises:

Bridge (Setu Bhanda) – lie flat with bent knees and the soles of your feet on the floor. Inhale and left your hips, let your neck relax and extend, breathe out and relax your spine back down to the floor. Repeat 5-8 times.

Leg raises – still lying on your back, inhale stretch your arms overhead and push your heels away. As you breathe out bring your knees slowly up to your chest and bring your arms up and over so you can hug your legs into your chest. Inhale to stretch away, exhale to curl up. Repeat 5-8 times.

Hip-openers – lie flat on your back with your arms overhead. Relax. Inhale and bring your right knee up. Continue inhaling and take your knee out to the right, and then back to middle. As you reach the middle start to exhale and continue to take your knee over to the left, until your knee touches the floor on the left hand side of your body. Your hips should roll and your right shoulder might come off the floor a little. Continue exhaling to come back to middle and extend your leg away. Repeat with the left leg, and do 5-8 on each side.

Roll over so you’re lying on your front.

Bhunjangasana (Cobra) – to give your abs a bit of a stretch. Lift your body up and then support yourself on your forearms. Relax your hips but try to lift your abs up, allow your back to arch, though you don’t need to exaggerate it. Hold for 5-8 breaths.

Salabhasana (Locust) – great for developing your back muscles. Have your arms by your side, as you inhale push your hips down, lift your arms and legs and reach back towards your feet. Hold for 5-8 breaths. Repeat but with your arms stretching forwards.

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog) – place your hands under your shoulders, lift yourself up so that only your hands and the tops of your feet touch the floor. Lift your stomach, let your back arch, look up. Hold for 5-8 breaths. Relax into…

Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward-facing Hero) – stretches the back, glutes and lats. Hold for 5-8 breaths.

170718 adho mukha virasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog) – from downward-facing hero come up onto all fours then inhale, push down into your hands and lift your hips up. Push your body back towards your legs, straighten your legs and extend your heels down to the floor. Hold for 5-8 breaths.

At this point you could do a few Sun Salutations if you want to warm-up further. Or, from Downward Dog, step forward with your right foot, turn your left foot out a little, inhale and lift your left shoulder, straight both legs and stretch your left hand straight up for…

Trikonasana (Triangle pose) – this is the start of an asana sequence focused on developing key features of front crawl

Trikonasana

This lateral pose stretches the side of the body and helps to develop the flexibility in your neck which is useful for the breath in front crawl. Hold for 5-8 breaths, then come up and repeat on the left. From Trikonasana, widen your legs a bit and come straight into…

Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2) – Stretch the arms away from each other, bend your front knee well, almost to 90 degrees to help develop leg strength, useful for a good kick in front crawl

170718 virabhadrasana 2 away from cam

hold right and left for 5-8 breaths each. When you finish on the left come straight into…

Parsvakonasana (Extended side-angle pose) – to develop good ‘reach’, really stretch the top arm away from your back foot. Keep your top shoulder up and back, look up underneath your arm, in a similar position to taking a breath in front crawl. Hold on both sides for 5-8 breaths, then relax into…

Prasarita Padottansana – (Wide leg forward bend) – stretch the hamstrings, and relaxcropped-170817-prasarita-padottanasana1.jpg

Nearly there, just 2 more asana to go before you can move into a more relaxing phase of the sequence.

Come up and stand in Tadasana, then step forward well with your right leg. Bend your right knee well for…

Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1) – with your leg straight, you can either be up on tip-toes or have your foot flat. Keep your shoulders and hips square, in line with the front edge of your mat. Inhale and reach up and back with the arms. This pose develops leg strength, stretches the front of your hip and your abs. Hold for 5-8 breaths and repeat on the left. Come back to Tadasana. Go into the pose again, but only briefly as preparation for…

Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3) – which is basically the body position for front crawl, but balancing on one leg! From Warrior 1, with your right foot forward and right leg bent, bring your left foot in a little. Bend at the waist. Then start to straighten your right leg. Lift your leg and stretch it back as you reach straight forwards with your arms. Your body should be flat and your right leg should be straight. Hold for 5-8 breaths. Come back to Warrior 1, then repeat on the left. Come back to Tadasana.

Relaxation

First some shoulder stretches. You may have a preference, the stretches below are just a guide. But it’s useful to kneel in Virasana, it stretches the quads a bit and helps develop flexible ankles. I usually stretch my shoulders using the arm positions of Gomukhasana and Garudasana.

After stretching your shoulders, with or without a belt lie back in Supta Baddha Konasana to help open your hips, useful for a good kick in breaststoke.

And then finally, relax in Savasana.

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