Yoga for Swimmers


Whether you’re a competitive swimmer or someone just doing laps for great exercise, yoga is something you can add into your routine to give yourself an edge. Yoga is known for strengthening and stretching muscles as well as adding valuable flexibility in the process. If you’re looking to include any of these things into your arsenal, this is a good place to start. Here is a little intro to yoga for swimmers, five popular poses as suggested by Gwen Lawrence.

ESPN has a feature that has yoga coach Gwen Lawrence choosing a sport and giving five yoga poses to help athletes in that discipline. This month, they/she chose swimming.

The places swimmers need the most flexibility is in the following areas of their body: the shoulder; chest and pecs; the core, back and abdominals; the hip flexors; the ankles; and the latissimus.

The number one priority for anyone doing yoga is breathing. Before attempting any of these poses, go through this basic, three-part yogic breath discipline:

1)      On the inhale, fill up the belly with air.

2)      When the belly is full, draw in a little more breath and let the air expand into the rib cage, letting the ribs widen.

3)      On the exhale, let the air go first from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together and then from the belly, drawing the navel towards the spine.

Repeat this deep breathing into the belly and rib cage for five to 10 minutes.

(To see all these poses done by Gwen, visit the original post on ESPN.)

Top Five Poses for Swimmers:

Toes tucked

Kneeling, toes tucked—People always talk about swimmers with flipper-like feet and the advantage they have over other swimmers in the field. Adding flexibility to them is one great way to achieve the same affect if you aren’t genetically gifted with large feet. With your legs tucked directly underneath you, flex your feet and rest on them with your weight balanced on your knees and toes.

Once you become adept at holding this pose, you can lean back and rest both hands on the floor so you can stretch your hip flexors and quads.

Face down shoulder stretch—This is an excellent pose for opening the shoulder joint and creating a clear chest area. Spinal rotation is an added bonus in this situation.

You’ll start this position lying on your back with your feet planted, knees slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Twist your back, placing one arm outstretched, palm down, twisting into that shoulder stretch. The other arm will be bent at the elbow at a 90 degree angle, palm also planted.

Bow pose

Bow pose—This helps you get flexibility out of three different areas of the body: hip flexors, abdominals, and chest, all while strengthening the back. Bow pose is achieved when you go from lying on your belly to grasping your ankles and lifting your head and facing forward. You should hold your knees inward (they shouldn’t flail outward) and your feet should be flexed, not pointed. Open your hips so you get that good hip flexor stretch.

To increase the challenge, hold for one minute and then rest in child’s pose.

Wheel of life pose—

When reaching in this position, you get a great lat stretch in addition to a nice elongating neck stretch which will help swimmers who compete in the freestyle stroke.

Start on your knees your upper body angled downward on the mat. Lift one leg with your hip rotating outward as you bring your knee back toward your kneeling leg. Take the arm from the same side as the lifted leg and stretch forward, above your head on the mat. Use your other arm to stabilize.

Hold on each side for three to five minutes.

right angle pose

Right angle pose with shoulder variation—

This is a standard yoga pose. You’ll start standing with your legs spread wide apart, one foot facing forward, the other pointed to the wall. Take the arm from the same side as the foot pointing out and plant it in front, fingers facing the same way as your toe. Leaning your shoulder into your knee, open your chest and lift your other arm so that it creates a straight line with your other planted foot.

The variation to this position is doing windmills with the raised arm to simulate strokes and strengthen and rotate the shoulder. Do five to ten reaching windmills in each direction. Then switch sides.

A few extra tips before you add yoga to your usual routine:

  • Don’t start a yoga routine without clearance from your doctor.
  • Do your moves in a slow and controlled manner. Try to do it without bouncing or forcing the movements. This will cause your muscles to tighten and increase your risk of injury when yoga is meant to prevent it.
  • Stretch in a slow, steady motion to the point of mild discomfort. If you stretch to the point of pain, you’ve gone too far.
  • Learn to respect your edge—going beyond it won’t do you any good.
  • Remember to breathe through your stretches. You won’t get the maximum results if you hold your breath during the poses—a common mistake.


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