Thinking about land-based exercise to support your swimming might lead you to the gym for strength or other cardio-fitness disciplines like running and cycling for endurance. But yoga, with its focus on strength, breathing, flexibility and self-awareness, is one of the best ways to compliment your training.
If you’re under the misconception that yoga is just about ‘stretching’, go along to a class and you might rethink as you lower slowly in a plank position, abdominal muscles trembling! Yoga stregthens your core, shoulders, back, chest, arms and hips. It focuses the mind, helps breathing patterns and stamina, as well as restoring well-being.
Good body alignment, which is integral In swimming, is often thrown off kilter when we mainly practice freestyle, and perhaps breaststroke for recovery. A great example is that the pectoral (chest) muscles are mainly contracted, which weakens the opposing rhomboids in your back leading to tell-tale rounded shoulders.
You can counter this imbalance by swimming backstroke at the end of every session, but learning proper alignment through yoga can help even more. Restorative yoga can counter all those areas of stress and imbalance caused by swimming such as tightened Achilles’ tendons. There are some good exercises here.
The other problem with ‘wet-side’ training, is that the body doesn’t get to use gravity to get stronger, lacking the resistance it needs to build muscle and bone strength. Yoga poses (asanas) use your body’s weight as resistance, and take it through a full range of motion, making your muscles more flexible and less prone to injury.
By practicing yoga regularly, you extend your muscles, rather than contracting them, as you would when running or cycling. This helps you fully extend your arms and legs in each stroke you make, propelling yourself more efficiently.
Yoga and swimming are two of few practices that ask for carefully considered breathing patterns. The yogic skill of using your breath to engage your core and stregthen your movements is a very helpful skill to use when you swim.
There is also an invaluable benefit for the mind. Swimming is a mindful activity, which is based on a sensory experience that draws you into yourself, and into the present time and place. Ditto yoga. The difference is that when swimming, you’re used to doing, pushing, achieving. In yoga, you practice just being, which is wonderful for recuperating and focus sing your mind ready for your next training session.
Here’s rather awe-inspiring Olympian core yoga workout.
You could also try this more general, bite size routine for before or after a swim.
Find yoga classes near you, and mention that you’re a swimmer.