Four Ways Yoga Will Make You a Better Swimmer
Originally written for the MySwimPro blog.
A little over a month ago, I started doing yoga for 15–20 minutes a day, about five days a week. Since then, I’ve started noticing numerous benefits in my swimming and wanted to encourage other swimmers to look into yoga as a different form of dryland training with some awesome benefits! If you’ve never done yoga before, don’t worry — I hadn’t really either. There are plenty of great, free or cheap apps on the app store that can help you get started.
The main reason I actually started doing yoga was to alleviate a lack of mobility. I’ve had very tight hamstrings and hip flexors, partly due to heavy weight training coupled with inadequate mobility work. In the past 30 days, I’ve perceived a noticeable improvement in my hamstring and hip flexor flexibility, as well as in my ankles and shoulders.
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There are a couple major ways this type of mobility will benefit your swimming:
- Flexible ankles allow your kick to catch more water
- Flexible hamstrings and hip flexors allow you to keep a tighter, faster kick
- Flexible shoulders help prevent rotator cuff injuries
I’ve felt an improvement in my flutter kick strength/tightness, and I’ve developed a better feel for the “whip” of breaststroke kick. My legs also don’t seem to tire as quickly as a result of having a smoother kick. In addition, getting in a good stretch is great for recovery, one of the most important parts of training!
Yoga is rooted in using breath control to help your body move smoothly. As you inhale, your muscles extend and lengthen, and you stretch in your joints. As you exhale, your muscles contract. Being mindful of your breathing promotes effective muscle extension — this is especially important in swimming, where muscle extension means having a longer stroke and a stronger catch, stronger shoulder positioning, and a more whip-like kick. In addition, training your breathing increases aerobic capacity, allowing your blood to bring more oxygen to your muscles!
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3. Muscle coordination and body alignment
My sense of balance and muscle coordination has noticeably improved as a result of doing yoga. I’ve also felt my core strengthening, as I wasn’t doing any dedicated core work before yoga. This translates to a few things in the pool:
- Better body line, which means less drag
- Smoother, stronger feeling strokes
- More fluid body rotation
- Improved connection between pull and kick, entire body moving as one unit instead of individual components
Each of these will help you improve your feel for the water, and swim smarter (which also means swimming faster!).
Another benefit of yoga is that it promotes balanced muscle development. Freestyle, butterfly, and breaststroke are all relatively heavy on the front side of your body: your shoulders and quads can be easily overworked compared to your upper back and neck and hamstrings. Yoga helps keep you balanced, making you a stronger and less injury-prone athlete.
4. Mental Focus
Finally, yoga has been a great way for me to exercise mindfulness and work on my focus. While doing yoga, my focus is entirely in my breath and having my muscle movements flow smoothly into each other. In the pool, strong focus on breathing pattern and muscle coordination improves the quality of your practice.
Being conscious of small form nuances and how they affect your ability to move efficiently in the water is incredibly important in developing good habits. These things need to become muscle memory by race time!
This type of deeply focused workout has benefits outside of the pool, too. As I’ve started to value mindfulness more, my ability to focus on other tasks such as studying has improved, too. My brain feels clearer and fresher, and who wouldn’t want that!
If you’re looking to mix up your dryland program, I highly recommend you look into yoga! I haven’t found other training methods that yield the same benefits that I’ve gained from yoga, and it will definitely keep a central role in my routine in the future.