If you read my last post, you will understand how connected the practices of yoga and swimming are. Here are 4 ways that practicing yoga can support your swimming, whether you are a competitive swimmer, a recreational swimmer, a triathlete, or you just love to be in the water. After age 50, your body requires more maintenance to continue to do the things you love to do. Practicing yoga is perfect for cross-training and here are 4 reasons why.
1. Yoga for Core Strength
Two physical benefits of a regular yoga practice are core strength and mobility. When you are swimming, having a strong core supports the rotational movement of both freestyle/front crawl and backstroke. A strong core is essential for butterfly, and if you include the glutes, pelvic floor and inner thighs in core strength (as I do), that’s your breaststroke.
When you swim, your movements should come from your core; it’s your center of power in all movements and swimming is no exception. Practicing yoga gives you a strong core, as well as strength through all planes of movement. You will glide more efficiently through the water with your arm and leg movements emanating from your center. Each stroke is more efficient when it comes from your core.
What is your core and how does it help?
“The Core” is a group of muscles that power our movements, whether we are swimming, walking, running, biking, skiing, playing tennis, golf, etc. These muscles include all 4 abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor, the glutes, the inner thighs, the hip flexors, and the spinal muscles. When all of these muscles are strong, you can get more out of each arm stroke, and each kick powers you through the water. If you are just pulling from your arms or shoulders, you will end up with a repetitive strain injury. When you feel the reach coming from your hips, you get more from your stroke. Yoga creates strong core muscles to power you through the water with more ease.
2. Yoga for Mobility
When it comes to swimming, mobility is your friend. Having stiff shoulders, hips, or ankles will impede your ability to move through the water comfortably. When you relax in the water, you are less likely to slap at it rather than slide through it.
Being able to get your arms out of the water requires a certain amount of mobility. Being stiff and tight makes it harder to move. Good mobility allows you to be be soft with the water as your joints are more fluid. Anyone with stiff ankles knows the frustration of flutter kick. It’s much easier to get a tight streamline with good shoulder mobility. The more mobility in your spine, the easier butterfly is. Mobility matters.
Isn’t yoga full of extreme poses?
Yoga has a reputation for poses that require extreme flexibility (foot behind the head anyone?), but that’s not the whole story. Your yoga practice can be whatever you want it to be. When it comes to functional mobility, practicing yoga can make a big difference in how your body moves. As we age, we develop bad habits from sitting for long periods, having less than ideal posture, or other physical habits that restrict our range of motion. Yoga combines stretching with strengthening to give you functional range of motion. You don’t need to be able to put your foot behind your head, but when when you swim it is useful to get your arms there. Creating better range of motion in the shoulders, neck, hips, and ankles helps you swim with more ease and less struggle.
3. Yoga for Breath Control
Breath is a large part of swimming; I might even say the most important part of swimming. The more control you have over your breathing, the easier it is to focus on what your body is doing. On a fundamental level, breath is life; you don’t breathe, you don’t live. Breathing is an integral part of swimming and the more control you have over your breath, the longer you can go between breaths. The longer you exhale, the more meditative the experience can be. When it comes to competition, frequent breathing slows you down. Being able to hold your breath, and hold more breath in your lungs, can be the difference between placing and not.
Yoga teaches breath control in many ways. The practice of Pranayama offers many ways to breathe that energize, calm, warm, cool, center, and focus our mind. When you connect the breath to the movements in a yoga practice, you can then apply that when you are off the mat and in the water. Timing is everything. Yoga teaches you to move with your breath in a calm and controlled manner. That is exactly what you need when you swim.
4. Yoga for Focus and Presence
You need to pay attention to what you are doing, both when swimming and practicing yoga. In yoga, you practice focused attention on your body, your breath, and your thoughts. During meditation, you focus your mind on a single thing (or try to) to really notice what is happening right now. This is a useful skill in the water. When you are aware of your surroundings, you know when to flip turn, or when to avoid another swimmer. In a lake, focused attention helps you know when you need to rest and when you can keep going. You are noticing what is happening in your body and your mind so that you can adjust your movements accordingly.
Yoga teaches you to feel what is happening in your body, which is useful for swimming, as well as other sports. “No pain, no gain” doesn’t help you stay active as you age. Listening to your body, and paying attention to what is happening, will help you avoid injury and keep you in the pool for longer. I plan on swimming for the rest of my life, and yoga keeps me going. How about you?
Join me and Jennifer Dutton of swimstronger.net on June 10th for Yoga and Swimming! In this workshop at Lake Cochituate in Wayland, MA, we will do a yoga practice to warm up and prepare for swimming, then Jennifer Dutton will guide us through skills and drills for lake swimming. After an open water swim, we’ll reconvene on land and stretch out to cool down.
Weekly online classes to support your swimming: Movement and Meditation, Head to Toe Stretch, 30 Min Fitflow, and Mindful Core. Click here to see my full schedule of classes! Try my 10 day free trial!