Yoga for Swimming
by Kristof Tamas (Yoga teacher training)
Swimming is an extremely difficult exercise performed in the water. Its difficulties arise because you have to propel your body through the water with the use of all of your limbs and core strength. As water is denser than air, it requires extra coordination and strength. One of the major benefits of swimming is that you are getting a total body workout without over-straining your joints.
However, if swimming is not counteracted with other exercises then the bones begin to lack strength and the body tends to slip into misalignment. This is due to the overuse of the upper body in three of the four types of strokes in swimming: freestyle, breast, and butterfly. The backstroke is somewhat able to counter the impact created on the upper torso. The other drawback to a fitness routine based solely on water sports is that the body cannot get stronger without gravity. Bone density in particular is developed through low and high impact weight bearing exercises like running, walking, bicycling, and yoga.
Many swimmers only rely on traditional exercises such as weights and running. They are unaware of how yoga can complement and improve swimming. Yoga as dry land training can be extremely valuable for a swimmer. An asana practice can complement even an amateur’s swim routine by introducing strength, building, and flexibility. Asanas utilize body weight as a powerful source of resistance.
Asanas take the body through a full range of motion, encouraging flexible, supple muscles that are less prone to injury. Consistent practice of yoga also results in extended muscles as opposed to the contracted muscles associated with jogging or cycling. Extended muscles are needed as every stroke and kick demands a full extension of the arm and leg. When swimming any of the four strokes, the swimmer propels himself by extending and contracting from the tips of his fingers to the end of his toes, whilst performing asanas such as downward dog and upward facing dog, the shoulder blades are dropped down in the back. These poses help the swimmer make use of the shoulder muscle rather than the tendon to carry the weight of the arm. The most common injuries are rotator cuff injuries and shoulder tendonitis when the rhomboids are not held in place when the arm is raised in freestyle stroke.
In yoga, there are many postures that help us balance, which is useful in swimming, because you have to balance your body in the water and helps to keep a streamlined position. Postures such as the warrior, the crow, and the eagle help us to maintain stability for long periods of time.
A swimmer’s body needs to be flexible as well in order to move more smoothly in the water. Yoga helps with the flexibility as it involves much stretching. The extra flexibility developed through practicing yoga applies directly to swimming. The more flexible the shoulders, arms, legs, hips, and feet, the easier one will be able to kick, recover the arms, and execute a proper hand entry. The body parts move more smoothly and require less effort in the process.
Breathing is a huge point in yoga where it includes specific techniques that ultimately lead to pranayama, the yogic science of holding the breath for a longer period of time. This is helpful for swimmers, as they need to learn how to control their breathing in order to increase their speed and retain their strength whilst swimming. Breathing exercises also help the swimmers concentrate their thoughts onto the main objective. In the absence of sound and sight while in the water, the mind takes over from the senses and guides the swimmer to his objective. Practices such as deep breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and others can help the swimmer get proper training of inhalation and exhalation and help them control the movement through the water. Conscious breathing can help bring the body into proper alignment as well as derive maximum distance out of each stroke.
Since I have started practicing yoga, my swimming sessions have tremendously improved I enjoy the one and a half hour sessions more as I get less tired and my back no longer hurts. I also see a great improvement in my speed and flexibility.
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