A few years back I would swim for my main exercise, swimming 3000+ yds. three times weekly. I wasn’t doing regular yoga at the time. However, toward the end of my swimming days, I added yoga to my fitness program and almost immediately discovered how it improved my flexibility for swimming, especially in my shoulder openness and arm extension in crawl and backstroke, and my torso rotation. I found my shoulders were more flexible and open, allowing me to extend and rotate from my mid back, through the shoulders, all the way up through the fingertips. As my swim instructor put it, “like you’re reaching up to grab something all the way on top of the lockers.”
Swimmers know that proper form in these two strokes involves extending the stroking arm as far forward as possible, thereby lengthening the stroke distance front to back, and extending the time the stroking arm is in the water. This extension, coupled with a rotation of the body as the stroking arm pulls through to the hip, creates the forward momentum in the stroke (as an aside, if you’ve never had a swimming lesson but like to swim, I recommend seeing an experienced swim coach; mine did wonders for all aspects of my game).
When I added yoga to my exercise routine, even doing a non-swimming specific practice opened up my shoulders and back so I could more easily create the forward reach and body rotation for these stroke techniques. Moving through the water became easier, and my interval times went down, as I was using less energy to pull through the liquid.
I’ve now put together this list of yoga poses specifically focused to open a swimmer’s shoulders, and mid to upper back. If practiced regularly, these poses should improve the flexibility of a swimmer’s stroke. Of course, they should only be done after a warm up, and as directed by someone with proper training. Better yet, do them during a regular (2-3 times / week) vinyasa flow yoga series with a certified yoga instructor to obtain not only the muscular benefits of the practice, but also the focusing, centering and calming effects of yoga.
If you’re coaching a swim team in the Chicago area, call me to discuss how I can help you to add yoga to the team’s fitness regimen.
Coming next: PART II: YOGA FOR SWIMMERS: ARMS AND SHOULDERS