Boost recovery, improve mood, and become a more flexible athlete. Here are just 5 of the many reasons yoga can help you become a better swimmer.
World class athletes and programs including NBA superstar LeBron James, legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, and the New Zealand All Blacks all swear by it.
So does Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin and countless other swimmers and teams.
The benefits of yoga have been shown over and over again to be effective at increasing mobility, improving core strength, and perhaps most critically for swimmers looking to get an edge, shortening recovery times between sessions.
The benefits of yoga go far beyond the pool as well.
Research has shown yoga to have positive returns on stress levels, immune system function, and can even help to soothe anxiety and depression.
Here are 5 reasons to consider incorporating yoga into your swim training:
1. It will improve flexibility.
The repetition that comes with performing the same movements over and over and over again in the pool render our muscles tight, knotty and leads to limited function. Once this happens other local muscles are tasked to help complete the movement, opening yourself to the likelihood of injury, particularly the dreaded swimmer’s shoulder.
The common solution is to stretch after practice, but static stretching is kind of, well, boring. And most swimmers will use it as an excuse to chat instead of paying attention to what they are doing.
Yoga, with its combination of dynamic and static stretching is highly effective at releasing muscular tension, while also encouraging mindfulness and focus on the movements.
While most yoga poses (or “asanas”) don’t look outwardly challenging, they do require effort to control, meaning you will be mobilising warm muscles instead of sitting on a cold pool deck stretching muscles that are rapidly cooling.
2. It will make you stronger.
For the casual observer doing yoga might not seem like it would develop strength.
There are no violent movements, no heavy weights, and no clanging of barbells and dumbbells.
But holding the poses will develop muscular endurance, challenges the stabilizer and core muscles (those are kinda important for swimming), and also improves overall, functional muscular strength.
3. It improves awareness.
Body awareness is critical to fast swimming.
In a sport as technical as ours there is a lot going on at all times. There is a laundry list of cues that we try to follow when we are in the water: maintain body line, enter with your fingers, pull down and not out, kick from your core, kick with loose ankles, and so on.
Doing yoga, and having to follow the instructions (“Pull your belly button into your spine” and so on) keeps you conscious of your movements and increases general body awareness.
4. It’s money for recovery.
Swimmers don’t just have to work hard at practice, they are in a seemingly never-ending battle between swimming workouts where they are racing to recover as fast as possible.
From doing a proper warm-down, to eating properly, to getting much-needed sleep, swimmers will do whatever they can to restore their body so that it is ready to perform at a high level as soon as possible.
Yoga has been shown to decrease inflammation at the cellular level, helping to kick-start the recovery and restorative process that helps get you back to full capacity sooner than later.
5. It will provide a host of mental benefits.
The most underrated and hard to measure benefits of yoga don’t necessarily appear in your training log or on the scoreboard.
It comes from helping you keep an even keel, regulate stress, and even improving your mood.
Doing yoga regularly has been shown to help you better regulate your emotions, something that can come in super handy in the moments behind the blocks at the big meet when your belly feels like it’s going to explode from butterflies. Or when you are neck-deep in a tough set and are feeling frustrated and unmotivated.
It goes without saying that having better control over your emotions will benefit you outside of the pool as well, helping you to de-stress and keep things in perspective.
The best thing about yoga is that there is a relatively low bar of entry.
There are classes and moves for every level of athlete. The versatility is hard to beat as well; you can drop some asanas just about anywhere at anytime. Expensive yoga pants, candles and yoga mats aren’t necessary.
Yoga is a great way to relax and restore your body after the rigors of swim training, and when united with your usual workouts it can provide for a more balanced—mentally and physically—athlete in and out of the water.
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