As my kiddos are deep into their swim season and preparing for the State Championship meet this weekend, it is this time of year that we begin to notice the importance of incorporating some key yoga stretches into their every day. Below are a few of their favorites, broken out by specific body part:
Keeping your shoulders healthy is of utmost importance when swimming as it is at the forefront of every stroke. When shoulders gain flexibility you ensure you have a full reach and range of motion.
Cow Face Arms – On your inhale, reach your right arm up and as you exhale bend at the elbow reaching the right hand down to rest on the neck or between the shoulder blades. On your next inhale reach the left arm out with your hand facing back. As you exhale bend at the elbow and reach your left hand up towards the mid-back, either connecting your fingers or using a shirt or towel to connect the hands if the fingers cannot reach each other. Breathe here for 3-5 breaths before switching sides.
Hips can become very tight when swimming due to the repeated hip flexion required. Therefore, finding a gentle, yet effective, hip release can
keep hips feeling loose.
Bridge – Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the mat about hip-distance apart (think of your feet as “elevens”, parallel) under knees. On your inhale, lift hips, lower back, mid-back away from the mat. To help hold the pose longer, place a block at any one of its three heights below the sacrum (located just above the tailbone). Rest arms to either side of the body and breathe here for 3-5 breaths.
Stretching your quadriceps allows you to maintain a strong kick as well as powers both starts and turns.
Bridge Variation with one knee dropped – Begin this pose from Bridge (described above with or without the block). On your inhale, slide your right toes behind your left heel, keeping the toes on the mat. As you exhale, try to release the right knee down towards the mat. Breathe here for 3-5 breaths before switching sides.
Maintaining a strong core, allows you to better coordinate the movement of your arms with the movement of your legs which results in the most efficient stroke.
Boat pose – Sit on the mat with your knees bent, feet planted. Place your hands behind you, planted on the mat or use your hands to support you behind your thighs. Lift both feet away from the mat at the same time, seeing if you can keep your shins parallel to the mat or extend your legs so your toes are at your eye level (lifting the toes above the head will transfer the work to the hips rather than make the abdominals work). As you build strength extend the arms to either side of your knees. (Or for a challenge “row” your boat with your legs lifted making it through a verse of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” before lowering the feet back down to the mat.)
This pose stretches the Achilles, shins, calves, hamstrings, back, shoulders, and arms making it an all-around efficient stretch when you are short on time but need a quick swim stretch.
Downward Facing Dog Start this pose from all fours. Fingers spread wide, shoulder-width apart. Lift your hips up, thereby making a “V” with your body. Ground in the knuckle of the index finger to protect your wrist. Send your chest to your toes, head to the floor. For tight hamstrings, bend at your knees and press your torso towards your thighs. Breathe here for 3-5 breaths.
An integral part of swimming is the breath connection to your stroke. Often the most effective breath is a short inhalation followed by a long, drawn out exhalation. When you get this breath-movement connection it will strengthen your power, strength, and endurance in the water. Learning to control your breath on land will help you better make this breath connection in the water.
Consider the following breathing exercise: Inhale to a count of 2 and then exhale to a count of 4. Complete a few rounds before continuing. Then try increasing the inhale to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 6 and so forth. As you increase the length of the inhale, continue to increase your exhale as well, thereby ensuring the exhale is always longer than the exhale.
~ The divine in me salutes the divine in you. Namaste ~