- Amy K. Mitchell
4 Great Reasons to Add Yoga to Your Swimming Regimen
I started swimming competitively at age four. My dream growing up was to swim for Team USA in the Olympic (what swimmer doesn't share this dream?). I competed until college and later returned to the sport as a U.S. Masters swimmer. Today, I swim on a team again and compete in open water competitions. I am also a yoga instructor.
Take any article on best all-around exercises, and swimming always tops the list. It is still one of the best cardio workouts (despite all the bright shiny workout theories popping up everywhere); it builds long and lean muscle mass. (Swimmers are used to pulling their own weight, literally.); and it is a great endurance sport. So, why add yoga to a swimming regimen? Here are four great reasons:
1. Prevent Swimming Injuries
Swimmers are spoiled. For swimmers, resistance is water (which is soft), unlike pavement (which is hard). So when it comes to land sports, their joints don’t adjust well because they have been protected. When a swimmer walks into a yoga studio, the focus should be on strengthening the knees and shoulders – the two most vulnerable parts of a swimmer’s body and where most swimming injuries occur. Look to poses that stack the joints like side plank. Hello, chaturanga and utkatasana (chair pose)!
2. Strengthen + Balance
Ask any swimmer which part of a practice they dread most (other than IM sets) and guaranteed, nine out of ten will say kicking. A majority of swimmers only turn on the jets when racing. Swimming is more upper body than lower body, though that is beginning to change. In the studio, take time to build power in the legs. Look to lunges (low, high, crescent, half, revolved – take your pick) and feel the burn!
3. Perfect Your Form
One of the gifts of yoga is that it makes you hyper aware of your body. With a complementary yoga practice, you naturally become more in sync with your body and, in turn, a better, faster, stronger swimmer. In my own practice, I use yoga cues to help correct my stroke – I hunch my shoulders in freestyle, so I constantly tell myself to pull my shoulders away from my ears. Listen to your instructor. You never know when a cue might help you, too.
4. Find Inner Calm
Ask a swimmer what he or she thinks about lap after lap and they will tell you that the repetition will make anyone feel a little nutty (watch this Youtube video for an example). Swimmers get a thought (or God forbid, a song) stuck in their heads, and it will be on replay for an entire practice. Dealing with the noise in your head is the greatest benefit of yoga. Even though swimming is calming due to muted senses, repetition, and water, yoga helps take that calm up a notch where you can take yourself off repeat. Just as in the studio, if you follow your breath, the pool can become a therapy couch.
Amy K. Mitchell is the founder of ProYOGA Corporate Wellness, based in Washington, DC, and a US Masters swimmer. This article was written in her head while swimming.