A little over a month ago, I started doing yoga for 15-20 minutes a day, about five days a week. Since then, I’ve started noticing numerous benefits in my swimming and wanted to encourage other swimmers to look into yoga as a different form of dryland training that has some awesome benefits!
Without further ado, here are four ways yoga will make you a better swimmer:
1. Improves Mobility
The main reason I started doing yoga was to improve my mobility. I’ve had very tight hamstrings and hip flexors, partly due to heavy weight training coupled with inadequate mobility work. In the past 30 days, I’ve noticed a massive improvement in my hamstring and hip flexor flexibility, as well as in my ankles and shoulders.
There are a couple major ways this type of mobility will benefit your swimming:
- Flexible ankles allow you to catch more water with your kick
- Flexible hamstrings and hip flexors allow you to keep a tighter, faster kick
- Strong, flexible shoulders help prevent rotator cuff injuries
I’ve felt an improvement in my flutter kick strength/tightness, and I’ve developed a better feel for the “whip” of breaststroke kick. My legs also don’t seem to tire as quickly as a result of having a smoother kick. In addition, getting in a good stretch is great for recovery, one of the most important parts of training!
2. Focus on Breathing
Yoga is rooted in using breath control to help your body move smoothly. As you inhale, your muscles extend and lengthen, and you stretch in your joints. As you exhale, your muscles contract.
Being mindful of your breathing promotes effective muscle extension — this is especially important in swimming, where muscle extension equates to a longer stroke and a stronger catch, better shoulder positioning, and a more whip-like kick. In addition, working on breathing increases aerobic capacity, allowing your blood to bring more oxygen to your muscles!
3. Enhances Muscle Coordination and Body Alignment
My balance and muscle coordination has noticeably improved as a result of doing yoga. I’ve also increased my core strength, as I wasn’t doing any dedicated core work before yoga. This translates to a few things in the pool:
- Better body position, which means less drag
- Smoother, stronger feeling strokes
- More fluid body rotation
- Improved connection between pull and kick, with entire body moving as one unit instead of individual components
Each of these will help you improve your feel for the water, and swim smarter (which also means swimming faster!).
Another benefit of yoga is that it promotes balanced muscle development. Freestyle, butterfly, and breaststroke are all relatively heavy on the front side of your body: your shoulders and quads can be easily overworked compared to your upper back, neck and hamstrings. Yoga helps keep you balanced, making you a stronger and less injury-prone athlete.
4. Sharpens Mental Focus
Finally, yoga has been a great way for me to exercise mindfulness and work on my focus. While doing yoga, my focus is entirely on my breath and moving my body smoothly. In the pool, strong focus on breathing pattern and muscle coordination improves the quality of your practice.
Being conscious of small form nuances and how they affect your ability to move efficiently in the water is incredibly important to developing good habits. These things need to become muscle memory by race time!
This type of deeply focused workout has benefits outside of the pool, too. As I’ve started to value mindfulness more, my ability to focus on other tasks such as studying has improved! My brain feels clearer and fresher, and who wouldn’t want that?
If you’re looking to mix up your dryland program, I highly recommend trying yoga! If you’ve never done yoga before, don’t worry — I hadn’t either. There are plenty of great, free or cheap apps that can help you get started.
I haven’t found other training methods that yield the same benefits that I’ve gained from yoga, and it will definitely play a central role in my routine in the future.
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