If you are a keen swimmer, this lockdown is going to keep you out of the water, probably longer than you are used to, that is unless you are fortunate and brave to get into the open water or sea.

Here is where yoga may help you during this enforced downtime. There are many reasons to take up yoga to supplement your swimming. Last year I was teaching yoga at the Henley swim, for charity, but it was encouraging how many swimmers joined in and understood immediately the potential benefits of an enduring yoga practice.

Becoming more mobile

As a swimmer, focussing on mobility during a yoga session helps to improve the range of motion that a joint has as well as lengthening the muscle tissue, which improves the integrity and strength of a joint.

Developing strength

Most elite swimmers and those people who swim for fitness will spend a reasonable amount of time in the gym, training with weights and doing core exercises to increase strength.

They can enhance this by adding a yoga programme which is tailored to use movements that are specifically aimed at swimmers. Using both dynamic and static poses, core strength is improved as well as upper and lower body strength. The strength gained is functional, which means that it is directly transferrable into swimming.

Understanding your body

Yoga is a great way of developing awareness of your body, as it gets swimmers to perform movements that they are not used to and develops more variability in the nervous system.

This helps you to achieve technical proficiency, and when you are given technical changes or advice, you will find it easier to put these into practice.

Improving breathing coordination

In swimming, coordinating your breathing along with the movements you use in your stroke technique is important. Learning to breathe in coordination with your movements helps to keep you relaxed whilst performing the action, improving the efficiency of your stroke.

Yoga teaches effortless effort and this term is often used during yoga practices. Putting in the effort while moving with ease. This skill is taught through the use of breathing, which can be directly related back to swimming.

Recovering after training

There are many different styles of yoga, each of which offers very different benefits. Often, swimmers find their muscles are feeling stiff and tight after training and so the idea of stretching, or doing a yoga session, is not appealing.

However, restorative yoga uses props to help support the body while you are performing poses, which helps the body to loosen up. It also engages the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body to recover more effectively.

Preventing injury

By developing the aspects mentioned previously in this article; mobility, strength, awareness of your body, ease of movement and recover, you set yourself up for preventing injuries.

Creating a yoga practice which takes into account your individual needs as a swimmer, including strength imbalances and prior injuries, helps to prevent getting injuries in the future.

Developing yourself mentally

Being psychologically prepared for training, or competition if you swim competitively, is an essential part of being successful. Yoga can help you to develop mental skills to the best you can be.

Skills like reducing anxiety before racing through positive thinking, self-pep talks and visualisation and relaxation are all practices taught in yoga.

In order for a tree to withstand powerful winds it must have a strong trunk allowing for the branches to move in the wind whilst the tree stands firm and rooted.

Our core muscles are no different than the trunk of a tree and occasionally we do refer to the trunk when describing this powerhouse.

The core is the very foundation for virtually any activity that requires standing upright and performing a movement. The muscles of the core work together to stabilize the spine, protect it from injury and to coordinate and execute movements. The deeper muscles like the multifidus, quadratus lumborum and transverse abdominis primarily function to stabilize the spine and give it structural integrity to prevent injury during movement. The more superficial muscles like the abdominals, spinal erectors, obliques, iliopsoas and glutes function more to initiate and execute movements of the limbs and trunk (although they can also function as stabilizers when contracting isometrically).

If the deep stabilizer muscles are weak then the spine is unstable and susceptible to injury. Once an injury occurs these muscles become even weaker because they are the closest to the site of injury and this makes the spine even more unstable and more susceptible to injury. The larger more superficial muscles must work harder to compensate for the lack of stability. This causes a muscle imbalance: some muscles become tight and some muscles become weak.

A perfect way to build strength in this area is through yoga.

If you practice yoga regularly and use the techniques to engage the core and moved with the breath, you will effectively glide from posture to posture. We refer to this as ‘effortless effort’ focussed movement regulated with your breath. With each move, you engage the core, isometric contraction, muscle recruitment and move. This process is repeated time and time again in a one-hour practice, unconsciously but effectively building strength and toning the body where it really counts, not for fleeting aesthetic purposes but for real practical benefit.

In effect, this is a really nice way of a core work out, although much more than that.

Each time we move and engage the core to stabilise and protect the spine, this develops a movement behaviour that we take away from the mat. This is good because it brings stability to our spines, which, as we get older do become less stable.

If you wish to re learn how to move functionally, protect your spine, and stand tall like an English oak, why not try a yoga class, and see how this practice really helps you? There is even a tree posture to really challenge your strength, balance and awareness. Look forward to seeing you on a mat soon!

 Public Classes - 1 to 1 - Intro to Yoga - Yoga for runners and bikers - Yoga for golfers - Yoga for men