Yoga is becoming a more common component of many elite athletes’ training programs
One athlete that has included a yoga practice in his weekly routine is 100 and 200 backstroke world champion Mitch Larkin. Over the last two years, Larkin has been extremely happy with his training in the pool, but has not felt that way about his dry land program. Twelve months ago he made some significant changes to both his gym program and medical support team. One of those changes included working with Tom Barton, a physiotherapist. Barton is a very big advocate of athletes, especially swimmers, including yoga in their training program.
“I started doing yoga in April of this year”, said Larkin. “I changed physiotherapists to Tom Barton and I really enjoyed his approach to his work. He’s just over 30 and you can really see his passion to improve. I love working with him. I told him I had been doing a few pilates sessions and really enjoyed the core aspect, but wanted to take it to another level. He suggested doing yoga with him and said ‘he can really push the body to have strength through a range of movement’”.
Although Larkin trusted Barton he was still wary of including yoga in his training, “At the time I wasn’t really sold. I didn’t think it would be challenging enough”. Of the first few days, Larkin said, “We did yoga for a week and he convinced me. I was sore in areas I’d never really used and certainly covered the core aspect I was after. It was really challenging and I felt a great connection in the water”.
Larkin feels that Barton’s program is unique because of his background and understanding of the sport, “Being a physiotherapist and working specifically with swimming he understands where the strength is needed and what is required to swim fast. He places a great importance on shoulder health and having a good core. Our sessions differ from a typical yoga session – the exercises might be similar but with an element of stroke specificity”.
Larkin has seen many benefits from implementing Barton’s yoga program into his training routine, “Tom and I have really tried to develop strength through range – that’s what he calls it.” Larkin continues, “Being strong all the way from legs, core, chest and arms. Being able to hold positions and being strong throughout the whole body. I found when swimming I was able feel connected when my arms above my head all the way through to the core and maintain a strong kick as well”.
Larkin was not only sold on the benefits of the program, but he has also enjoyed the sessions, “It’s a lot more challenging then I ever expected and there’s always new exercises that are always hard. We also do an element of stretching and recovery if it’s been a big week in the pool. It allows me to reset and refresh the body and start again”.
Yoga has been such a positive addition to his training that he is now doing it everyday, “I see Tom twice a week for yoga. Then incorporate exercises into my gym and pre swim warm up. So two sessions a week that are quite intense, which are one hour in length. We work on new exercises and he gives me feedback on what’s good and what isn’t. But I’m doing an element of yoga everyday of the week, anywhere from five to 20 minutes.”
The one-hour sessions are done on Wednesday evenings, a day where they only have one practice in the pool and Thursday mornings after the pool session. Barton has also designed a pre-workout routine, which last 5-10 min, which Larkin does most afternoons.
Larkin’s experience is just one example of how yoga can be successfully incorporated into an athlete’s overall training plan.
Check out previous SwimSwam articles that go into more detail on yoga for athletes:
- 7 Reason Why Swimmers Should Do Yoga
- 6 Styles of Yoga That Can Enhance Your Swimming Performance
- 3 Fundamentals of Yoga to Focus On for Swimmers
- 5 Ways to Make Yoga More Enjoyable
- 3 Ways You Can Use Yoga to Prepare for a Race
- 5 Ways Mindfulness Can Improve Your Swimming Performance
- 3 Ways to Use Yoga to Increase Shoulder Stability
- 3 Restorative Yoga Poses That Can Help the Effectiveness of Your Taper
- Incorporating Yoga Into Your Season Seasonal Plan
Jeff has been deeply immersed in the sport for decades. He has been coaching for over 20 years and has had athletes medal at both CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) Championships and Age Group Nationals.
He is also an NCCP Level IV Coach and holds a Dipolma in High Performance Coaching from the National Coaching Institute – Calgary.
Join the Excel with Grace bi-weekly newsletter group to receive information on how yoga can improve your athletic performance. Sign up for free here.