As I have discussed in the past one of the main reasons why swimmers should incorporate yoga into their training is injury prevention.
Knee injuries are a common ailment that swimmers, especially breaststroke specialists, suffer from. The most common of these being a MCL (medial collateral ligament) strain.
The primary causes of this injury are imbalances in both hip mobility and strength as well as poor strength and activation of the glute musles. The following three poses work on increasing hip mobility as well as strengthening the glute muscles.
Goal: To develop strength in the quadriceps and glute muscles while building awareness in the shoulders.
How to do it: Start with the feet hip distance apart with a strong connection through the four coners of the feet (big toe and little toe mound and the inner and outer side of the heel).
Inhale and raise the arms overhead. As you raise your arms overhead ensure the upper traps are relaxed by subtly pulling the shoulder blades back and down. You may need to bend the elbows to achieve this.
Exhale and shift your weight into your heels bringing the hips back as if you were sitting into a chair. Keep your knees behind the toes and pointing straight forwad while keeping your upper body vertical with the hips in a neutral position.
How long to hold the pose: This pose can be held anywhere from 15 seconds to 60 seconds. The length should be built up in a progressive manner.
You can also do this pose dynamically. To do so on an inhale lower the hips one to two inches and on an exhale raise the hips one or two inches.
Standing Figure Four
Goal: To strengthen the quadiceps, glutes and ankle of the standing leg while lengthening and releasing through the glute muscles of the opposite leg.
This pose is also a great way to build more awareness in the hip joint.
How to do it: Start in mountain pose (which is perfect posture) and engage the pelvic floor. Bend the right leg slightly activating the quadriceps and shift your weight into the right foot. Place your palms together in front of your chest inhale and lift your left foot off the ground crossing the left ankle over the right thigh just above the knee and allow the left hip to externally rotate.
Keeping your pelvis in a neutral position and begin to shift your weight back into your hips coming into a deeper bend in the right leg. To intensify the stretch in the left hip you can bring the right elbow to the top of the left foot and the left elbow on the shin below the knee. To go even deeper you may move to a point where you fold forward at the hips placing the finger tips on the ground.
Ensure that your right knee is pointed forward as you lower into the pose.
How long to hold the pose: Just like chair this is a pose where the length of the hold should be increased progressively over time since it takes a great deal of strength in the standing leg. Generally the pose should be held anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds.
*Repeat this pose on the opposite side.
Goal: To lengthen the hip flexors.
How to do it: For this pose you may need cushioning under the back knee. Come into a low lunge position and untuck the back toes so the top of the foot is on the ground. On an inhale heel toe your lead foot to the outside edge of your mat placing your hands on the inside edge of the lead foot. Make the subtle adjustment of bringing the front hip back and the back hip forward squaring the hips. On an exhale begin to bend into the front knee bringing the knee towards the toes.
To increase the intensity of this stretch you can come down onto your forearms as well as widening the stance.
How long to hold the pose: This pose is used mostly in yin and will be held anywhere from three to five minutes. I would suggest only using this pose post workout or in a separate dryland session.
Bonus – Dragon with Hip Opening
How to do it: After holding Dragon for at least one minute turn the lead foot to a 45 degree angle and curl the toes towards the shin. On an exhale drop the lead leg out to the side possibly coming all the way to the outside edge of the foot.
How long to hold the pose: I would suggest combining the two Dragon poses and holding for a total of three to five minutes.
*Repeat this pose on the opposite side.
*You can hold both poses for a shorter period of time, but they will be most effective if held for a longer duration.
Other articles in our Yoga for Swimmers series include:
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Jeff is trained in vinyasa (flow), hatha, yin, restorative and therapeutic yoga practices. He is also completing his 500 hour certification as a yoga therapist.
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.