Swimming and yoga are both activities that require a great deal of coordination between several joint movements. A yoga practice for swimmers will develop the strength and body awareness needed to create synergy throughout the body which contributes to swimming with greater efficiency.
One major benefit you gain from a yoga practice designed for swimmers is the creation of a stronger cross-body connection, which is important in developing an efficient freestyle and backstroke.
Many of the poses performed in a yoga practice require the creation of a strong base of support and stability through the core. From this starting point many poses and movement challenge your stability while incorporating opposing sides of the body.
Olympic and World Championship medalist Mitch Larkin of Australia feels developing a cross-body connection is one of the biggest benefits he has experienced from implementing yoga into his training.
What is a Cross-Body Connection?
It is the connection between the opposite sides of the body across the core. To create effective propulsion, alignment, roll and balance in both freestyle and backstroke the two sides of the body need to work in harmony.
Strengthening this connection creates stability and a strong foundation. That foundation gives you a greater ability to generate force through the connection between the upper and lower body
A cross-body connection is also important in effectively using body rotation in freestyle and backstroke. When this connection is strong you have more control over the alignment of your body in the water and how much you roll in both strokes.
7 Yoga Poses for Swimmers to Work on Your Cross-Body Connection
These seven yoga poses develop strength, stability and proprioception (body awareness) which strengthen the cross-body connection.
- Start in table top pose
- On an inhale extend your left leg back behind you lifting the foot off of the ground
- Ensure the toes are curled back towards the shin and pointed straight down to the ground keeping the hips even
- At the same time extend your right arm up and forward
- Keep the arm in line with the shoulder, fingers extended with the thumb pointed towards the sky
- Ensure that your left shoulder is over your elbow and your elbow is over your wrist
- Keep active length in your spine feeling like you are drawing your tailbone and head in opposite directions
- Engage the core bringing awareness to the connection between the right hand and the left foot
- On an exhale lower your right hand and left foot
- Reset your foundation and repeat on the other side
The intent of this variation is to set a strong cross-body connection and bring in movement through the shoulder blades. This not only develops stability through the core but also great scapular awareness and control.
- From your sunbird pose on an inhale reach your finger tips forward feeling the shoulder blade glide up the back
- On an exhale keeping the arm extended draw your shoulder blade down the back towards the hip
- Start in a forearm plank
- Bring your feet a little wider than hip distance apart
- On an inhale bring your left foot about two inches off of the mat
- On the next inhale bring the right arm up and forward
- As you stabilize in this pose focus on keep both the shoulders and hips square to the ground
- On an exhale lower the left foot and right arm
- Reset your foundation and repeat on the other side
Locust Variation (Alternating Arms and Legs)
- Begin by lying flat on your stomach
- Extend your arms straight forward from your shoulders palms on the ground
- Extend your legs straight back from your hips with the top of the feet down
- On an exhale press your right palm and the top of your left foot firmly into the ground
- On an inhale keeping your hips flat on the ground lift your left arm and your right leg off of the ground
- On an exhale lower the left arm and right leg and repeat on the other side
Balancing Back Bridge
- Start in a back bridge with your arms at the side and the palms on the floor
- Feel strongly into the big toe and little toe mound as well as the inside and outside edge of the heel (the four corners) of the right foot
- Focus on keeping your hips high and even
- With your knees in one line inhale and lift the left foot and extend the left leg
- Curl the toes of the left foot back towards the shin
- At the same time press strongly into the left palm creating engagement in the upper body
- On an exhale slowly lower the right foot and relax the upper body
- Reset your foundation and repeat on the opposite side
Down Dog Twist
- Start in down dog
- Feel strongly into the right hand
- Fingers spread wide and facing straight forward
- Pressing into the finger tips feeling like your clawing the mat with your first knuckle
- Feel increased stability in the right shoulder ensuring your shoulder is externally rotated
- While the fingers are pointed straight forward have the elbow crease pointing away from you
- On an inhale keeping your hips stable reach the left hand towards the outside of the right leg
- Reaching towards the ankle, shin or thigh
- Look underneath the right armpit while pressing the ground away actively with the right hand
- On an inhale come back to down dog and repeat on the opposite side
- Start Lying flat on your back with your fingers pointing towards the sky with a 90° angle at your shoulders and bring your upper leg bone (femur) to a 90° angle at your hips
- Your legs should be extended but don’t need to be straight
- Bring your left hand onto your right thigh and your right hand onto your left thigh
- Press your hands into your thighs and your thighs into your hands which will engage the core
- On an inhale continuing to press your right hand into your left thigh start to lower your left arm towards the ground overhead and lower your right heel down towards the ground keeping the leg extended
- Hover the arm and the leg just off the ground
- If you feel your low back overarching stop lowering the arm and leg at that point and bring them to where you feel more of a neutral position in the spine
- On an exhale bring your left arm and right leg back to the starting point pressing your left hand into the right thigh
- Repeat on the other side
Single Arm Warrior Three Variation
- Start a strong standing pose of mountain
- Place your hands on either side of your hips
- Feel strongly into the four corners of the right foot
- Put a slight bend in your right knee engaging the quads and glutes
- On an inhale draw your left knee in towards your chest
- On an exhale start to hinge forward at your hips keeping your spine long and core strong
- At the same time start to lengthen your left leg back behind you
- Your goal is to bring the torso to a 90° angle at your hips with your left leg extended start back from your left hip
- Staying balanced with your hips in a neutral position extend your left arm out in front of you
- On an exhale staying connected to the core and keeping the spine long start to pull your left arm back at the same as you bring your left knee forward bring it back in front of your chest
- While doing this movement focus on engaging the lats on the left side and the glutes on the right at the same time
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