Yoga For Swimmers (General)


Level: General
Theme: Stabilizing and opening joints, opening chest, strengthening core and back


Here in New York there is quite a substantial community of swimmers, including a very impressive open water swimming group. We are fortunate to have a few of them as students at Yogasana Center for Yoga in Brooklyn and I was asked to develop a sequence for a workshop for them. I thought I might take a break from the Basic Asana Cycle to bring you this sequence. It is a general level practice, so if there are poses that you have not been taught in class, such as Head Stand, then please omit them. Bear in mind also that the inversions and abdominal work are not appropriate for women who are pregnant or menstruating.

Swimmers face unique challenges that other athletes never have to consider. Though water as a medium for exercise is supportive and low-impact, the mechanics of any given stroke, coupled with way the body responds to exerting itself in water, create their own problems. Attention must be paid to the joints and the muscles that manipulate them, lest they become unbalanced and de-stabilized. The arms and legs must work in coordination and be integrated into the core for an effective stroke. This sequence is designed to complement a regular swimming regimen.

The primary aims of the sequence are as follows:

a) To stabilize the hips and shoulders, counterbalancing the tendency for muscle to lengthen away from the joint;
b) To increase range of motion in the hips and shoulders;
c) To open the chest, counterbalancing the tightening that can come with heavy upper-body work and the stress that can be placed on the rotator cuff as a result;
d) To strengthen the muscles of the core and back;
e) To integrate the arms and legs into the trunk for effective stroke coordination.

The sequence is extensive, potentially taking an hour or more to complete in its entirety, depending on how long you choose to hold each pose. The poses are grouped together in progressive units, however, and it is possible to break the sequence down into smaller chunks.

1. STANDING POSES - strengthen legs, stabilize and open hips, tone core muscles.
2. BACKWARD EXTENSIONS AND ARM BALANCES - strengthen back, chest and arms, integrate arms into core.
3. ABDOMINAL POSES - strengthen abs and legs.
4. HEAD STAND - strengthens back and shoulders, integrates legs into core.
5. ARM AND CHEST OPENERS - open chest and take stress off rotator cuff.
6. SHOULDER STAND, PLOUGH POSE AND VARIATIONS - open chest, strengthen back and arms, integrate legs into core

For the most inclusive practice, do each pose (except for Head Stand and Shoulder Stand) twice, holding the poses for at least 20 seconds and anywhere up to 1 minute. Head Stand and Shoulder Stand can be held for 3 to 10 minutes. (Head Stand should only be performed once you have achieved competence in the pose in a class setting.)

For a shorter practice, you have a few options:
a) Practice one or two poses from each section and end with the arm/chest openers and Shoulder Stand.
b) Practice one section with the arm/chest openers and Shoulder Stand. This would give you three or four practices to cycle through over the course of a week.
c) Practice two sections with the arm/chest openers and Shoulder Stand.

Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of the sequence.

The Practice

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
Thigh Stretch At Wall
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose)
Makarasana (Crocodile Pose)
Chaturanga Dandasana II (Four Limbed Staff Pose)
Vashisthasana (Vashistha's Pose)
Ardha Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Right Angle Hand Stand)
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Full Arm Balance)
Half Forearm Stand
Pincha Mayurasana (Peacock Feather Pose)
Shalabhasana II (Locust Pose)
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extend Feet Pose)
Ardha Navasana (Half Boat Pose)
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana/Halasana (Upward Extended Feet Pose/Plough Pose)
Ardha Navasana (Half Boat Pose)
Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose)
Salamba Shirshasana I (Head Stand)
Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
Arm Stretches
Salamba Sarvangasana I (Shoulder Stand)
Halasana (Plough Pose)
Supta Konasana (Reclined Angle Pose)
Parshva Halasana (Side Plough Pose)
Shavasana (Corpse Pose)

Click here for a fully illustrated, printable PDF of the sequence.