By Katie Arnold//High Performance Consultant
In March I wrote an article about incorporating certain types of dryland training to improve fitness and athleticism. After that article was posted, I received a lot of feedback and questions from both athletes and coaches. The most common of these questions was, “What about yoga?”
I don’t know why I left yoga off the original list. As a swimmer in college, yoga was always part of my training, and even now I still do yoga 4-5 days per week. While the physical benefits of yoga have always attracted me to the practice, I have found that it is the mental benefits that I gain the most from.
It is no secret that swimming, and swimming fast, requires a number of different skills and attributes. Flexibility, core strength and focus are vital to optimal performance as a swimmer, and all three of these areas are addressed and improved through yoga.
Flexibility: The various postures and stretches practiced in yoga use a person’s own body weight to strengthen and lengthen key muscle groups. Of note to swimmers is the added benefit of strengthening the muscles of the shoulders and back to counteract the common front-side imbalance seen in most swimmers. Additionally, many of the standing postures help improve ankle flexibility, which can be translated into improved kicking.
Core Strength: Most yoga postures require some sort of balance to achieve the desired position. This balance almost always comes from the core, and like swimming, yoga utilizes the entire core throughout the practice. The balance in the use of the front, side and back of the core helps with swimming connected through the body.
Focus: One of the principle foundations of any yoga practice is an attention to and an awareness of the breath. Focus on the breath is used to help deepen the stretch felt in some postures. For swimmers, this focus can be used in stressful (i.e., pre-race) situations to bring attention back to something simple and controllable.