Have you have ever felt that your swimming abilities have plateaued? There may be a reason why, and it is beyond not spending enough time in the water or getting better coaching. Just check out the attributes of any competitive swimmer.
Notice how high their arms can reach? It seems that they can easily squeeze their head with their biceps, some can even touch their biceps behind their head. Having mobile shoulders allows for a much greater reach, and therefore a longer arm pull—you cover more distance per stroke, and that, of course, lowers stroke count.
A good swimmer also has great ankle flexibility, usually easily able to point their toes like a ballerina, or easily sit on their feet with their toes pointed backwards. Having feet that can plantar flex significantly improves propulsion from kicking.
Good swimmers also have mobile and flexible lower backs. This helps with body position, which in turn reduces drag, and also with kicking, especially the dolphin kick.
Good swimmers have excellent core stability, allowing them to keep their torso straight in the water, and provides the power for body rotation with each stroke.
And, of course, good swimmers have great lung capacity and breath control, allowing them to be flexible about when to breathe, whether due to a need to change breathing cadence, missing a breath, or breath holding while doing a flip turn.
Shoulder, back, and ankle flexibility. Core stability. Breath control.
Yoga Testimonial from a fifty-something triathlete:
After decades of competitive sports, from tennis and squash to baseball, basketball and soccer, my recurring injuries forced me to consider less ballistic and more self paced sports, such as swimming, then cycling and running, as a road to recovery. This in turn led me to a decade of competitive triathlon, and a whole new set of injuries, but without a proactive recovery process beyond weight training and the passage of time. I got better at racing, but with many breaks to recover, something seemed to be missing.
A friend had suggested yoga as a stretching program, and others had noted that, with regular practice, they had less back ache while cycling, less leg injuries while running, and a longer and more flexible shoulder reach while swimming, as well as more flexible ankles to improve kicking. So, when some holiday time appeared, I was finally willing to try it, and I thought I would give it the intro month.
I wound up being very pleasantly surprised by the process. The hot environment felt like a natural place to limber and stretch my many tight soft tissues, and breaking a significant sweat just felt, well, cleansing, and it seemed to affirm that you have worked hard at something healthy. And in the regular classes, the core stability and strength components were always challenging. I was also amazed at how long well held postures and stretches in yin classes, which I had never done before to that degree, and thought, if anything can loosen me up this would be it.
What was unexpected, though, was my mental shift I noticed after my first week. I hadn’t planned this, but I had started going every day, as if I needed it, whether it was for the heat and the sweat, the calm and respectful atmosphere, the total relaxation and great shower facilities after the class, or just that my body was finally getting the attention it needed after years of abuse and neglect. Right out of the box, I did 30 days in a row!
So, I get it now. Yoga started as a stretching program for me, but it now feels more like a balancing program, both physically and mentally. I feel much more relaxed after a class than after any sport I do, so I see why it is absorbing and addictive. It is a great reminder of life as a journey, and not a destination. And, whether beginner or not, it is easy to fit in. And, as a physician, I now have a new prescription to write for my many stressed patients whose lives lead them and not the other way around.
So, if you are new to this, try it for a month—you will first note just how stiff and inflexible you are, but you will notice gains with regular practice, and your mental game will take on a seismic shift. And it is all nothing but good for you. Enjoy!