14 Yoga Poses for Swimmers

Flow through this sequence to support your workouts in the pool

Swimmers call it dry land. It’s the exercises you do outside the water that support your work in the pool. All serious swimmers integrate weight-bearing exercises into their training. It may include running, weight lifting, and if you know what’s good for you, yoga. Yoga offers an ideal way for swimmers to build strength and flexibility.

People that swim competitively or train rigorously are often tight in the shoulders, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Their front bodies tend to be relatively overdeveloped as compared to their back bodies (backstroke specialists being the exception), which can cause them to hunch forward, so gentle backbends, twists, and poses that strengthen the core are also helpful. Finally, increased range of motion in the ankles and feet are always a boon for improving your kick. When done regularly, yoga can help swimmers boost their performance in the pool and decrease their risk of injury. 

Cat-Cow Stretch (Chakravakrasana)

Yoga for Swimmers Cat-Cow Stretch
Cat-Cow Stretch. Ben Goldstein

Cat-cow stretches warm up your spine and help integrate the front and back bodies. They also introduce the idea of movement in concert with breath. The cow position with an arched spine is done on your inhalation and the cat position with a rounded spine is done on your exhalations. 

The domed back position will probably feel more comfortable to swimmers, so make sure not to linger here and give short shrift to the arched spine. Pay special attention to your feet, curling the toes under in cow and releasing them in cat as you start to work on your foot mobility. Do five to ten rounds of this stretch. 

Shoulder Stretch

Yoga Shoulder Stretch for Swimmers
Shoulder Stretch. InkkStudios / Getty Images

From your all-fours position, inhale to lift your right arm straight up toward the ceiling. On an exhale, release that arm and thread it under your left armpit, bringing your right shoulder and right cheek to the floor. 

There are a lot of options for what to do with your left arm. You actually don't have to do anything with it.The gentlest thing it to leave it where it is and just bend your elbow. Another version is to straighten your arm, tent your fingers on the floor and reach your hand toward the front of your mat.

If you want to intensify the stretch, you can lift the left arm up to the ceiling. To take in even further, drop the left hand behind your back. That's the version shown here, but you really don't have to take it that far to get a good stretch. 

It can be challenging to breathe in this twisted position but do your best to take five deep inhales and exhales through your nose. Then return to all-fours and do the same thing on the other side. 

Hands and Knees Balance

Yoga Hands and Knees Balance for Swimmers
Hands and Knees Balance. Ben Goldstein

Return to all-fours. Extend your left leg toward the back of your mat, keeping your heel in line with your hip. Then reach your right arm forward, keeping the wrist in line with your shoulder. Your gaze should be on the floor to keep your neck in a neutral position. Firm your belly to the spine to keep your back from collapsing. Keeping everything well-aligned is great for improving body awareness. 

If you want to take the hands and knees balance further, on an exhalation dome your back and bring your left knee and right elbow to meet under your belly. Inhale to re-extend them. Repeat this motion five times to build core strength. Then lower the left knee and right hand to your mat. Take several breaths before doing the same sequence of moves on the other side. 

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Downward Facing Dog for Swimmers
Downward Facing Dog. Ben Goldstein

Come back to all fours, then curl your toes under and straighten your legs to pull the hips back into downward facing dog. This pose is a wonderful stretch for the whole body, particularly the hamstrings, calves, shoulders, and back muscles. If it feels good, pedal your legs by bending one knee at a time while you stretch the opposite heel toward the floor. 

High Lunge

High Lunge for Swimmers
High Lunge. Ben Goldstein

On an inhalation, step your right foot forward next to your right hand. Lift your arms up toward the ceiling to come into a high lunge. Your right thigh should be as close to parallel the floor as possible. The left leg is straight and the heel is spiked, stretching the foot and ankle.

Pay attention to your shoulders. Keep your shoulder blades on your back and your shoulders plugged into their sockets moving away from your ears. 

Humble Warrior

Humble Warrior Yoga Pose for Swimmers
Humble Warrior. Mint Images / Getty Images

Release your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers. Draw your shoulder blades together on your back and puff up your chest. Drop your back heel to the floor to the inside of your toes so that your foot is at about a 45-degree angle. On an exhalation, forward fold, bringing the crown of your head toward the floor on the inside on your front foot. (It will probably not reach the floor and that's ok.) Try to keep your hips square toward the front of your mat. Though it's tempting, don't stick your butt out to make more room for your torso. However, it's fine to separate your feet towards the side edge of your mat for more stability. This pose stretches the shoulders, hips, and hamstrings, plus engages the core for balance. 

After three to five breaths in the forward fold, inhale to return to standing and release your hands. 

Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)

Triangle Pose for Swimmers
Triangle Pose. Ann Pizer

Straighten your right leg and bring your arms parallel to the floor with the right arm going forward and the left arm back. Reach your right hand toward the front of the room and then tip your torso so that the right hand comes to rest on the right shin or ankle. Both legs stay straight but be mindful not to hyperextend into the knees, especially on the right leg. Keep a microbend in that knee. The left arm may come up the ceiling as shown, but I recommend dropping it behind your back instead. If possible, bring the left hand to the inside of your right thigh. This will allow you to really open your chest toward the ceiling. 

After three to five breaths, bring both hands down flat at the front of your mat and step back to downward facing dog. Take a few resting breaths here or come down to child's pose for a longer rest. Then repeat the previous three postures with your left leg forward. 

Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

Locust Pose for Swimmers
Locust Pose. Ann Pizer

After you have done your standing poses on both sides, lower onto your belly for some lizard pose variations. These are a great way to engage the back body. You may want to put a blanket on your mat before your begin to cushion your pelvis.

Start with your arms at your sides and your palms flat on the floor. Then press the tops of your feet into the floor strongly, anchor your pelvis to the ground, and on an inhale lift your head, shoulders, chest, and hands off the floor. Take three breaths and then release everything back down. 

On the next round, also lift your feet up. Keep your legs engaged and extend out through the balls of your feet. If you want to move on, on the next round extend your arms in front of you and then lift everything up, keeping only your pelvis on the floor. Swim your arms in a breast stroke motion while keeping your legs elevated. Take about three breast strokes with your arms. 

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

Bridge Pose for Swimmers
Bridge Pose. Ann Pizer

Roll onto your back for bridge pose. Bend your knees to set up your feet close to your buttocks. The feet should stay parallel throughout the pose.

On an inhalation, press into your feet to lift your hips off the floor. Roll your shoulders onto your back one at a time so that your shoulder blades act as a little shelf. If possible, interlace your fingers behind your back. Keep your neck and chin still as you lift your chest toward your chin. Come down after three breaths and then repeat the pose twice more. ​

Eye of the Needle Pose (Sucirandhrasana)

Eye of the Needle Pose for Swimmers
Eye of the Needle Pose. Ann Pizer

Return to lying on your back with your knees bent. Lift your right knee and hug it into your chest. Then place your right ankle on the top of your left thigh just above the left knee. Let the right knee fall open. If this feels like enough, stay here. For a deeper stretch, lift your left foot off the floor. Interlace your hands on top of your shin or behind the left thigh and draw your left thigh toward your chest. This is eye of the needle pose. If you want, your can use your right elbow to encourage your left knee to open up a bit more. Hold for five breaths and then switch legs. 

Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

Supine Spinal Twist for Swimmers
Supine Spinal Twist. Ann Pizer

Hug your right knee into your chest again while you extend the left leg straight. Scoot your hips a few inches to the right and then bring your right knee across your body toward the floor on the left side. Open your arms and ground both shoulders down. Stay in this supine twist for five to ten breaths and then return to center and do the other side.

Cobber's Pose (Baddha Konasana)

Baddha Konasana for Swimmers
Cobbler's Pose. pkline/E+/Getty Images

Come to a seated position. If it's hard for you to sit up straight, place a block or several folded blankets under your butt to elevate your hips. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Let your knees fall out to either side. If you prefer, take hold of your feet and open them like you were opening a book. Stay here for five to ten breaths. 

Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana)

Thunderbolt Pose for Swimmers
Thunderbolt Pose. Ann Pizer

Stretch the thighs and the tops of your feet in thunderbolt pose. Come to sit on your heels with your knees bent. Close your eyes and take ten deep breaths,

To stretch the bottoms of the feet, tuck your toes under and lift your heels, bringing your weight to the balls of your feet. Keep your butt on your heels. Lean back a bit to intensify the stretch. 

Corpse Pose (Savasana)

Corpse Pose - Savasana
Corpse Pose - Savasana. John Freeman/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

End every yoga session with five to ten minutes in corpse pose. This gives your body time to absorb the effects of your practice. It may also be one of the few times in your day when you can really relax and do nothing. Try to release any tension that you are holding in your body, breathe naturally, and clear your mind of the thoughts that usually preoccupy it. This mental break is as important as the physical yoga poses you've just done.

Yoga, Rinse, and Repeat

If you're a serious swimmer, you know that consistency is key. The same is true of yoga. You'll get the most benefits if you practice regularly. Yoga is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint.

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