Yoga for swimming

Swim coach and yoga teacher Trina Requena shares six poses to improve alignment and technique

There can’t be many swimming lessons that end with a floating shavasana (corpse pose) in the sea, but for SwimTrek yoga coach Trina Requena, yoga and swimming have always been entwined. “Iyengar yoga is all about alignment and ‘effortless effort’ and that’s what we’re looking for in the water,” she says from her Ocean Spirit studio outside Brighton. “I taught yoga to competitive swimmers on a SwimTrek trip to Crete and people found it transformative. A man in his 50s said ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I’ve got to my age and never experienced this’. He felt he could swim forever, and was at one with the water. That’s what yoga can bring to swimming.”

Below, Trina shares a basic sequence of poses for beginners to yoga for swimming. These are especially helpful for front crawl. She recommends that each pose is held for 2-4 minutes at first. As with any activity, consult a doctor if you have any concerns about undertaking these poses, and listen to your body – if you feel pain when going into or holding a pose it is a good idea to stop.

 

Virasana (Hero pose). Photo: Chloe at SwimTrek

Virasana (Hero pose)

A comfortable sitting pose that emphasises a feeling of balance in both lower legs. In this pose your hips will be stabilised, your buttocks should be firm and keep your body, particularly your hips, knees and shoulders, as evenly positioned as possible. 

How to do:

Sit in a kneeling position with your shins resting on the floor and your feet and ankles fully stretched out. The purpose of this position is for the energy to be able to flow through your body from you toes up to the tips of your fingers once you enter into Parvatasana pose (Mountain pose, below). You may need to rest your buttocks on a yoga brick to ensure that your legs and ankles are fully extended and that the flow of energy isn’t blocked.

Parvatasana/Mountain pose. Photo: Chloe at SwimTrek

From here you can go into the Parvatasana pose, an extension of Virasana. Interlock your hands and extend forward, before pushing your body upwards, lengthening the arms up above the head and aiming to bring arms behind ears. This will lengthen the sides of the body and will draw the shoulder blades down. 

Benefits of Virasana: 

This pose stretches the hips, thighs, knees, and ankles, with the stretch of the ankles being particularly beneficial for swimmers as that is where the action of the kick is controlled from. The pose also improves circulation, relieves tired legs and strengthens foot arch. The stretch also helps improve posture.

Adho Muhha Virasana (Downward Facing Hero pose)

A pose that stretches out the back muscles, helping to release tension on the spine and assist with lower back pain.

How to do:

Begin on all fours, with your hands shoulder width apart. Move your body backwards down into the pose so that you will end up with your knees underneath your stomach. Keep your spine aligned as you move backwards, letting your tailbone lead the way and taking care to not arch your spine. Do not rush to get your head on the floor, but rather keep your head in line with your spine, with your fingertips pressing down your palms. Pressing the palms down, evenly draw the energy up through your arms, shoulders and body, moving the buttocks down onto the heels, keeping grounded in the base of the pose. 

Benefits of Adho Muhha Virasana:

This pose stretches and strengthens thighs, knees, ankles and hips. As you lower yourself into the pose it stimulates and improves the function of the abdominal organs. The pose also helps to open up your shoulder blades and stretches these out, a great move for swimmers who will see a lot of repetitive movement in this part of the body.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog pose)

This classic yoga pose helps stretch out the whole body, beneficial for swimmers as they so often uses many different types of muscles.

 How to do:

Begin in the same all fours position that you begin in with the Adho Muhha Virasana pose. Push yourself upwards from your toes, leading with your buttocks and ensuring that the spine is kept straight as you draw your upper body towards your tailbone. As you ascend, keep your head between your arms facing downwards, ensuring your body is kept straight from your wrists to your hips. Note that your heels do not need to touch the floor if you are struggling to keep your feet flat to feel the benefit of this pose.

Benefits of Adho Mukha Svanasana:

This pose helps to calm but also energise the brain. It stretches shoulders, hamstrings, calves and hands, and also strengthens your arms and legs as you hold the pose. A great all-rounder stretch for swimmers. 

Downward facing dog. Photo: Chloe at SwimTrek

Virabhadra II (Warrior II pose) 

A strong pose, this position helps focus on core strength as you enter into it and works on opening the groin. 

How to do:

From a normal standing pose, step out to the side to have your feet around 3 to 4-feet apart. Start with your legs wide and feet parallel, taking the outer edges of feet down and lifting the arches of the feet. Turn your right leg out completely to the right of your other foot, facing forward with your big toe slightly turned in. Take the right leg into a right angle, keeping the ankle, knee and hip in line and stopping when your thigh is at 90 degrees angle from the floor. Stretch your arms in line with the shoulders, aiming to keep the alignment from one hand through the body to the other straight. Make sure not to take your knee past your ankles or to lean your torso over your thigh. Turn your head to face the direction of your bent knee and feel the energy flow through your arms.

Benefits of Virabhadra II:

This pose strengthens the legs, opens the hips and opens the chest, both of which become tight from swimming. It helps to develop concentration throughout your whole body, build stamina and give a sense of groundedness. It works on your respiration and energises whole body. The pose also helps to keep your groin soft, a common source of many sporting injuries. 

Warrior II pose. Photo: Chloe at SwimTrek

Seated Garudasana (Seated Eagle pose)

This pose engages the lower body, stretching the hips and providing power to the ankles and thighs, as well as the shoulders, chest, deltoids and triceps.

How to do:

Begin in a kneeling position on your right knee, with your right shin laying flat on the floor and the left leg crossing over the top of it, with this ankle laying on the floor. Making sure to have your left arm above your right arm, bring your arms together, meeting at the elbow, and then rest the left arm on top of your right arm, with your palms touching. 

From here, you can lean forward with your head and have your arms rest on your leg at 90 degrees. Then bring your hands around to clutch its opposite shoulder and hold this hugging pose. When you are ready to release, open your arms and raise your head and chest slowly, holding your arms parallel to the floor to expand your chest.

Benefits of Seated Garudasana:

The arm movements in this pose stretches the shoulders and upper back and opens the shoulder joints, creating space between shoulder blades and improving circulation, balance and focus. This stretch helps aid the recovery of repeated shoulder movement of swimmers. This pose can also relieve chronic knee pain and stretches the spine and abdominal muscles. 

  • If you’re interested in combining yoga and swimming on a trip, SwimTrek run YogaSwim holidays in both Crete and Lithuania. 
  • Words and photos courtesy of Olivia Weatherill and Chloe Lana of SwimTrek. Special thanks to Trina Requena of Ocean Spirit Yoga for pose guidance and for being our photo model. Trina also guides on SwimTrek’s YogaSwim trips.