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by Susan Dawson-Cook

November 1, 2022

Warm up your muscles and joints to swim faster and reduce injuries

Slide a rolled-up yoga mat into your gear bag next time you head to a Masters swimming practice. Limbering your joints and elevating your core temperature pre-swim with yoga activities can increase optimal movement and reduce the potential for injuries. The ideal yoga poses to do before a swim are dynamic, fluid movements rather than static asanas. Most yoga classes designated as flow or vinyasa flow emphasize dynamic movements. These pre-workout activities will also prep your body for a race.

Experienced yogis might embark on a series of Sun Salutations before jumping into the water. Sun Salutations will warm up your major joints and muscles and elevate body core temperature. These YouTube videos show two sequences. The first link shows the execution of a basic Sun Salutation A and the second link shows the Sun Salutation B series.

The three movement sequences shown below are dynamic yoga movements that are safe for swimmers with less yoga experience to perform pre-workout or pre-event.

Side-Body Stretch/Cactus Arms Flow

Sidebody Cactus

This flow sequence will warm up your spine and shoulder girdle and improve your postural alignment, facilitating fluid swimming movements.


Stand with your feet about hip-width apart in a tall posture, ears aligned over your shoulders, arms relaxed at your sides. Engage your thigh muscles and experience a rooted feeling through the soles of your feet. Inhale and raise arms out and extend them overhead, interlacing your fingers. Exhale and tip to the right, maintaining length in your arms and cervical spine. Inhale and return to the center, arms elongated. Exhale and tip to the left. Inhale and return to the center. Exhale, opening into cactus arms, with your palms facing forward, elbows dipping beneath the shoulders and gently move your elbows back to expand the space in your chest. Raise your chin a little to stretch the front of the throat. Repeat 5 or more times.

Bird Dog/Crunch 


Physical therapists often prescribe the Bird Dog exercise (known in Sanskrit as Dandayamana Bharmanasana) to remediate back pain, and with good reason. This pose strengthens the multifidus muscles—muscle fibers along the back of your spine spanning several vertebral segments. These muscles play a key role in stabilizing your lower back and pelvis and maintaining a healthy back.

Without proper muscular support, your spine is fragile. That’s one reason why back injuries are common. Performing the bird dog regularly will strengthen your multifidus muscles, facilitate proper alignment of your spinal vertebrae and enable your spine to move more freely. By adding the crunching movement component, this compound exercise strengthens and warms up abdominal and spinal muscles and improves balance.


Start on your hands and knees with your hands shoulder width apart (fingers spread) and your knees hip-width apart. Start with a neutral spine, keeping your head in alignment with your spine and your gaze directed toward your mat. Slowly extend your right leg back—gently flexing your foot—and your left arm forward, thumb facing the sky. Reach your hand forward a little more, lengthening through your spine. Your raised heel should be no higher than the level of your pelvis to prevent any uncomfortable compression in your lower back (and loss of core control). Lift up slightly in your belly. Roll your supporting shoulder back and away from your ear.

Take an inhale and then as you exhale, draw your left hand toward your right knee in a crunch and then inhale as you extend again. Allow your gaze to follow the trajectory of your fingertips.  Perform 8 to 16 repetitions and then change sides.

Star Goddess

Star1 Star2

The flowing four-part movement of the Star Goddess will warm up your shoulder joint as well as your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. These fluid movements are also good for reestablishing a stable position for the shoulder girdle after too much computer or cell phone time.


Face the side of your mat and position your feet in a wide, comfortable straddle position with your knees and toes turned out. Inhale and reach up toward the sky, then exhale and bend your knees in a plié (similar to a ballerina), while pulling hands downward and placing them behind the head, elbows opened out. Make sure your gaze is directed straight ahead and your shoulder blades are engaging (squeezing down and toward each other). Inhale and reach up toward the sky and exhale, reaching down toward the ground without slouching forward. The amount of knee bend can be reduced if you’re experiencing joint pain or need to save your legs for a breaststroke race. Perform this sequence 5 to 10 times, maintaining a smooth flowing movement as if you’re moving through water.


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