Stay Swim Strong with this Yoga Workout

No pool? No home gym? No problem – I’ve got you sorted to be able to maintain your upper body and core strength with this routine during the Covid19 lockdown.

One of the great assets of having a regular yoga practice is that you can develop functional strength without needing any equipment. Yoga harnesses the force of gravity and your body’s structural alignment in a pose to create the effort that will teach your muscles and nervous system how to work together to develop strength, stability and balance. The stronger you become, the less effort is required to maintain balance and composure – sounds a little like triathlon training, doesn’t it?

These movements done as a group will primarily activate your pectorals, triceps, abdominals, deltoids and upper back. Your lower back, buttocks and legs will also have to do some work to assist. If you’re also looking for a good core workout you can find my swim-bike-run core workout here.

To get the maximum benefit I recommend that you commit to doing one of the following routines for 7 consecutive days, and then at least 2 – 3 times weekly. The initial daily burst will encourage your body and brain to learn these movements, and I guarantee you will notice an increase in your basic strength in just one week.

Beginner routine: repeat all 3-4 times

Down Dog

Plank

Reverse Plank

Block Lift (half)

Intermediate routine: repeat all 2-3 times

Down Dog

Forearm Balance

Plank

Reverse Plank

Block Lift (half)

Handstand to Wall

Advanced routine: repeat all 2-3 times

Down Dog

Forearm Balance

Plank into Crocodile

Reverse Plank

Block Lift – full

Handstand

THE POSES & HOW TO DO THEM:

Down Facing Dog

Method:

  1. Begin on all fours, knees under hips and hip distance apart – sit back towards your heels while stretching your arms forward, keeping them shoulder width apart.
  2. Press your palms firmly down, with your fingers spread flat and the middle finger pointing directly forward – lift yourself back onto all fours – your hands will be slightly in front of your shoulders now.
  3. On an inhale raise your hips and simultaneously straighten your arms and legs to make a pyramid shape – stay on the balls of your toes unless your heels reach the floor – create a strong lifting effect from your hands to your tailbone and a lengthening effect from your buttocks to your heels by pressing down through your hands and heels.
  4. Keep your neck straight and your head positioned between your arms (don’t let it hang down)
  5. Beginners – for many athletes, tightness in their shoulders, back and hamstrings and/or calves make it impossible to fully straighten in this pose. Use the following modifications:
  6. Extremely stiff? Place a chair against the wall, and then create the pose by pressing your hands flat onto the seat of the chair – the added height should allow you to straighten your limbs and back more effectively. Remain on the balls of your toes if this allows you to keep both your back and legs straighter. Tight shoulders and back: keep a bend in your knees and focus on broadening your shoulders across your back and releasing the muscles around your neck – drawing your belly button in and tilting your hips to lift your tailbone upwards – breathing fully and deeply through the front, back and sides of your ribcage and diaphragm.

Hold for 10 – 20 full breaths, or 30 – 60 seconds.

Forearm Balance

Method:

  1. Start on the floor on your hands and knees, with your knees under your hips. Now lean down on your elbows and stretch your forearms in front of you, clasping your hands together. Make sure that your shoulders are directly above your elbows.
  2. Tuck your toes under, then lift your knees away from the floor, take your hips high, and straighten your legs as much as you can. Keep the heels lifted in order to lengthen your legs.
  3. Press your forearms firmly into the floor, from the elbow to the wrist and the outer edges of your hands. Don’t clench your hands but do maintain a firm pressure palm-to-palm. Spread your shoulder blades across your back and draw them away from your head and down towards your hips.
  4. As you ground your arms into the floor, lengthen your torso from your armpits to your hips. If you’re more flexible in your hamstrings you can straighten your legs and press your heels towards the floor, but if your upper back domes it’s best to keep them bent.
  5. Keep your spine straight and your head between your upper arms – don’t let it hang down or allow your chest to collapse into a curve.

Hold for 10 – 20 full breaths, or 30 – 60 seconds.

Basic Plank

Method:

  1. Kneel on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips – now take your hands slightly forward and lean your weight into your palms.
  2. Lift up by straightening your arms and legs, tucking your toes under and pushing out to your heels.
  3. Suck your navel upwards and keep your whole body in a straight line from head to toes – head in neutral, shoulder blades moving downwards, thighs firm – don’t let your belly, hips or legs drop.

Hold for 10 – 20 full breaths, or 30 – 60 seconds.

Crocodile

Method:

  1. Begin from Basic Plank position – slowly lower your whole body from heels to head by bending your elbows and keeping them tucked in firmly against your torso (don’t let them go wide as in a push up position). As you drop, your upper body will naturally drift forward so that your hands are directly under your chest.
  2. Keep your entire front body strong and tight – back straight, core engaged, knees tight and thighs firm.
  3. The goal is to hover just above the floor – only lower as far as you are able while maintaining a horizontal position and good breathing. Hold for 5 – 10 full breaths or 10 – 30 seconds.
  4. Now press back up into the basic plank position (which is not as easy as it sounds!)

As you become stronger you can lower yourself more and increase the length of your hold up to 1 minute.

Reverse plank

Method:

  1. Sit with your legs straight and together – take your arms behind and place your hands on the floor, shoulder width apart, with fingers facing your hips.
  2. Press strongly down through you hands and heels as you lift your entire body up – squeeze your buttocks and lengthen your spine as much as possible – if necessary keep a bend in your knees to assist you.
  3. Keep your pelvis as high as possible and allow your chest to open and broaden.
  4. Now stretch your toes down to the floor and look up towards the ceiling.

Hold for 10 – 20 full breaths, or 30 – 60 seconds.

Block Lift (half)

For this movement you will need a small stack of books or similar to create some firm height for you to place your hands on.

While the full block lift isn’t a traditional yoga pose, it is a connecting movement in flow yoga where postures are linked into a series. By using extra height under the hands it’s very effective at building upper body and core abdominal strength.

Method:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight and together – have the blocks/books beside your hips – place your hands on the blocks/books with fingers facing your feet and press firmly down while lifting your torso straight up off the floor.
  2. Pull your toes back so that your feet are dorsi-flexed and tighten your thighs – keep your core engaged by sucking your belly button in.
  3. Keep your shoulder blades broad across your back – don’t shrug your shoulders to enhance the lift, instead drive down more firmly through your arms and hands.

Hold for 5 – 10 full breaths, or 10 – 30 seconds.

As you become stronger you can increase the length of your hold up to 1 minute.

Block Lift (full)

Method:

  1. Take Block Lift (half) position
  2. Tuck your upper body inwards as you lift your legs up from the floor – keep looking forward.
  3. Now hold your body as erect as possible with your legs hovering at hip height.

Hold for 5 – 10 full breaths, or 10 – 30 seconds.

As you become stronger you can increase the length of your hold up to 1 minute.

Handstand to Wall

When first learning how to do these handstand movements I strongly recommend that you get your isolation partner (if you have one) to watch you for feedback on whether you have your hands and feet in the correct position. Proper alignment is essential for getting the benefits of upside-down postures.

Preparation - make a square to the wall

Method:

  1. Begin by creating a square to the wall – arms at shoulder height and legs directly under hips.
  2. Now turn around with your back to the wall and place your hands where your feet were placed, shoulder width apart.
  3. Take one foot to the wall and press into it – at the same time lean your upper body forward to take the weight into your hands with straight arms – once you feel secure in your weight distribution you can lift your other foot from the floor and step up the wall until your feet are in the same direct line as your hips.
  4. Now keep pressing down through your hands and out through your feet while engaging your core.
  5. Don’t let your shoulders tighten or back sag – maintain broad shoulder blades and strong abdominal engagement. Keep your neck relaxed and head between your arms.
  6. To come out of the pose just walk your feet back down to the floor.
  7. If you feel any light-headedness then rest with your head down for a minute.

Hold for 5 – 10 full breaths, or 10 – 30 seconds.

As you become stronger you can increase the length of your hold up to 1 minute.

Handstand

Method:

  1. Stand in front of a wall, bend over and place your hands on the floor about one foot away from the wall, with your hands shoulder distance apart.
  2. Walk your legs back and with a strong inhale swing your legs straight up to the wall. If your hands are too far away from the wall this will cause your back to bend excessively – ideally you want your back to be as straight as possible as this makes it easier to balance.
  3. Keep your arms straight and abdominal core strongly engaged. Press down firmly through your palms from heel of hand to fingertips. Keep your neck relaxed and eyes looking comfortably to the floor.
  4. Progressively challenge yourself to balance with just one leg on the wall, and then eventually freestyle balancing away from the wall.

Hold for 5 – 10 full breaths, or 10 – 30 seconds.

As you become stronger you can increase the length of your hold up to 1 minute.

Strength - balance - composure

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