Five yoga poses for swimming

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Michael Phelps' flexibility helped make him great.

Each month, yoga coach Gwen Lawrence chooses a sport and shows us the top five poses designed to keep athletes in the game. This month, the focus is on swimming.

Swimmers train most of their body but in particular they need to focus on strengthening and improving the flexibility on: the entire shoulder; the chest and pecs; the core, back and abdominals; the hip flexors; the ankles; and the latissimus.

When working with swimmers, I stress that a swimmer is only as productive as his or her ability to breathe properly. So I recommend that people who take to the pool try to master a three-part yogic breath discipline. (Be sure to consult with your doctor and a licensed accredited yoga teacher before attempting this and the poses.)

On the inhale, fill the belly up with air. Then when the belly is full, draw in a little more breath and let that air expand into the rib cage causing the ribs to widen apart. On the exhale, let the air go first from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together, and them from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.

Repeat this deep breathing into the belly and rib cage for about five-10 minutes.

Here are top 5 yoga poses for swimmers:

Kneeling toes tucked: Remember in the height of Michael Phelps' Olympic run, all the talk was about his flipper-like feet. If you have open, flexible ankles you can create the same effect. Hold this pose two to three minutes. Once you become adept at holding the pictured pose you can lean back and rest both hands on the floor to simultaneously stretch the hip flexors and quads.

Gwen Lawrence

Face down shoulder stretch: A stellar choice for not opening the shoulder joint and creating a clear chest / pec area, and as a bonus working on spinal rotation.

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence

Wheel of life pose: The amazing reaching stretch of the arm in this position is a lat stretch like no other. In addition notice the neck rotation, it causing you to increase the rotation of the neck to improve those who aim to be champs at the crawl. Hold on each side for three to five minutes.

Gwen Lawrence

Bow pose: This choice is a time saver because you will tap into the flexibility of the hip flexors, abdominals, chest and at the same time strengthen the back. To increase the challenge or mental game hold it for one minute and then rest in child's pose.

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence

Right angle pose with shoulder variation: I think it is easy to see the benefits of this pose but the twist I like to see is taking your top arm and doing large exaggerated windmill actions with is. Do five to 10 reaching windmills in each direction and switch sides.

Gwen Lawrence

Gwen Lawrence owns Power Yoga for Sports and works with athletes in professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey soccer as well Olympians and college athletes. Follow her on Twitter @GwenLawrence.

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