Yoga for cyclists is on the rise! Why? Because once you start practicing yoga regularly, you’ll never look back. Many cyclists dip their toe in the water as a result of creeping inflexibility or frustrating aches and pains and find that when this first issue is resolved, other problems have also miraculously self-corrected. And perhaps, even more surprisingly, their speed, power and endurance metrics are all trending in the right direction. Yoga evolves from a curative to a preventative measure and an indispensable tool for accelerating performance.
WHY DO CYCLISTS NEED YOGA?
Yoga is particularly effective for cyclists due to a number of features that characterise the sport:
- We maintain one basic position on the bike—hips flexed, spine rounded, chin forward and arms out in front of us.
- This position is similar to the seated posture that we adopt for much of the day (especially if we work at a desk).
- We increase stress on this posture by adding force and duration.
- We combine this static upper body posture with repetitive motion from the hips down.
Unfortunately, when we maintain this asymmetric posture for long periods of time, muscular imbalances develop in the body that can lead to pain, primarily in the knees, hips, lower back, in between the shoulder blades and neck. And when we perform multiple repetitions of a narrow range of movements, over time, we suffer from overuse injuries and a reduction in mobility.
HOW YOGA CAN HELP CYCLISTS IMPROVE THEIR PERFORMANCE
The goal of yoga is to bring your body and mind back into balance. Through careful pose selection, we release deeply-held tension, increase flexibility throughout the body, improve range of motion, build strength and stability in muscles that are under-used, enhance body awareness, restore proper breathing patterns and calm and clarify the mind.
The result for cyclists is faster recovery from intense training, fewer recurring aches and pains, a reduction in stiffness, a more aerodynamic and comfortable riding position, greater movement and energy efficiency and an increase in power, speed and endurance.
START YOUR AT-HOME PRACTICE TODAY!
If you’ve historically struggled to get a consistent yoga habit off the ground, it may just be that you haven’t found the right teacher or resource yet. Taking classes in-person with an experienced teacher whose style you resonate with is highly effective but in the current climate, that’s becoming increasingly more difficult.
Fortunately, you can achieve many of the benefits from the safety of your own home by following a few, simple guidelines. Here are some pointers:
- Equipment. It may surprise you to know how little you need to start practicing yoga right away. A proper yoga mat is ideal and these are now inexpensive and easy to get hold of. And there’s no reason not to stay in your cycling kit. That’s it. You’re ready to go.
- Consistency. As with all good things, consistency is the key. A short session of 10-15 minutes almost every day will give you the sustained benefits that you’re looking for, much more so than a 90-minute class once or twice a month. This is because recovery and flexibility cannot be stored, they must be continually topped up.
- Timing. You can practice yoga at any time of the day but having said that, after a ride or in the evening, when your muscles are warm and pliable, is likely to give you the quickest easy wins. If you schedule your session first thing in the morning, I recommend you warm your body up first.
7 POST-RIDE YOGA POSES FOR CYCLISTS
If you spend 5-10 breaths in each of these poses, this sequence should take around 15 minutes. It’s likely to be most effective directly after your ride or in the evening but you can experiment with whatever time works best for you. And if any of these poses doesn’t feel great, you can move onto the next one. There’s nothing to say that every posture is going to be suitable or even beneficial for you.
In cyclists, the hip flexors are notoriously tight due to the prolonged seated posture and repetitive cycling motion. This tightness can lead to a lack of efficiency in your power and pedal stroke. In this Low Lunge variation, we open the hip flexors as well as stretch the outer hips, obliques, lats and shoulders. It also improves spinal mobility and can help to alleviate lower back pain.
Step your left foot forward and slide your right leg back. Check that your front knee does not come forward over your ankle and strain your knee. Sweep your arms up by your ears, interlace your fingers and point your index fingers straight up. Inhale, lengthen your spine. And exhale, bend to the left. Draw your lower abs in as you drive through the front of your right hip. Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths on each side.
Modification: If lunge poses hurt your knees you can put a thin cushion under your back knee or double-over your mat for support.
2. FALLEN WARRIOR
The IT band can be tough to release with conventional stretching but Fallen Warrior is highly effective at targeting the outsides of the glutes, hips and thighs. Practicing this twisting posture can also help to alleviate persistent pain in the knee and hips as well as strengthening the wrists, shoulders and core.
From Plank, thread your left foot under your right leg, straighten your left leg and come onto the outside edge of your left foot. Check that your palms are directly underneath your shoulders and gently engage your core. Rock a little forward and back and play around with the position of your left foot until you find the right spot. Hold for 3-5 breaths on each side.
Puppy is a crucial yoga for cyclists pose as it offers a gentle counterpose to the spinal flexion that we maintain as we bring our arms forward on the bike to hold onto the handlebars. It stretches the lats, opens up the chest, improves mobility in the shoulders and can help to alleviate pain in between the shoulder blades and at the lower back.
From all fours, walk your hands forward and draw your hips back. Check that your hips are stacked directly on top of your knees and do not drop back behind them. Reach through your fingertips and draw your hips back to feel a nice, long stretch in the arms, shoulders, lats and spine. Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths, softening into the space in between your shoulder blades.
Dead Pigeon is a lifesaver for cyclists and runners alike. This pose stretches the glutes and external hip rotators (including the piriformis), improves hip mobility and can help to alleviate persistent lower back and hip pain. If there was just one posture that I could practice after a ride, this would be it.
Lie down on your back, bend your knees and bring your feet flat to the mat, hip-width apart. Inhale, straighten your left leg up to the sky. Exhale, cross your left foot on top of your right thigh and flex your left foot. Take hold of your left foot with both hands and bring your right leg in towards you. Press the back of your pelvis into the mat and hold the pose for 5-10 breaths on each side.
The groin and adductors are also prone to tightness to the point of discomfort in cyclists and Reclining Butterfly is a wonderful pose to release the tension. This passive hip opener also stretches the pectorals, improves mobility in the shoulders and can help to alleviate recurring lower back pain.
Bring your feet together and let your knees fall open in the shape of a diamond and if it’s comfortable, you can take your arms up overhead and grab onto opposite elbows. Soften the muscles in the insides of your thighs as you relax into the pose for 5-10 breaths. Notice the sensation at your belly and chest as they rise and fall with each breath.
A lack of upper body rotation on the bike, can lead to stiffness in the thoracic and pain in the lower back, upper back and neck. 2-Knee Reclining Spinal Twist restores spinal mobility, adjusts the SI joint and stretches the abs, obliques, chest, shoulders and neck.
Lying flat on your back, bring your knees in towards your chest, stacking your knees above your hips. Then drop both knees to the right as you look to the left. Try to bring your knees at a 90-degree angle to your hips and keep your left shoulder flat on the mat. See if you can look all the way to the left as you relax into the pose for 5-10 breaths on each side.
Cycling may give you beautifully, toned and powerful calves but these muscles can also be cripplingly tight. Reclining Hand-To-Big-Toe is a safe and effective stretch for the backs of the legs. It’s another must-do yoga for cyclists pose. If you don’t have a yoga strap, you can use a belt or the cord of your dressing gown.
Lie down on your back and loop a strap around the ball of your left foot. Straighten your left leg up to the sky and press through your heel. Deepen your breath and draw your left leg into towards you on every exhalation. Hold for up to 10 breaths on each side.
Modification: you can bend your right leg and bring the sole of your foot flat to the mat if that helps you to keep your hips level.
If you can, spend a couple of minutes in Final Resting pose when you have worked through these poses. Let your feet come as wide as the mat and fall open. Relax your hands, palms facing up, shoulder blades rest evenly on the ground. Close your eyes. Allow all your muscles to soften and relax as you feel the effects that these postures have had on your body and state of mind.
Now you can move back into your day.
YOGA FOR CYCLISTS: THE YOGA 15 COURSE
If you’re a member, you can access the Yoga for Cyclists program today—a 15-video course that covers a wide variety of yoga styles and sequences to support every aspect of your training. Here are the primary objectives of the course:
- Alleviate lower back pain and pain in between the shoulder blades.
- Loosen up tight hips.
- Stretch the calves and hamstrings, quads and hip flexors.
- Open up the chest
- Strengthen the core.
- Activate the posterior chain.
- Increase your speed, power and endurance.
- Enhance your balance, proprioception and neuromuscular coordination.
- Improve breathing efficiency.
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