Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work with a lot of great real life athletes that use yoga as counter conditioning. Many of my yoga students are cyclists who practice yoga to alleviate muscle tightness from logging long hours in the saddle. Every time I’m out on two wheels, whether in Moab Mountain Biking or in Tuscany cycling our yoga I am reminded of how well yoga works to develop flexibility, core strength and balance.
For my cyclist students the key areas that get overworked while riding are hamstrings, quadriceps, hips and constant forward flexion of the spine. The muscle groups in these areas are being used in the same way for long periods and repeated thousands of times. That hurts!
So what happens is:
*quads get tighter as they get stronger
*hamstrings contract, tighten on back of legs
*shoulders get rounded over straining upper middle back thoracic spine
*low back (lumber area) gets pushed out if core strength is not maintained
How yoga helps:
Yoga poses help open what is contracted, it creates flexibility where there is only strength for more balanced action. And the practice of yoga helps relieve the muscle pain caused by tightness in lower and upper body. It brings our spine back into optimal alignment.
The other benefit my cyclist students are surprised to find from yoga is something beyond the physical. Anyone on two wheels knows that cycling requires intense concentration and focus to succeed on the road. The work we do on the mat to bring attention to our breathing patterns and cultivate a mind body awareness is transportable and can be used with great success while riding to maintain a calm mind and laser like clarity.
Before you finish reading you are probably curious to know what yoga poses should you do before or after a ride. From my experience here are my top 3.
First lie on your back (supine Mountain pose) this tractions your spine naturally, then let’s put back in the two natural curves (in neck – cervical spine and low back – lumbar spine)
1. Bridge Pose (Sethu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Purpose: Stretches the quads, hips and opens the shoulders back. Energetically opens up the front of the body, improves posture alignment.
Why: It balances the time spent on the bike closing the chest and rounding forward.
How: Start on your back with your knees bent. Position your feet above your ankles in 90 degree angle. Make sure that your feet are pointing straight ahead all four corners anchored. Inhale and press your feet and shoulders back into the floor and lift your pelvis up as high as you can comfortably. Hug your shoulder blades underneath you. Breathe into front of body. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Slowly lower down. Repeat. For more restorative put block under sacrum and hold for longer.
2. Pyramid (Parsvottanasana)
Purpose: Improves hamstring flexibility, great for SI joint, lengthens spine.
Why: The stretch is felt at the back of the legs most intensely but the hugging to the midline of the legs also gets to inner hamstring muscles. Counter balances the abduction of cycling with adduction.
How: Stand in Mountain pose with your feet hips distance apart. Find balanced weight in feet. Step your left foot back about three to four feet and angle the back foot out about 10’clock. Keep both hips facing front and square your hips. Inhale circle yours up, as they open to a “t” come half way down long spine, hold for a moment, lift the toes of your front foot to contract the quad and release the hamstring and then fold long over extended leg, touch the ground. Hold for 5 deep breaths and repeat on second side. (2nd time same thing add a twist, lift opposite arm up of front foot)
3. Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakopotasana Prep)
Purpose: A great hip opener and stretch for the glutes. If you want more, then add variation with the back leg bent upwards for an additional quad stretch.
Why: The IT band is a group of muscles that runs along side the thigh starting from the pelvis and going over the hip and to the knee. In cycling, the hip flexors work very hard and this can result in strain of this area. IT band issues injuries are not unusual for cyclists. Do pigeon to prevent injury.
How: Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Slide your right knee forward, placing it between your hands. Lengthen your left leg straight back, and lower your hips toward the floor, keeping both hips facing forward. Draw your inner thighs toward each other with slight scooping of the tail bone. Hold for 1 minute, switch sides and then try again on your back, ankle crossed above opposite knee drawing both knees to chest.