Taking just one weekly yoga class or doing 15 minutes of poses after every bike ride will make you a stronger, faster cyclist. “Yoga is the single best cross-training tool,” says Prisca Boris, Yoga for Athletes instructor in Vail, Colorado. “It gives you everything you want while you’re on your bike: Strength, flexibility, power, and stamina.” Yoga also makes you less injury-prone, promotes speedier recovery, reduces stress, and lengthens muscles to give you a longer, more powerful stride.
In cycling, the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hips never rest. As a result, riders often have overdeveloped quadriceps and tight hamstrings, which can pull the hips out of alignment. Also, a cyclist’s spine is constantly flexed forward. If proper form isn’t maintained, it can result in muscle pain and strain in the back and shoulders. Yoga helps ease the tightness, creating core strength, and aligning the spine.
Cycling requires not only physical strength, but also intense focus and concentration to succeed on the road. The attention to breath and mind-body connection in yoga can be employed by the cyclist while riding to maintain mental clarity and calmness.
Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch or Pyramid)
This pose is excellent for promoting balance and opening up tight hamstrings and the illiotibial bands.
Stand in Mountain pose with your feet together. Step your left foot back about three feet and angle the back foot out slightly. Keep both hips facing front and square your hips. Draw your hands behind your back, bend your arms and clasp your elbows. Inhale as you look up. Open your chest and exhale. Hinging from the hips, keep your spine long as you fold forward over your straight right leg. To modify, slightly bend the front leg, working toward straightening it eventually. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on second side
This pose is excellent for opening up the chest, shoulders and the hamstrings. It also mirrors the proper upper body alignment for cyclists.
Start on your hands and knees, with your knees directly beneath the hips and hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Exhale and tuck your toes under, pressing your tailbone toward the sky. Keep your knees slightly bent to start. Press your heels toward the ground. It is okay if they don’t reach it. Lower down onto your forearms, with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Broaden your shoulder blades away from each other. Breathe deeply and hold for one to two minutes.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
This pose is a great counter-pose for your upper body positioning while on your bike. It will open up the front of your body and strengthen your spine.
Start on your back with your knees bent. Position your feet about six inches away from your hips. Make sure that your feet are pointing straight ahead. Inhale and press your feet into the floor and lift your pelvis up as high as you can comfortably. Slide your shoulders underneath you, clasping the hands. Breathe evenly. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Slowly lower down, one vertebra at a time
1. Recover without Being Sore
When you finish a ride the two things on your mind aren’t Triangle Pose or Sun Salutations but before you shower and eat, doing at least five minutes of post-ride posture will open your hips, back, and shoulders release lactic acid from your muscles to reduce soreness, says Baxter Bell, M.D., a family practitioner, yoga instructor, and cyclist in Oakland, California. Stiff muscles are dry muscles, so stretching and lubricating them increases recovery speed. This will also increase your stamina during training and guard against saddle-soreness tomorrow.
Do Triangle Pose: Stand with your legs 4 feet apart. Raise your arms shoulder-height, parallel to the floor with your palms down. Turn your left foot in about 45 degrees, and your right foot out 90 degrees. Your front heel should bisect the back foot. Bending from your hips, extend your torso to the right directly over your right leg, placing your right arm on a block behind your right foot. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, keeping your shoulders stacked in a straight line. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to one minute. Inhale to come up slowly. Reverse the feet and repeat to the left.
2. Crash Protection
Textbook crash instructions say bring your arms into your chest because using your extremities to break your fall will likely break your arms. So you hope you land on your shoulder. Problem is, shoulders are the most mobile joints in the body, making them the most unstable and prone to dislocation. “ Acing Downward Facing Dog will give you the shoulder strength you need.
Do Downward Facing Dog: Start on your hands and knees, placing your hands directly under your shoulders, spreading fingers wide. Align your knees directly under your hips, and your toes turned under. Exhale and raise your knees and hips away from the floor until your body is in an inverted V position. Press your shoulder blades firmly into your back, then widen and draw them toward your tailbone. Keep your head between your arms. Once you’ve mastered this move on the mat, find this position on the bike (especially in your shoulders and back) for greater stability.
3. Less Pain
Everyone knows that the greater pain threshold you establish, the greater the cyclist you become. “When done deeply and effectively, breathing delivers oxygen to muscles that are straining and cramping,” Boris says. Instead of traditional in-through-the-mouth-out-through-the-nose athletic breathing, pranayama or yoga-breathing increases your tolerance for torture by releasing toxins like lactic acid and carbon dioxide from your muscles. Use the following technique when you are on your bike and need to break the pain barrier.
Do Pranayama: Sit or lie in a comfortable position with your body completely relaxed. Breathe in through your nose. Place your hands around the bottom of your rib cage. This is where your diaphragm is located—the muscle that controls your breathing. Inhale and feel the breath expanding the bottom of your ribcage. You should feel your hands moving away from the center. As you exhale through your nose, gently contract your abdominals, squeeze around your diaphragm, and expel all of the air from your lungs. Again, inhale fully expanding the diaphragm, rib cage, and now take the breath further up and broaden the collarbone. Slowly exhale, gently contract the belly and squeeze the diaphragm as it contracts. Continue this exercise for 3 to 5 minutes until you feel comfortable with it.
5. Get Down on Your Knees
Tight hips come from time in the saddle (good) but they off-set your alignment inviting overuse injuries in your ligaments and tendons. “Hip flexors are the main muscle controlling the movement when you pull the pedal up and bring your knee toward your torso,” Baldovin says. Stiff hips translate to a tight iliotibial band, a ligament that runs from the top of your hips to the outside of your knees keeping knees stable as you cycle. Iliotibial band friction syndrome, one of the most common causes of knee pain in cyclists, occurs when the ligament rubs against a projection at the end of your femur causing pain and swelling along the knee. Keep your hips open and knees healthy in Pigeon Pose.
Do Pigeon Pose: Start on your hands and knees with 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 ground, keeping both hips facing forward. Press your shoulders back and down. Hold for one minute. Supporting your weight on your hands, return to starting position before repeating on the left.