How Yoga Helps Cyclists
“Ouch! My hamstrings! My IT Bands don’t let me do that pose!” Through years of working with cyclists, I have heard this more than once. Many of my cyclist yoga students practice yoga to alleviate muscle tightness from logging long hours in the saddle. Sure enough, every time I’m out on two wheels, whether mountain biking in Moab or cycling our yoga in Tuscany,I am reminded of how well yoga works to develop flexibility, core strength and balance.
Some key areas that we can overwork or strain while cycling are hamstrings, quadriceps, hips and the lower back (caused by a constant forward flexion of the spine). The muscle groups in these areas become sore because they are being used in the same way for hours. The same or similar motion is repeated thousands of times.
Physiologically, here is what happens:
- Quads get tighter as they get stronger
- Hamstrings contract, tighten on back of legs (plus, they are never fully extended)
- 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. Yoga creates flexibility where there is only strength, which balances the action. Many find relief from muscle pain caused by tightness in lower and upper body while practicing yoga. Others have brought spines back into optimal alignment.
Many cyclists are surprised to find something beyond the physical from yoga. Anyone on two wheels knows that cycling often requires intense concentration and focus to succeed (especially when Mountain Biking, or cycling in traffic). The work we do on the mat to focus on breath and cultivate a mind body awareness can be transported to the bike to maintain a calm mind and laser like clarity.Yoga and cycling can make you Zen!
Yoga Vinyasa Sequence for Cyclists
Tadasana (Mountain Pose) is a simple standing posture with active feet, legs and abdomen. Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Allow the arches of your feet to lift up by lifting your toes. Feel how energized your legs are while aiming your tailbone down slightly. This alignment of tailbone down helps most people correct an overly arched lumbar spine.
Cyclist Cue: Your activated lower abdomen and tailbone down action here in Mountain pose is similar to what you should be doing in the saddle.
Uttanasana (Forward Fold) is a straightforward standing forward fold. From mountain pose, feet hips distance apart, reach up to stretch your spine and as you open your arms like a “T” fold you’re your hip creases and touch the floor. Keep your knees bent for as long as you need to and be sure to not bend from your waist.
Cyclist Cue: This stretches the backs of your legs, undoing your tight hamstring muscles that have been contracted while riding and never fully extended. It also relaxes you and allows your neck to elongate naturally.
Anjaneyasana (High Runner's Lunge) is a basic long lunge with front knee bent and back leg straight. It stretches out your quad, psoas, calf, ankle, foot and hip flexor one leg at a time. It also develops core stability, as it is ultimately a balance pose. Focus on huging to the center line of your body by squeezing thighs toward one another and keeping your tailbone down (like in Mountain).
Cyclist Cue: Bend your back leg, take your tailbone down to feel the front action of your leg and psoas then re-straighten your long leg to get a deeper release in your quad that has been in a state of constant contraction while in the saddle. This will help your hamstrings open up from stretching your front body and reduce back pain.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) is a weight bearing triangle shaped pose with our hands and feet on the ground and hips high in the air. This is a great all over stretch for your back including your hamstrings. It also opens up your upper chest on the front of your body, and helps your hands get a counterstretch from being contracted. This pose gives your feet some necessary attention by stretching your toes, calves and arches. It is the number one best pose for cyclists.
Cyclist Cue: This pose is especially good for cyclists because it strengthens your shoulders and back, undoing the strain created by rounding over and straining your upper middle back thoracic spine. It also helps you to reconnect to your core by reemphasizing your lumbar curve, which can get worked while in the saddle.
Performance Practice Tip: Do these poses in this order
- Mountain (swan dive down)
- Forward Fold
- High Runner’s Lunge Left Leg Back
- Downward Dog
- High Runner’s Lunge Left Foot Forward
- Forward Fold
- Mountain (reverse swan dive up)