- Bridge Pose
Any repetitive movement has the propensity to create injuries. In the more than ten years of coaching, fitting people to bikes and guiding luxury cycling trips around the world, I have seen many different body types, and I have witnessed many training injuries. Even in a low-impact sport such as cycling, I consistently see injuries, strains and imbalance! Many switch to cycling (from running) because of its low impact nature. But low impact does not mean you are out of the woods when it comes to injury.
Cyclists still have an incredible amount of repetition (even more so than with running). In addition, many people are not fit properly to their bikes, which will first manifest as aches and pains (often in the knees) and—if left unattended—will manifest into real injuries.
My first advice is to get fit properly to your bike. Have someone with experience look at you while you ride at the very least. Make necessary adjustments. You will definitely feel better! But your job is not finished yet. Due to your posture and repetition on the bike, you need do something to find balance and strengthen other muscles that go overlooked.
Here are three key yoga poses for cyclists that are essential to keeping physical imbalances at bay. By practicing these three poses, you will reduce the probability of injury. This will allow you to ride more comfortably, and will improve your overall performance. You should do these poses before or after a ride:
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: Stretch the quads, hips and open 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 a 90-degree angle. Make sure that your feet are pointing straight ahead with all four corners anchored. Inhale and press your feet and shoulders back into the floor and lift your pelvis up as high as you comfortably can. Hug your shoulder blades underneath you. Breathe into the front of your body. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Slowly lower down. Repeat. For a more restorative session put a block under your sacrum and hold for longer.
2. Pyramid (Parsvottanasana)
Purpose: Improves hamstring flexibility, great for SI joint, lengthens spine.
Why: This stretch is felt at the back of the legs most intensely. By hugging your legs to the midline, you will also stretch your inner hamstring muscles. This counter balances the abduction of cycling with adduction. Also note that when fit properly to a bike, your legs never fully extend, which will actually shorten your hamstrings over time!
How: Stand in Mountain pose with your feet hips distance apart. Balance the weight in your feet. Step your left foot back about 3-4 feet and angle your back foot to out about 10’clock. Keep both hips facing front and square. Inhale and circle your arms up. As they open to a “T,” come half way down with a long spine. Hold for a moment, and lift the toes of your front foot to contract the quad and release the hamstring. Then fold long over extended leg. Touch the ground (I often use a block, or hold my ankle for stability). Hold for 5 deep breaths and repeat on second side. Before switching to your other side, add a twist by lifting your opposite arm up into the air and this becomes Revolved Triangle pose.
3. Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakopotasana Prep)
Purpose: A great hip opener and stretch for the glutes. If you want more variation (and sensation), bend your back leg upwards towards your body and hold it with hand from side of body. This also gives you an additional quad stretch.
Why: The IT band is a group of muscles and fibers that runs along the outside of the thigh starting from the pelvis, continuing over the hip and running all the way to the knee. In cycling, the hip flexors work very hard and the repetition can easily strain 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 closer to your right hand, with your foot pointing perpendicular to the left. 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 keeping your tailbone slightly scooped. Hold for 1 minute and switch sides. For variation, try again on your back, by crossing your ankle above your opposite knee like the number 4 shape and draw both knees to your chest.
Yoga provides excellent counter conditioning for all people—especially cyclists! It also promotes a healthy body awareness and reinforces healthy habits and physical balance. Plus you can efficiently include these in about 5 minutes, while enjoying that post-ride recovery beverage of choice.