Cycling is fantastic for cardiovascular health, building strength in the legs, and clearing the mind. However, as with all of life's true pleasures, you can have too much of a good thing. The repetitive movement involved and the maintenance of a single posture for long periods of time can very quickly result in back pain and other more debilitating issues.
Fortunately, there's a simple cure that doesn't involve heading to the pharmacy or paying for expensive PT sessions. A strategic and consistent yoga practice is all you need!
Why all cyclers and spinners need yoga.
Yoga is incredibly effective at alleviating pain, both in the short and long term. It achieves this by combining flexibility, strength, mobility, focus, and relaxation, in a mindful way and in all planes of motion. It is in practicing this sheer diversity of skills and movements that yoga balances out the biomechanical issues that can arise from focusing primarily on one particular sport or activity, like cycling.
The two primary areas that cyclists tend to suffer are at the lower back and in between the shoulder blades, though it may also show up in the knees, hips, shoulders, neck, and hands.
This type of pain is caused by maintaining a single posture for long periods of time and repeating a limited range of movement patterns. Your body is an efficiency machine, so it adapts to allow you to perform your most frequent positions and movements as effortlessly as possible. Unfortunately, over time, this can lead to muscular imbalances that pull you out of alignment and cause pain.
This is the common pattern for cyclists:
- The seated position shortens the hip flexors, abs, and chest and overstretches the lower and upper back.
- Pedaling overdevelops the quads and calves at the expense of the hamstrings and glutes.
- Cycling is limited in planes of motion as it doesn't require significant twisting and side-bending.
If you don't stretch out or do other activities to balance out these movement patterns, your body will eventually scream at you to stop.
So with that said, here are my top seven poses for cyclists and the mechanisms at play for each of them. You can practice them as a sequence or individually. Whatever your schedule allows.
Squeeze your glutes and draw your shoulder blades toward each other on your back. Rotate your thumbs up to the sky to open up the fronts of your shoulders and look down at the ground to avoid compressing the back of your neck. Hold for three to five breaths and repeat two to three times.
This is a great pose to do in the morning or before a ride to activate your posterior chain.
Inhale into cat—rounding your back and dropping your chin to your chest and exhale into cow—arching your spine and looking up to the sky. Repeat six to eight times—moving with your breath.
This is a great pre-ride mobility sequence to loosen up your spine. Take it slow and notice any particular areas of tightness–especially in the thoracic spine (mid-back).
Check that your feet, knees, and hips are in a straight line—toes and knees point straight ahead. Hold for three to five breaths—breathing in and out through your nose.
This is a great pre-ride pose to switch on your glutes.
Make sure that your supporting shoulder is in a stable position. If you have weak wrists, you can come down onto your forearm. Engage your core and glutes—building up to one minute on each side.
This is another great pre-ride pose to activate the core and glutes.
Walk your front foot out as far as you need to in this lunge variation, and try to relax into the pose. You can rest your right hand on a block to bring the ground closer to you. Hold for three to five breaths—breathing in and out through the nose.
This hip opener and quad stretch is a great post-ride pose to keep your hips free and loose.
This can be a good alternative for riders who struggle to get into pigeon pose. Try to make sure that your spine is straight and hold the pose for five to 10 breaths on each side.
This should be your No. 1 post-ride stretch!
Reclining Spinal Twist
If your knee doesn't come all the way down to the ground, you can support it on a cushion or two so that you can relax into the pose. Hold for five to 10 deep breaths on each side—breathing in and out through your nose.
This one is great to do in the evenings to unwind the day's tensions.
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