September 23, 2017

Obviously we are all keen cyclists here, and we know well the myriad benefits of riding.  What we also know though, is that the typical cycling posture can cause some biomechanical issues: that is, seated, hands on the handlebars, and feet on the pedals. Usually the spine is flexed forward, and your neck slightly extends to keep your gaze forward on the road.  Many cyclists experience excess tension in the shoulders, back, and hips and potential loss of core strength. But there is a solution!

Yoga as a practice offers great benefits for cyclists to assist in correcting imbalances this posture can cause or exacerbate as well as improving riding comfort and performance. Indeed, many pro cyclists and teams use yoga as part of a successful training program, an example being 2012 Tour De France winner Bradley Wiggins. From power to endurance, athletes at all levels are incorporating yoga to gain an edge over the competition, and prevent injury.

While cyclists certainly need to focus on leg strength, which many poses in yoga target, we also need to focus on flexibility and lower back strength.  Many yoga poses target the hip flexors and lower back, helping to balance muscle strength and prevent injury. Yoga also keeps you focused on a deep and steady breath, forcing you work aerobically. Training your muscles aerobically and learning how to control your breathing are two very important aspects of training and racing for any endurance athlete.

There are many beneficial yoga poses for cyclists, and a yoga (or pilates) practice is a really effective tool to ameliorate issues from riding and enhance efficiency in riding.  And it feels great!  Some common and beneficial poses include;

Chaturanga or lower push up position targets the upper back, hips, abdomen, pectoral muscles in the front of the chest, and triceps. This pose often follows upper push up position and is a challenge to hold for longer durations. The motion of moving from upper to lower push up is also a similar movement to that of holding onto the handlebar of a bike, especially a mountain bike.

Upward facing dog. Moving into upward facing dog from lower push up position targets the upper back, shoulders and arms for strength but also stretches the front of the body from the hip flexors to the muscles of your upper chest. Studies have shown yoga improving respiratory breathing capacity by increasing chest wall expansion and forced expiratory lung volumes, a large benefit for cyclists.

Downward facing dog often follows upward facing dog and is a great stretch for the hips, calves and hamstrings. It is also another strength pose for the arms, shoulders and upper back. 

Warrior one. The movement into warrior one is a great core exercise itself with the shifting of the shoulders and one leg forward into a lunge, and lifting of the torso. Warrior pose targets the hips, and quads for strength while stretching the hip flexors. Single leg exercises are great exercises for cyclists since cycling happens one leg at a time, and yoga has plenty. Holding this pose for extended periods can be a real leg burner.

Side arm balance pose is a great example of how yoga will train every part of the body. Side arm balance targets the oblique muscles, an important part of core strength. Strengthening these muscles is rarely thought of for cyclists but they play an important role in helping to maintain proper form on the bike. 

Baby Cobra/Sphinx. As a cyclist, you spend a lot of time flexed forward over the handlebars. This position shortens your abdominal muscles and lengthens and weakens the muscles that run along the back of your spine (erector spinae). A cobra or sphinx pose will lengthen the abdominal muscles and strengthen the erector spinae and other muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades, including the rhomboids and lower trapezius muscles. This will make your cycling posture more solid and decrease your chances for low back pain.  

Low Lunge.  Hip flexors and quads are notoriously tight for cyclists because of the seated posture and repetitive cycling motion. The hip flexors become tightened as the knee pulls up, and the quads become tightened during knee extension as the foot presses down. One large thigh muscle, the rectus femoris, is both a hip flexor muscle and a knee extensor, so it works double duty when you cycle! It is vital that you stretch out this area so your pedal stroke isn’t made less efficient by a lack of mobility. This pose will open your hip flexors and quads as well as (bonus!) your chest, shoulders, and spine.

Bound Angle. Many cyclists get tight inner thigh muscles (adductors) that can lead to an imbalance in the knee joint, which could in turn cause knee pain or discomfort. This tightness can also cause the outer gluteal muscles (the opposing muscle group) to not engage correctly when they’re needed. Balance in these muscle groups is important in order to keep your hips stable in the saddle. 

Bridge. Many cyclists become quad/hip flexor-dominant cyclists, meaning they underutilize their glutes and hamstrings and overuse their quads and hip flexors. Bridge will strengthen your glutes and hamstrings so they can help the quads and hip flexors (glutes will help quads, and hamstrings will help hip flexors). Once you’ve opened up your hips with the previous poses, you can strengthen the glute muscles and hamstrings, which will make your pedaling more powerful.  

So, there are lots of great yoga schools and teachers out there and we recommend you give it a go!

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