You know it all too well – you get off your bike and the first few steps feel like your body may have forgotten how to walk. Cycling is a great sport but it overuses some muscles while neglecting others. Here’s how to remedy that with yoga for cyclists!
What does cycling do to your body?
Cycling locks your body position in a forward bend with arms forward for the duration of your ride. That means your pecs and front deltoid muscles are shortened, back muscles and abs don’t have to do much but all the neck muscles keeping your head up work overtime and may get tense.
In the lower half of your body, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves get extra work, and glutes also engage with every pedal push. The countless rounds of repetitive leg motion make these muscles stronger but may also lead to tightness and limit your mobility, which can increase the risk of injury.
Of course, when you pedal standing up, your core and deep stabilizer system get a workout but it varies based on your riding style and route you take. In general, cyclists need to release the neck, shoulders and all the leg muscles, work on all body mobility and strengthen the core.
How can yoga help cyclists?
Yoga for cyclists counterbalances your bike training in the best possible way. It stretches tight muscles to increase your flexibility but also trains some less used muscles and helps to improve your mobility. Both these effects not only enable you to move better, but they also reduce muscle and joint aches and pains and prevent muscle overuse injuries.
Almost every yoga practice helps to build core strength because you work with your body weight, and either use the core to hold or stabilize you in various poses. Once you start practicing yoga regularly, you’ll be able to hold some core-strengthening poses for longer. A stronger core means a better cycling performance too because it helps to stabilize your body position at all times.
Aside from the physical benefits, yoga also teaches you how to breathe better and more efficiently. That, over time, makes you breathe better and more fully in general and it translates into your cycling and can make you a better athlete. More efficient breathing means better stamina!
All the above also greatly improves your recovery – the increased circulation in your muscles facilitates lactic acid breakdown, relieves residual tension and helps you unwind too. Mental recovery is just as important as the physical one. On top of that, yoga teaches you to be more mindful and that helps you focus better during your training, reducing the risk of injuries.
Read more about yoga and recovery: How to best use yoga for athletic recovery
5 Must-do yoga poses for cyclists
It’s always best to do a well-designed yoga practice to get the most benefits but if you are short on time, these poses should be on your must-do list, ideally three times a week!
Why? It stretches the hamstrings, calves, side body, and shoulders. When you also let your head hang freely, it provides a welcome relief to the neck.
Pay attention to: shoulders pressing down, legs parallel, tailbone up
- Start on all fours, and lift your pelvis up, creating a triangle shape, your tailbone being the highest point – walk your feet further away if needs be, and make sure they are hip-width or wider apart
- Your legs don’t have to be straight, keep them a little bent, but they should be parallel to each other, heels pressing down
- Press into your hands, as if you wanted to push the ground away from you, elbow pits are facing each other, head hanging down
- Actively push the tailbone upwards – bend your knees a little more to achieve this, pressing equally into your hands and feet
- Remain there for at least five deep breaths
Why? It releases the hips, hamstrings, hip flexors and shoulders – literally everything a cyclist needs!
Pay attention to: front knee at the same level as ankle, open chest, head turned towards the back
- Begin in low lunge with the left foot forward, right knee on the mat, hands on the floor
- Walk your left foot to the left, so it’s just off the mat. As you’re moving the foot out, move the left hand in, so both your hands are directly under your shoulders, palms on the floor
- Move in the pose a little, exploring your left hip’s range of motion
- Bend your right knee and lift your foot up, toes pointing towards the ceiling. At the same time reach behind you with your left arm and catch your right foot or ankle.
- Remain in your final variation for at least five deep breaths.
Why? It helps to open your side body that is cramped when you’re cycling, and it provides a release to inner thigh muscles that also tend to get shortened in cyclists.
Pay attention to: front knee above the ankle, front and back foot aligned, top arm straight
- Stand upright at the front of your mat, facing forward
- Keeping the left foot in place and bending the knee, take a big step back with your right leg. When you land, turn your right toes to the right, foot parallel with the short edge of the mat
- Bend your left knee, so it’s above the ankle, not falling in or out, keep your right leg straight and foot planted firmly into the mat, front and back heel aligned
- On an in-breath, raise your arms in line with your shoulders, parallel to the ground
- On an out-breath, rest your left forearm on your left thigh and lift your right arm above you and then towards the front of the mat, arriving in a side-bend where your body, left leg and arm form one long line
- Remain there for at least five deep breaths
- When you’re done, step to the front of your mat, and repeat on the other side
Why? It stretches your hamstrings, calves and lower back while allowing your neck to release.
Pay attention to: microbend in front knee, straight-ish back, back foot at 45° angle
- Stand upright, feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips
- Take a step back with your right foot – not too big, about the length of your leg
- Turn your right toes out at about 45° angle, your weight is evenly distributed between your feet
- Breathe in, make sure your pelvis is facing forward, and breathe out slowly bending forward with your back straight
- Keep a microbend in your front knee, and think ‘ribs to thigh’, rather than ‘head to knee’
- When you reach your deepest fold, put your fingertips on the floor, tenting them out to support your back not rounding
- Stay there for five to ten deep breaths, then repeat on the other side
Why? It releases your neck muscles, stretches shoulders and back, and releases hip flexors while also conditioning your quads and glutes.
Pay attention to: knees parallel, chest lifted, shoulder blades tucked deep under your back
- Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor, hip-width apart
- Place your arms next to your body, palms down – try to move your feet so close to your pelvis that you can brush your heels with your fingertips
- Root down with your palms and feet, and with an in-breath lift your pelvis off the floor as high as you can, keeping your knees parallel, and hold for ten deep breaths
- Option: interlace your hands under your back for a deeper shoulder opening
- Lower down to the mat, move your feet mat-width apart and let your knees fall in to relax your lower back
How to start a regular yoga practice?
If you’re a passionate cyclist and just want to use yoga to complement your training and ease recovery, try this five-part Post-Workout Recovery program. All you need is 20 minutes of time and a mat. You’ll feel amazing after each of these sessions!
If you’d like to do a well-rounded practice to work on your mobility, try the Mobility Foundations program. Each practice takes just over 30 minutes and leaves no muscle untouched – it lengthens and strengthens and makes your body comfortable at moving in all directions. Aim to practice at least three times a week for best results.
Start your yoga journey today!
Whether you are a beginner or you’ve done some yoga before, you may need some guidance for a safe yet effective yoga practice. At SkillYoga, we offer just that and more – we offer yoga training tailored to your needs and preferences. Try it today and you won’t look back!