Yoga and cycling make a great combination. Both practices work the powerful muscles of your legs and core, while requiring focus and stamina. Cyclists who practice yoga can utilize yoga's linking of breath with movement, making each pedal stronger.
There are many different styles of yoga to try. If you're looking for an intense strength-building practice, try Ashtanga, Bikram, or Power Yoga. If you'd like stretching with more flow, try Vinyasa or Hatha Yoga. Play around with different styles and teachers until you find a good fit. Whether you're a weekend warrior or Euro pro, your cycling will benefit from this ancient practice.
Gain Flexibility, Strength, & Balance
Cycling requires strong quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. But, overusing these muscles without maintaining proper form can throw your hips off balance. Yoga stretches out the legs and opens the hips for greater flexibility and form. Hunching over a bike can stress your spine. Yoga backbends counteract the forward slouch and return your spine to proper alignment. A typical yoga class will flex and employ every part of your body, creating overall suppleness and power.
The Benefits Offered
Yoga can power up your cycling in many ways:
- Increased breathing capacity
- Improved posture
- Greater strength and flexibility
- More stamina
- Greater mental focus
- Restored and revitalized energy
Breathe Deeply & Focus
The breathing and meditation techniques in yoga can turn your simple ride or intense workout into a moving meditation. "Pranayama" (Sanskrit for "breathing exercises"), practiced with "asana" (Sanskrit for "breathing exercises") brings more awareness to your breath in any capacity. This combination of breathing and movement enhances your body's circulation and cardiovascular strength, leading to more efficient and powerful pedaling!
A high VO2 max, the measure of your aerobic capacity, is crucial for competitive cyclists. A vigorous yoga practice with pranayama will increase and strengthen your body's aerobic capacity. Cyclists who cross-train with yoga can maximize the amounts of fresh, oxygenated blood pumped to their working muscles!
Yoga Poses for Cyclists
Begin incorporating these poses into your cool-down, while your body is still warm from riding. Hold each pose for several breaths, but come out of any if you feel pinching or jarring pain. Move slowly in and out of each pose. Keep your breath smooth and even. If you're struggling to breathe, ease up a bit. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities.
Hip Opener: One-Legged King Pigeon Pose
Usually just called Pigeon Pose — Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (EKK-uh PAHD-uh RAH-juh-KA-poh-TAHS-uh-nuh ) — this is a powerful hip opener. It relieves tension in the chest and shoulders and stimulates the abdominal organs. Do not practice if you have a knee or ankle injury.
- Begin in Downward-Facing Dog, or on your hands and knees in Table Pose.
Bring your right knee between your hands, placing your right ankle near your left wrist. Extend your left leg behind you, with your kneecap and the top of your foot on the floor.
- Place a folded blanket or yoga block under the hip of your front leg for extra support!
- Press through your fingertips as lift your torso away from your thigh, lengthening the front of your body. Release your tailbone back toward your heels.
- Exhaling, fold your upper body forward over your right shin. Draw down through the front shin and balance your weight evenly between your right and left hips.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release, press through your hands to gently lift your torso off the mat, tuck your back toes, and lift into Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Spinal Stretch: Reclined Spinal Twist
Twists are great ways to decompress, squeezing the anxiety and frustrations out of your day, like wringing out a sponge. They also stimulate and detoxify the organs of your torso. Reclined Spinal Twist is a great pose for this:
- To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat. You can rest your head on a pillow or blanket if your neck hurts. Extend your arms to the side, with your shoulder blades on the floor.
- As you exhale, drop your knees to the left as you gently turn your head to the right. Soften your gaze as you keep your shoulder blades pressing towards the floor and away from your ears. Allow the force of gravity to drop your knees even closer to the floor.
- Hold the pose for several breaths. Then on an inhalation, slowly bring your knees back to your chest. Exhale, and release your legs to the right.
- When you're finished with the pose, hug your knees to your chest for a few breaths, then slowly exhale as you extend your legs along the floor.
Backbend: Camel Pose
Camel Pose — Ustrasana (ooh-STRAHS-uh-nuh) — is a backbend that stretches the whole front of the body, particularly the chest, abdomen, quadriceps, and hip flexors. It also strengthens the back muscles and is known to be therapeutic for respiratory ailments and fatigue.
- Begin by kneeling upright with your knees hip-distance apart. Rotate your thighs inward and press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor. Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, fingers pointing to the floor.
- Lean back and take hold of each heel. Hold the outside of each foot with your thumbs. Turn your arms outward without squeezing your shoulder blades. Keep your head in a neutral position or allow it to drop back.
- Hold for up to a minute. To release, bring your hands back to your front hips. Inhale, lead with your heart, and lift your torso by pushing your hips down toward the floor. Your head should come up last.
Leg Stretch: Extended Triangle
A standard pose in many yoga styles, Triangle — Utthita Trikonasana (oo-TEE-tah tree-koh-NAH-suh-nuh) — tones the legs. It also stretches the groins, hamstrings, and hips; and opens the chest and shoulders. It also helps to relieve lower back pain, stress, and sluggish digestion.
- Begin standing at the top of your mat. Turn to the left and step your feet wide. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height. Your feet should be as far apart as your wrists. Rotate your right (front) foot 90 degrees, so your front foot's toes point to the top of the mat. Turn your left toes in slightly. Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot.
- Reach through your right hand in the same direction as your right foot is pointed. Shift your left hip back, and then fold sideways at the hip. Rest your right hand on your outer shin or ankle. If you are more flexible, place your fingertips on the floor. You can also place your hand on a block.
- Align your shoulders so your left shoulder is directly above your right shoulder. Gently turn your head to gaze at your left thumb.
- Hold for up to a minute. To release, inhale and press firmly through your left heel as you lift your torso. Lower your arms, change the position of your feet, and repeat on the opposite side.
Hamstring Stretch: Head-of-Knee Pose
A deep forward bend, Head-of-Knee Pose — Janu Sirsasana (JAH-noo sheer-SHAH-suh-nuh) — stretches the hamstrings, groins, and spine. It calms the mind, relieving anxiety, fatigue, and mild depression. It is also known to be therapeutic for high blood pressure and insomnia.
- Sit on the edge of a firm blanket, with your legs extended in front of you. Bring the sole of your left foot to the inside of your right thigh.
- Align the center of your torso with your right leg (a mild twist). Keeping your spine long, exhale as you hinge forward from the hips to fold over your right leg. Imagine your torso coming to rest on your right thigh rather than reaching your nose toward your knee (so, bend at your waist). Draw your right thigh down and flex your foot.
- Hold onto your right leg's shin, ankle, or foot. You can also wrap a yoga strap or towel around the sole of your right foot, and hold it firmly with both hands.
- Keep the front of your torso long; do not round your back. Let your belly touch your thigh first, and then your chest. Your head and nose should be the last to touch your leg.
- With each inhalation, lengthen the front torso. With each exhalation, fold deeper.
- Hold for 30 seconds. To release the pose, draw your tailbone toward the floor as you inhale and lift your torso. Extend your left leg. Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
Yoga can be a fun way for cyclists to remember the joy of moving your whole body. The alignment, flexibility, and strength gained from yoga can keep you steady and balanced for practically endless miles!