Yoga brings balance by working on your mind, body, and breath, which is probably why it is more holistic than most other forms of exercise. While athletes across the world are discovering the many benefits of yoga, cyclists can benefit from yoga poses that can help improve endurance, increase core strength, and relax sore muscles. If you’re a cyclist looking for ways to build your performance, practicing asanas or poses that target specific muscle groups which come into play when you cycle can help you go that extra mile.
Benefits Of Yoga For Cyclists
Your performance on the track can significantly increase if you have a strong core but cycling by itself does not help strengthen your core. Your core consists of more than just abs. There are over 20 muscles that attach to your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Yoga can help you work the whole region to make your core stronger. Cycling also requires that you bend forward for long durations which leads to tightening of your hip flexors and additional strain on the lower back. Yoga poses that target these muscle groups help to relieve tension from these areas in your body.
The one thing yoga is most known for is increasing flexibility. Leaning forward while cycling affects your lower back, shoulders, neck, and hamstrings. While soreness is a given, cyclists also tend to experience a certain tightness in the body after long rides. The flexibility that comes with practicing yoga loosens your muscles and relieves tension. Unlike conventional stretching, yoga involves slower and deeper stretches that help relaxation and recovery.
Builds Breath Control
Yoga is more than just a physical routine and places great emphasis on the breath for good reason. The way you breathe is what creates balance in your body. When you build a connection between your body and the rhythm of your breath, it can help calm your mind. This can be especially helpful if you’re on a long ride and are pushing through the pain. Yoga practice helps maintain steady breathing even when you’re under pressure to perform.
Yoga Poses For Cyclists
1. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Start on all fours. Tuck the toes under, press into the hands and begin to lift the hips up towards the ceiling.
- Spread the fingers wide apart with the middle finger facing forward, and the palms shoulder width apart. Press out through the fingers and edges of the hands.
- Your arms should be straight but not locked. Press the hips up and back moving the chest towards the thighs. Lift up through the tailbone to keep the spine straight and long.
- The feet should be hip’s width apart with the toes facing forward. Try and press the heels into the floor feeling a stretch in the back of the legs. The legs are straight.
- The head and neck have to be aligned with your spine in one straight line. Breathe normally and hold for 4-8 breaths. Release by bending the knees and lowering the hips back to table position.
2. Lunge Pose (Anjaneyasana)
- Start in Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Exhale and step your right foot forward. Place it beside your right thumb, lining up your right knee over your right ankle. Lower your left knee to the floor. Make sure to place it behind your hips.
- As you inhale, raise your torso and sweep your arms above your head with your palms facing one another, placing your biceps beside your ears. On the next exhale, allow your hips to settle forwards and down until you feel a stretch in the front of your left leg.
- Draw your tailbone done towards the earth, lengthening your lower back and engaging your core muscles. Begin to draw your thumbs into the back plane of your body as you reach up with your heart, and shift your gaze up for a mild backbend.
- Stay here, or raise your back knee off the mat for a full Crescent Lunge.
- To exit the pose, place your hands down on the mat and step back to Downward Facing Dog Pose. Repeat with your left leg.
3. Cat-Cow Pose
- Start on all fours. Your knees should be hip-width apart and your hands should be directly below your shoulders. Your spine is neutral here and eyes should be looking at the floor.
- As you exhale, slowly tuck your chin towards your chest and round your spine towards the ceiling while allowing your head to drop downwards. Scoop your tailbone under. Stay in this position for 2-3 breaths. (cat pose)
- Inhale as you slowly drop your belly and arch your lower back towards the floor. Simultaneously, lift your head to look towards the ceiling. (cow pose)
- Come back to the starting position as you exhale. You can repeat the asana several times.
4. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
- Lie on your back and place your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart, knees over your heel. Be careful to not push your knees over your toes. Place your hands beside your hips, parallel to your body, palms facing down.
- Tilt your pelvis and scoop your tailbone under. Inhale and lift your hips high coming on to your shoulder. Lift as high as you comfortably can. Squeeze the muscles of your thighs, abdomen, and buttocks.
- Walk your shoulder blades in towards each other underneath your torso, clasp your hands together and interlace your fingers. Press down through your feet and upper arms. Keep your knees hip-width apart and make sure your knees don’t splay out to the sides.
- Hold this pose for 30-60 seconds. Breathe normally when you’re holding the posture. As you breathe out, slowly lower your body to the starting position.
5. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
- Begin by kneeling upright with your knees hip-width apart. Rotate your thighs inward and press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor. Do not squeeze your buttocks.
- Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, with your fingers pointing to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone down toward the floor and widen the back of your pelvis.
- Lean back, with your chin slightly tucked toward your chest. Beginners can stay here, keeping their hands on their back pelvis.
- If you are comfortable here, you can take the pose even deeper. Reach back and hold onto each heel. Your palms should rest on your heels with your fingers pointing toward your toes and your thumbs holding the outside of each foot.
- Keep your thighs perpendicular to the floor, with your hips directly over your knees. If it is difficult to grasp your heels without feeling compression in your low back, tuck your toes to elevate your heels. You can also rest your hands on yoga blocks placed to the outside of each foot.
- Lift up through your pelvis, keeping your lower spine long. Turn your arms outward without squeezing your shoulder blades. Keep your head in a neutral position, or allow it to drop back without straining or crunching your neck.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds. 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.
6. Dancer Pose (Natarajasana)
- Stand upright with your palms beside your hips facing each other. Bend the right knee, bringing all your weight into the left foot. Turn the right-hand palm out with the thumb pointing to the back wall. Stare at a point on the floor for balance.
- Slowly inhale and raise you right foot up towards the ceiling and hold onto the foot or ankle with the right hand. Inhale and take your left hand up towards the ceiling.
- As you exhale, kick the right foot into the arm, allowing the leg and foot to lift up towards the ceiling. As the leg lifts up, hinge at the hips and with a straight back, lower the left arm and torso down towards the floor. Keep the right hip down, parallel to the floor.
- Keep staring at a point on the floor for balance, breathe deeply and hold for 2-4 breaths. To release, inhale while reaching the left arm back up towards the ceiling and exhale when releasing the arms and the right leg down. Repeat on the other side.
7. Pigeon Pose (Ek Pada Kapotasana)
- Start on all fours, slide the right knee forward between the hands and let the right foot slide over to the left. Slide the left leg back, lowering the hips towards the floor.
- Press down into the palms or fingertips, inhale and reach the crown of the head up, lengthening the spine. Exhale and sink the hips down into the floor. Roll the shoulders down and back and press and lean forward through the chest.
- Move as deep into the posture as you can while still maintaining full deep breathing. Breathe and hold for 3-6 breaths.
- To release, support your weight with the hands as you slide the right knee back into Table or step the right foot back into Down Dog. Repeat with the other leg.
Yoga Before Or After Cycling?
There is no rule as to whether yoga practice has to be done before or after cycling. As most cyclists have regular day jobs that require them to be at the desk all day, practicing the above poses can be a part of the warm up routine. Yoga helps you stretch your hip flexors along with other key muscles in your core and quads to prepare for the ride.
Alternatively, if you’re someone who finds that your body gets really stiff after a ride, you can use yoga to stretch and relax your muscles. The pigeon and lunge poses are especially helpful in relieving your legs from tightness and soreness after a long ride. You might find it difficult to hold some of the poses when you start. However, with practice, you should aim to reach a level of composure and comfort in each pose. Experiment with doing yoga before and after your rides and do what works best for your body.
While the steps for each yoga pose are listed out in this article, as a novice yoga practitioner, it’s always good to seek the help of a certified yoga trainer. When doing yoga, it’s difficult to check if you’re holding the right posture, even if you’re in a room full of mirrors. A trained pair of eyes can help you correct your form so that you make the most out of each pose.