This winter, I’ve been spending some quality time on my yoga mat. I’ve been practicing yoga for longer than I can remember and it’s definitely become one of my cycling secret weapons. There’s a reason I can tuck into the tiniest ball while descending and why I can complete a century without back and neck pain. Yoga is a perfect complement to cycling.
Cycling muscles like the quads, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors tend to tighten and shorten from hours on the bike, which can lead to misaligned hips and muscle imbalances. If the back, neck and core are weak, they can become strained from the position on the bike. Yoga helps correct imbalances, strengthen underused muscles and loosen up tight ones, therefore increasing muscle function, lessening the chance of an overuse injury and aiding in recovery.
Yoga also teaches cyclists how to regulate their breathing. In each yoga pose, you breathe deeply into the muscles you’re stretching. You can also apply this same rhythmic breathing to push through tough efforts on the bike and to tune into your body.
Try it. On your next recovery day or following a ride, try a few of these positions. If you’re brand new to yoga, sign up for a class with an instructor who can give you feedback on your poses and help you get the most out of your practice.
Cat/Cow – This is the perfect stretch for a tight lower back
Begin on all fours, knees under hips, wrists under the shoulders. Keep a neutral spine and head. With an inhale, look up toward the ceiling, allowing your stomach to sink. On the exhale, tuck the chin toward your chest, rounding your back.
Bridge – Cyclists spend hours hunched over. Bridge counteracts this, stretching out the front of the body and strengthening the spine.
Lie on your back. Bend your knees, positioning them six inches from your hips and keep your toes pointed forward. On the inhale, press through your feet until your pelvis is at a comfortable height off the floor. Slide your shoulders underneath your body and clasp your hands. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds.
Pyramid - Opens up the tight IT bands and hamstrings
Start in a standing position. Then step back a few feet with your right foot, angling it out slightly from the body. Keeping the hips square, reach the hands behind the back and clasp at the elbows. Inhale and look forward. Then exhale and allow the chest to fall, as you hinge forward from the hips. Keep a long spine as you slowly fold over your left leg. If the stretch is uncomfortable, bend the left leg slightly. Hold for at least 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
Down Dog - Stretches hamstrings and calf muscles, opens up the shoulders and chest
Begin in tabletop position on all fours (like cat/cow). Exhale, tucking your toes under as your pelvis moves up toward the sky. If you have inflexible hamstrings, keep the knees slightly bent as the heels push toward the ground. Breathe deeply, holding the pose for at least one minute.
Pigeon – An advanced pose, but a great hip opener. Do this pose at the end of your practice or when the hips are warm and open.
Assume a tabletop position with hands shoulder-width apart. Slide your right leg forward just behind and slightly to the left of your right wrist. The leg should be at a diagonal, with the right heel pointing toward the left leg. Keep the left leg back and neutral, with the left quadricep resting squarely on the floor. Watch that it doesn’t roll to one side. Keep your hipbones parallel as you gently lower your body forward into the pose. See how far you can bend and if you can rest your forearms on the floor. Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds before switching to the other side.Photo credits: Pyramid: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgilder/5362372884/; Bridge: movingstillnesspersonalfitness.com; Pigeon: blog.gaiam.com; Cat/cow: massagewilliamsburg.com; Down Dog: now-zen.com