We LOVE cycling – indoors (spin) and outdoors, it provides a treasure-chest of health goodies! Joint mobility, strength, stamina, cardiovascular health, stress relief, bone density, low-impact fat-loss, community, healthy competition, the list goes on and on.
As a regular cyclist, you will know how a good stretch off the saddle reduces stiffness of over-worked leg muscles and hip-flexors, however, a recent conversation with a keen cyclist at the studio inspired us to share a blog on how a weekly yoga class or two can also improve your performance on and off the bike.
A fluid, mindful yoga flow with breath techniques will not only alleviate tight muscles and tension, but also improve focus, balance and breath control required to access more power and endurance on the bike.
Best time is anytime – you can practice yoga after a ride, when your body is warm and responsive, before your ride (as a warm-up), or on your ‘off’ days as body maintenance.
Yoga Asanas (postures) will take your spine and torso through a full range of motion, helping realignment and mobility through your back, neck and shoulders. For example, spinal twists alleviate lower back stiffness and open chest muscles to help improve respiratory performance and circulatory system function. All this spinal work and is beneficial for counteracting the ‘linear’ position on a bike. Plus, asanas will strengthen posterior-chain muscles, ‘the power muscles’ to fire-up your riding experience.
Backbends and hip-openers such as lunges are the perfect counter-stretch to the tucked forward cycling position and tight hip-flexors, improving posture and bringing your body back into balance.
It's worth noting that variations of the tucked forward position adopted while cycling, are also how we spend a lot of our waking hours while working at a desk, driving, and even relaxing on the couch making it even more important to ensure that this position is countered with backbends and stretches that open your chest, shoulders, hip flexors to prevent injuries or inflammatory type pain.
Flexibility is the key to longevity and performance on the bike. A common injury or ailment for people who cycle as their main sport/hobbie and especially when using cleats, is lower back pain. Chronic shortening of hip-flexors through repetitive pedalling can shorten deep-seated psoas muscles and compromises other parts of your body used for lateral movement. Indications of tightness and shortening can be lower back and knee pain limiting performance, comfort and body-functionality on and off the bike. Yoga postures are the perfect way to stretch out the key muscles and provide a release.
Yoga gives you the opportunity to get to know your body, to tune in to where aches or any tension sits, and mindfully soften and release. Developing body awareness by slowing down and paying attention to what your body needs allows you to move mindfully in a way that works for you and enhances the body-mind connection. Yoga classes provide this opportunity for self-inquiry and discovery which ultimately allows you to become more comfortable in your own body.
The practice of Pranayama, often referred to as ‘breath control’ during a yoga class has many benefits including stress reduction, improved sleep, lowering of blood pressure and strengthening the lungs. For cyclists this practice is beneficial in enhancing your breath capacity while cycling, allowing you more control over your breath to power-up and assist in getting your heart rate under control. Focussing on the breath also helps to keep you relaxed and focussed during your ride by calming the nervous system and clearing your mind, often referred to as being in ‘the flow’ or ‘in the zone.’
Yoga is a holistic practice with numerous health benefits that positively effects all aspects of day to day life and helps to establish balance both physically and mentally.
A regular yoga practice is a wonderful balance to regular cycling, improving your performance on the bike, and keeping your body balanced and supple and your mind focused and calm.
Written by: Alyssa Bird (Slow-Flow Yoga) - Soulsprite Instructor