Yoga is to cycling, what a fry up is to a night out, an antidote to putting your body under some pressure, a way to fill you up when you’ve emptied the tank, a warm and comforting hug to sooth the soul. We, as cyclists, are gluttons for punishment. Nothing makes us feel better than a hard day in the saddle, we relish the pain and suffering. We want to end the day face-planting in our soup.
But how often do we think about the long-term impact on our bodies? And how often do we do something to counteract the negative consequences of loving life on two wheels just a little bit too much?
Probably not that often, I’m guessing.
Maybe you already do yoga, maybe you don’t. Whichever camp you’re in, I would like to share my experience linking my love of cycling and yoga together, with the hope that you may learn something about your existing practice or be inspired to take up something new in 2021.
I have practiced yoga for over ten years, but strangely, until recently I didn’t see it as linked in any way to my cycling. Yoga for me was a once-a-week activity with others, practiced in a room, or more recently on a Zoom call. I always thoroughly enjoyed the physical aspects of it, but if I’m honest I’ve been practicing yoga for its mental benefits, more than anything else. It’s the quietening of the soul that the focused breathing and meditative movement brings, that is the real appeal to me.
Then, not so long ago, on a cold, and dark Wednesday evening, whilst doing my regularYin yoga class, my teacher Kate introduced a new set of postures, all of which were focused on the hip flexors. Suddenly, I was really struggling. I know I have some weak areas of flexibility with my hamstrings and calves, but I didn’t think I had anything wrong with my hips. Yet these postures were so hard! I didn’t understand what was going on. I decided to investigate further, arranging a private session withKate to get her take on it.
She assessed my mobility (very adeptly over Zoom) and we ended up in frequent fits of giggles as we realised that, yes, my legs were tight, but it was my hip muscles that were actually the tightest of all. The trouble is, for a lot of recreational or amateur cyclists, we live in a sitting centred world, at a desk all day, and then what do we do for fun? Hurtle around on a bicycle, in another sitting position that’s unnatural for the body.
As cyclists, we often overlook the hip flexors and do so at our peril. The forward-leaning position and the pedalling motion never allows the hip to fully extend. The psoas and iliacus (the muscles that form the hip flexors at the top of your thighs) help lift your leg on every pedal stroke, so they are very important. Short, tight hip flexors can pull your pelvis out of alignment, leading to potential back problems. Stretching them allows the glutes to turn on, improves performance and reduces the chance of injury.
In short, it’s vital we start paying more attention to this part of our anatomy.
Kate has given me six postures to help me do this. I’ve been practicing them every day, for the last three weeks. It takes me just over ten minutes a day and even though I find it very challenging, I’m really starting to see the benefits. Not only do I enjoy taking a little sliver of time out of every day to work on myself, but I can also see the difference it’s making. And more importantly, I can feel it on the bike. I’m undeniably more comfortable. My lower half is increasingly relaxed so I’m sinking into my seat that little bit easier.
Here’s the routine, take a look and have a go yourself. I have illustrated with pictures of Kate, to highlight best practice. Remember that there are differences in capabilities with yoga, you may not be anywhere near as flexible as she is straight away (I'm not) and that’s perfectly ok. It’s always good to have something to aim towards, but don’t be harsh on yourself if you’re not there yet.
Things are starting to get a bit harder now. For me, keeping my back straight in this posture is nigh on impossible. I use a block to help raise my hips up, which really helps. If you’re looking for a softer stretch, bring your back knee onto the mat as Kate (the right picture( is doing here.
SUPTA VIRASANA or Reclined Heroes Pose
Honestly, I cannot access this posture all the time. I struggle with lying my body back. So sometimes just doing this seated, sitting in between my legs is enough. Other days I can lie back but need lots of cushions. Kate as you see needs less support. She is able to have her feet much closer to her hips, and her back closer to the floor.
ANJANEYASANA or Low Lunge
UTTHAN PRISTHASANA or Runner’s Lunge
I absolutely love a good lunge lunge. This posture feels easy to me and very satisfying. But, I do need to have my hands on my knees to balance me. If you’re looking for a softer stretch, bring your back knee onto the mat as Kate is doing here.
EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA or Pigeon Pose
Another posture that I absolutely love, but find very difficult. The aim is to have your bent leg at a right angle, so it is paralell with the mat, like Kate. But as you can see, I’m nowhere near. This is a really great pose for cyclists as it ticks so many muscle boxes; hip flexors, glutes, iliotibial band and adductors. But, it is a strong stretch so I leave it until right at the end of the routine. You can do it with your body lowered to the ground, or raised up.
DANDASANA or Staff Pose
Strangely enough, for me, just sitting on the floor with my legs out straight is my most difficult challenge. I’m interested in how you find it. As you can see, I need to bend my legs quite far to ensure my back remains straight, which is the key to this posture. Use a block to support yourself like Kate is doing here to make it easier.
I have barely scratched the surface with yoga. The powerful impact it can have on your body and mind is endless. Balance, strength, agility, calm, it has it all. So, I’ll be back soon to tell you some more. In the meantime, give it a go, and please feel free toget in touch and tell me how you get on.
Key things to remember:
For more information on Kate, visit her website here. I can highly recommend her Yin yoga class if you’re looking for some serious mid-week relaxation, or a private session if you’re looking for something more personalised.
Do you practice yoga or stretching in addition to your cycling training? Let us know!
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