We asked Yoga Sports Coach ™, British Wheel of Yoga instructor and author of Yoga For Cyclists, Lexie Williamson, what makes yoga for cyclists so great. She gave us a sneak peak into her book and told us that there are six huge benefits of practicing yoga, here they are:
1) A Flatter (and Happier) Back
Stiffness in the lower back, hamstrings and glutes can lead to a curved ‘cat back’ riding position. This excessive rounding or ‘lumbar kyphosis’ places extra strain both on the lower back and the neck as the cyclist is forced to extend the head to gaze forwards. Through flexibility work the cyclist can tilt the pelvis anteriorly and bring the natural curves of the spine into play. Result: a more natural, sustainable and comfortable riding position.
2) Injury Prevention
Like all endurance athletes, cyclists are prone to overuse injuries. Due to the repetitive nature of the sport certain muscle groups, such as the quads, calves or hamstrings, are susceptible to wear and tear. Cyclists are also prone to iliotibial band syndrome and piriformis syndrome so the outer hip and thigh and piriformis muscle (nestled in the glutes) often need extra TLC. Long-held yoga stretches can release tension in these tight areas and strengthen weaker muscle groups restoring overall body balance.
3) Core Strength
A strong core is vital for posture, power and injury prevention. Most road cyclists have weak abdominals in comparison with their back muscles. This common imbalance can trigger low back issues and cause the rider to slump into the saddle when tired, placing pressure on the shoulders and wrists. All four variations on Cat are a good starting point to help cyclists connect with the deep corset-like core muscles in a cycling-specific stance. The cyclist can drop down lower into stronger poses like Forearm Planks when ready and start to pay attention to the glutes – a frequently neglected part of the core.
4) Mental Toughness
Cycling is a mental game – that is to say if two riders are equally matched physically, the one with the stronger mindset has the edge. Channeling and harnessing our random (and frequently negative) stream of thoughts is the underlying purpose of yoga. Many of the techniques practiced on the mat, such as mantra or visualisation, can easily be made cycling-relevant and taken out on a ride. See Yoga for Cyclists for bike-specific mental training techniques.
5) Breathing Efficiency
A controversial one among endurance athletes - breathing is still unlikely to crop up in a conversation about training techniques but it is a potentially powerful (and totally free) resource for cyclists. Better breathing could mean reducing inefficient panting and transferring more oxygen to screaming quad muscles, recovering faster after a hill climb or using the rhythm of respiration as a pacing mechanism on a flat stretch of road. Learning to control and harness breathing takes patience and practice but a yoga class is an ideal place to start to explore this largely untapped training tool.
6) Improving Posture
Cycling posture is an aerodynamic ideal but rounded shoulders and a protruding head don’t look so cool on everyday standing or sitting posture. Through gentle extension (back bends) yoga will lengthen tightening pectoral muscles, draw back the shoulders and ensure standing posture remains unaffected by hours of riding. This is particularly crucial if you have a sedentary office job where the body is in a similar position (legs bent, rounded shoulders) as it is on the bike. Think about taking the cycling stance and flipping it into reverse by opening up the front of the body. Bridge pose is a great place to start.
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