Some Very Good Reasons Why Cyclists Should Do Yoga
To celebrate the announcement of our Yoga with Donna Week in June 2020 we asked Donna to write us a blog promoting the benefits of Yoga for cyclists…
Do you know your downward dog from you cat-cow? Or your crow from your pigeon?
I am, of course, talking yoga poses, not just calling out random animals at you. All of these posture names belong to the practice of yoga, an ancient practice uniting mind, body and breath, originating in India over five thousand years ago. You will no doubt have some preconceived ideas of yoga and the typical practitioner, but cast those aside. There are some very good reasons why cyclists should do yoga. Yoga really is for every body, no matter what you’re ability, size or suppleness. It will absolutely improve your strength, flexibility and focus, bringing lots of benefits to your cycling.
Over the last ten years, the number of athletes incorporating yoga into their training has grown significantly. Jessica Ennis-Hill, Andy Murray, the England Football team and Bradley Wiggins are amongst those who recognise how a regular yoga practice can aid athletic performance. Athletes will often start to practice yoga to remain injury free but they soon start to discover many other wonderful benefits. The ability to stay focused for longer, for example, with an improved ability to keep the mind calm under pressure – really helpful when you have a race or sportive to perform in. Yoga also produces an improved sense of balance, more efficient breathing, and quicker recovery times – all incredibly useful tools to have in your performance toolkit.
As cyclists, we are quick to spend time and money fine tuning our bikes and our kit but often forget about the importance of fine tuning our bodies. With a regular yoga practice, you’ll really start to notice a boost in your overall performance.
So, if that’s got you thinking, here are some very good reasons why cyclists should do yoga:
Cyclists need flexible hips. Hands up if you have them? Can you sit on the floor crossed legged, relaxed through the legs and with a lovely straight spine without feeling strain through the lower back and hips? If our hips aren’t flexible our lower back works much harder and takes a lot of additional strain.
Being low on the drops means cyclists are bent forward in a tucked position. The sit bones need to be able to move forward and if the hip flexors aren’t sufficiently flexible they can’t do this without putting excessive strain on the lower back. Without this range of motion, the hamstrings will also tighten which rounds the lower back and, hey presto, puts additional strain on the disks in the lower back!
Essentially, having flexible hips and longer hamstrings will help to protect your back and keep your spine healthy. A few sessions on the yoga mat focusing on these areas each week and you’ll quickly notice that you’re newly lengthened muscles and more open hips are able to generate more power. Yes, I know, stretching tight muscles isn’t always the most pleasant, but more power?! Now you’re keen, right? With yoga, the key principle is to always, always listen to your body. You find your edge and you work within the limitations of your body. It’s a gradual process but I promise, you will quickly see the changes in your body and the positive impact on your cycling.
I know most of us would love a six pack but there is more to core stability than just having those visibly defined stomach muscles.
Your core also includes your lower back muscles, your hip flexors and sections of your glutes. A stronger overall core not only protects your back, working like a corset around your spine, it also helps to strengthen the muscles linking to your legs and shoulders, providing you with more strength and control over your bike. A tired cyclist with poor core strength is likely to slump in the saddle, which means unnecessary strain and pressure on the shoulders and wrists, so it makes sense to keep that core healthy and strong.
Take that strength and control and add it to the power you’ve gained from improved hip and hamstring flexibility…and well, you’re looking pretty nifty on two wheels right now!
Cycling can limit circulation because of the posture we take when riding. With the arms reaching forward, we will often round the shoulders and upper back. With the legs drawing upwards as we cycle, we’re in a fairly hinged position which can limit our intake of oxygen. The lungs need to be able to increase in volume to allow oxygen to enter and this means being able to open the rib cage. If we work on opening our chest area, we can improve the movement around the ribs and potentially increase our oxygen intake by around 25 per cent, which is not to be sniffed at!
The magic of yoga is of course the breath; the breath that we use during yoga practice is what makes yoga different to other forms of physical exercise. Pranayama (breath work) is a key component of yoga – it’s what makes yoga a mind body practice, a whole body experience. We learn to inflate the lungs more fully and to use the diaphragm more efficiently, which is an amazing way to aid your recovery. When we breathe properly, we introduce lots of fresh oxygen into the bloodstream sending vital nutrients around our body. Some pranayamas used during practice can also be amazing at helping to improve your cardiovascular capacity.
So, now we can breathe better and more efficiently and the body is getting a nutrient rich blood supply. Add that to the strength, balance and control we’ve improved, and bring in that new found power and well, hello new King or Queen of the Mountain!
Not only will yoga help you feel good mentally, but physically, you’re going to see a vast improvement in your cycling ability.
Hands up, who’d like to join me in rolling out the yoga mat in Greece? We’ll introduce a yoga practice to compliment your cycling, working on all of the areas above, and more, with a focus on correct alignment, to improve your cycling performance, recovery time and your mental focus.