I specialize in Yoga for Cyclists. As an avid cyclist myself and member of Bristol Road Club I know the mental and physical challenges Cyclists face. Now as a Yoga Teacher, I understand, now more than ever, how Yoga can help Cyclists with injury prevention, injury recovery and better well being on and off the bike. I feel a massive drive to share the benefits of Yoga with everyone, especially fellow Cyclists.
Cycling for long periods of time for even just an hour or so, means our bodies are hunched up and the upper torso is largely static. This can affect areas such as: The shoulders, back, neck, wrists. Our legs never fully achieve a full range of motion, the knee is never fully extended or flexed and neither is the hip and this can mean Cyclists develop shortened hamstrings and tight hips. Our hip muscles, especially Lliopsoas & Psoas muscle groups (connecting from the lower lumbar spine, to the femur) are well used, due to the motion of pedaling and thus become shortened too. This is also true for our hamstrings. If you’re never reaching a full range of movement (full extension and full flexion) evidence of this can be seen in the hamstrings, where you tend to get a bulge of muscle in the section of the muscle that is being worked out the most. To access all of the power in our muscles, more of the muscle tissue needs to be used. Our bodies need a way to bring balance back to these muscle groups, this is where Yoga comes in. In restoring balance between the muscles, making them work together, this makes the body more supple and resilient to injury. Shortened muscles mean more tension on the tendons and joints. Flexibility is important, to develop full use of as much muscle tissue as possible. This is why Yoga is quickly becoming an essential performance enhancing tool for Cyclists, and more and more pro’s are using it to: Improve flexibility, core strength, enhance breathing techniques, aid recovery and help create sharper mental focus:
‘Unlike straight sprinters like Chris Hoy, I need endurance over power, so I focus on avoiding bulking up. Even 1 kg of extra muscle can add expensive seconds to your time. In the gym you should focus on strengthening your core for 30 minutes each day, mixing up Pilates, Yoga moves and using exercise balls’ – Bradley Wiggins (2012) in: ‘Yoga For Cyclists‘ 1st ed (2014)
As Bradley Wiggins says above, Cyclists don’t tend to want to add bulk to their body, so traditional weight training isn’t appropriate, this is where Yoga comes in. Strengthening joints and muscles, whilst adding tone, but not bulk. Core strength is vital for stability on the bike, if there is no core strength Cyclists are more susceptible to injury in other areas of the body. As the Core is the foundation for movement in the limbs and can help with correct positioning on the bike. Strength improvement in the shoulders and upper arms is important too, Yoga is great for this. Postures such as Chaturanga Dandasana, Planks and Downward Dog all help to strengthen these areas. This can stop achy shoulders after long rides and help to support the upper back.
Breathing correctly and knowing how to breathe in what way and when, is vital to getting essential Oxygen to the muscles. Yoga is all about the breathing: “No breathing, no Yoga” – Eleanor Coates, Yoga Teacher – Bristol (2015). Three part breathing, is a breathing technique most teachers will teach in Yoga classes. It’s a simple technique to deepen your breath and make each breath more efficient. This is particularly useful on a bike, just before a big climb or a sprint. Breathing in this way also calms and can help to bring control over the mind:
‘Since starting Yoga my breathing has seen a dramatic improvement when pushing hard on the bike. Up until now I would take myself to the very limit and my breathing would very much show that, being loud and forced. Using different techniques I have learnt to control the flow of breath in both directions and feel more in control when in the red.‘ – Phil Skyes, time trial specialist, UK in: ‘Yoga For Cyclists‘ 1st ed (2014)
Whereas improved flexibility, core strength and enhanced breathing techniques aid recovery and help create sharper mental focus, these are all benefits of Yoga. Yoga at its foundation is all about calming and stilling the mind. The Yoga Sutras are the first written scriptures addressing Yoga written by Patanjali between 400BC – 200AD. On the topic of what is Yoga, Patanajali in 1:2 writes: ‘Yogas’ citta vrtti nirodhah’ : – The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga. This can be further translated to: ‘Stop the mind chat‘. In Cycling we can use Yoga to calm the mind this can help us to deal with pre-race nerves and anxiety. I know it helps me to get a better nights sleep before a big cycling event. Of course one of the benefits of having a calmer mind on the day of that big event or race, is sharper mental focus on the task in hand. Having a calmer mind also helps to develop awareness of what the body is doing. This can help you to identify problem areas in your positioning and make the necessary adjustments.
To conclude, if you Cycle and you don’t do Yoga I hope this article has given you a taste of how Yoga can improve your performance and well-being on and off the bike. If you want to know more and try one of my Yoga for Cyclists classes visit my website: http://www.jamescadyyoga.co.uk for more information.