Yoga for cyclists - a beginners guide
Ah, the joy of cycling! The wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and the feeling of your quads burning like they've been set on fire. Yes, cycling is an amazing sport, but let's be real: It can also be a pain in the rear… or neck… or shoulders, knees, back and the list goes on. Hours spent hunched over handlebars (in addition to time spent sitting at desks, meals and devices) and spinning our legs thousands of times in a small circular motion can leave even the most seasoned cyclist feeling as stiff as a deep-dish carbon rim, and moving as smoothly as a rusted chain off the bike… Does this sound familiar?
Well, my (Legenda) lycra-clad friends, it doesn’t have to be like this! A regular movement practice, like yoga, can help you loosen up those tight muscles, improve your flexibility, and maybe even make you look less awkward when you're not on two wheels. So, put down the energy gel and grab a yoga mat, because it's time to get bendy… or at least a little more supple.
Movement practices such as yoga (and there are many others) tend to take a whole-of-body approach to the way we move for general function and wellbeing, rather than seeing movement purely as exercise or training for performance improvements in specific sports and activities. And while it makes sense to spend time focusing on training cycling to get better at cycling, one should also keep in mind that no system in our body works alone, so the cost of being too single-minded can mean overlooking your overall well-being, neglect of certain muscles, joints and systems in our body, and overuse of others leading to pain, stiffness, imbalances and potential injury over time… which both sucks and works against our performance.
Isn’t yoga just for bendy people who aren’t into real sports?
Definitely not. Many high performing athletes use yoga and other movement practices to benefit their performance both in and out of their chosen sport. From personal experience, practicing in yoga and other movement modalities gave me far more than the ability to touch my toes. Over time you may notice other benefits which come from moving your entire body regularly including:
- Increased overall flexibility & less stiffness in joints
- Reduced muscle tightness, and increases in suppleness and movement freedom
- Improved physical recovery from longer / harder rides
- An increase in spinal mobility and less back pain
- Improved balance from various standing and floor-based postures and movements
- Additional core strength for stabilisation and efficient energy transfer
- Stronger, more functional feet through practicing in bare feet
- Improved co-ordination and motor skills from varied movement patterns
- Heightened body and self-awareness
- Better focus on breath especially with movement
- Brain stimulation and focus from learning something new.
So, if you’re a cyclist looking to improve your mobility and overall well-being, yoga may be an ideal complement to your weekly routine. Not only might it help you avoid embarrassing wipeouts when you hit a patch of gravel on the road or encounter a slippery café floor on the way to ordering your latte by improving your balance and coordination, you’ll also feel better both on and off the bike and maybe even take your cycling to the next level.
Some additional points to note:
There are many different forms of yoga out there as well as other mindful movement practices including TaiChi, Pilates, Animal Flow, 5Rythyms, QiGong etc just to name a few. Each has a slightly different approach and focus, so reflect on how your body feels and any areas that could do with some more attention, explore what is available in your area and try out something new.
Here’s a brief summary of some of the more common yoga styles typically found in studios and gyms:
Hatha – static, focusing on stretching all over, and a good starting point to get to know the poses
Vinyasa Flow – dynamic, with fluid movement between postures. Often beginner/slow forms are available as well as more intermediate and advanced
Restorative – mostly gentle/relaxing poses held for extended periods, often using props for support
Yin – poses held for 3-5 minutes, uses gravity rather than muscle to deepen the opening effects
Power Yoga – a strong workout, similar in style to the more challenging versions of Vinyasa flow
Ashtanga – a form of Vinyasa following prescribed sequences for different levels of practitioner
Bikram Yoga – follows a single prescribed sequence of static postures in a heated space (>35C/95F)
Hot yoga – various combinations of the above forms held in a heated space
Iyengar – a form of hatha yoga with a high level of detailed focus on precise postural form
Some final pro tips:
Whether you attend one or two local classes a week, or find some time for your own movement practice at home a few times a week online through an app or YouTube etc, a good functional range of mobility in all of your joints and muscles will inevitably serve you better both on and off the bike.
As with any new activity, take it slowly in the beginning as even though it may look gentle, you’ll be moving and using parts of your body in different ways which may feel uncomfortable at first. Don’t push through pain, and you’ll gradually notice the positive changes begin to appear.
Focus on you and avoid comparing yourself to others around you. Every body is different, so be curious about where you’re at, notice how things feel and appreciate improvements over time.