The Benefits of Yoga for Cyclists
The Benefits of Yoga for Cyclists by Carolyn Weininger, E-RYT 500, YACEP
There are two things I hear from my cycle friends when I am trying to convince them to try yoga “I am not flexible” and “I cannot seem to settle my mind”. Personally I felt the same way. Before I was a Yogi, I was a lover of all things cycle – in fact it was my love of cycling that brought me to yoga. I was doing 3-4 Century Rides (100 miles) a year and teaching 3-4 indoor cycle classes each week. I went to yoga class to stretch my tight hips and hamstrings… here is what I learned along the way!
Whether you are a serious cyclist, weekend warrior or indoor cycle enthusiast adding yoga to your fitness program has many benefits. Yoga can improve performance, build strength, reduce risk of injury, and reduce muscle soreness.
In yoga we focus attention inward and concentrate on the breath making it a mind/body practice. Yoga can teach you how to monitor your breathing, making the most of each breath. Training your body to take slower and deeper breaths with yogic or diaphragmatic breathing can maximize oxygen intake and improve performance. This is helpful any time there are high intensity efforts such as sprinting, attacking and climbing hills.
Flexibility can reduce the risk of injury and prevent muscle soreness. In a properly constructed pedal stroke the leg never reaches full extension the hamstrings never fully lengthen. This lack of full extension may decrease the flexibility of the hamstrings and puts it at greater risk of strains and tears. The repetitive nature of pedaling and constant hip flexion cause cyclists to have tight hips. A typical hatha or vinyasa yoga practice will stretch and strengthen the hip flexors (psoas) and the hip extensors (glutes and piriformis).
Having a strong core is critical for power, posture and injury prevention. The typical cycling position is a forward flexed spine bent over on the bike. Over time this creates tight and weak core (front and back muscles) prone to injury. Practicing poses such as plank, cobra and bridge help to strengthen and stretch the muscles around the core. Mixing things up helps to create balance in the body. The movements involved in biking are all in the frontal plane. This constant frontal range of movement needs to be balanced out by moving the body in all directions and in a full range of movement.
Time to rest regenerate and recover are important components of a balanced training program. Without adequate rest and recovery the muscles don’t get chance to repair. Lack of recovery can lead to overtraining, burn out and decreased motivation. When you are cycling you are using the big muscles and the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) in yoga we tap into the Parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
In yoga we focus on the present moment. Learning to be present will increase mental sharpness and will help manage the physical demands of the workout. Standing balance poses such as Tree will teach proprioception (where the body is in space) and supine stretches will teach interoception (what you are sensing inside the body). Learning skills for focus and body awareness will help both on and off the bike. Life is a journey not a destination – enjoy the ride!
About the author:
Carolyn Weininger, E-RYT 500, YACEP Carolyn started teaching fitness classes in 2001. As a distance cyclist and cycle instructor she discovered yoga was a great counter balance to the high intensity workouts. She loved the way that the practice of mindfulness, breathing, stretching and strengthening took her fitness to new levels and added a sense of being present and at peace. Over the years she has studied different styles of yoga with many yoga teachers. She has over 800 hours of yoga teacher training and draws from a variety of influences. She creates a safe place where students can learn, play and get strong. Working hard and focusing inward is a journey of self-discovery. For the past two years she as served as an Athleta Ambassador and leads events that support women and girls in the N.VA area. When she is not teaching she enjoys music, travel, cycling and spending time with her friends and family.