Yoga is an amazing complement to cycling. It can help alleviate any sore muscles, strain, or tension caused by being on a bike. It involves deep breathing exercises that can really help to prepare you for a bike ride or help relax you after a bike ride, and it helps strengthen your core muscles to maintain a healthy posture and prevent sore back muscles. The benefits of yoga for cyclists are endless. But what yoga poses are best to practice before and after time in the saddle?
1. Downward-Facing Dog
Downward dog will not only open the lower back, it will also strengthen it, giving you structural support when you’re on the bike.
Start in a high press up position with the hands directly under the shoulders. Lift the hips up and back and drop the heels toward the floor to come into an inverted V-shape. Walk the hands back in toward the feet a couple of inches and drop the heels back even further. Spread the fingers wide apart. Press through the palms to lift the hips even higher up and back. Relax the neck and let the head hang. Hold the position and breathe evenly and deeply for one minute.
2. Chair Pose into Forward Bend
Stand comfortably with the feet a few inches apart. Inhale and bend deeply through the knees, drawing the hips back, as if you’re sitting down in a chair. Lean the upper body slightly forward as if you’re getting out of the chair. Reach the arms up and slightly out to the side. Draw the shoulders away from the ears, keeping the neck long. Keep the arms straight and knees bent for 15 seconds, breathing deeply. On an exhale, straighten through the legs and fold at the waist (see photo in the sidebar). Bring the palms toward the floor. Relax the spine and let the entire upper body spill forward over the legs. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat.
Like Downward Dog, this pose alternately strengthens and opens the low back and hips. It also lengthens the upper spine and through the hamstrings.
3. Expanded Leg Pose
You can vary the expanded leg pose. Begin with your feet very wide apart (the wider apart the feet, the easier it will be on the hamstrings). Placing your hands on your hips, inhale deeply and then bend forward on the exhale, bringing the torso only as far down as you can while maintaining a long spine.
If your hamstrings are particularly tight, the knees can be bent slightly, releasing any tension in your back. You can place your hands on a pile of books (or anything else that may be lying around your garage) placed below shoulder level. Work towards eventually placing your hands in between the feet. To challenge yourself more you can interlace your ﬁngers behind your back and fold your torso over, allowing the arms to come overhead. A belt held between your hands can be used if your shoulders and arms are initially too tight to yield.
4. Quad Stretch
This is one of many preparatory stretches for back-bends – the ultimate cycle posture reversal. This stretch focuses on the quadriceps and hip ﬂexors and eventually the spine, as well as opening the chest and shoulder muscles. Start on all fours with the soles of your feet against a wall. Place a blanket underneath the knees if this is uncomfortable. Take your right knee off the ﬂoor and place it against the wall with your toes pointing upwards on the wall and your shin against the wall.
Slide your knee down towards the ﬂoor, making sure that the shin and knee are in contact with the wall at all times. Re-arrange the left leg so that the sole of the foot is now on the ﬂoor. The left shin and thigh should be making a 90-degree angle. Take at least ﬁve breaths. This is an intense stretch. Gradually take your hands off the ﬂoor and on an inhale, place your hands lightly on your left knee.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Position your feet about six inches away from your hips. Make sure that your feet are pointing straight ahead. On an inhale, press your feet into the floor and lift your pelvis as high as you comfortably can. Move your arms underneath your body and clasp your hands together between your feet. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, breathing evenly. Slowly lower to start position, one vertebra at a time. This move is going to help open up your back and glute muscles allowing you to walk and move more comfortably the next day!
6. Revolved Belly Pose
The revolved belly pose releases tension in the spinal column
This is a good stretch for those with particularly stiff backs. It releases tension in the spinal column, hips and shoulders and relieves discomfort in the lumbar spine. Lying on your back with your knees bent, bring them into your chest. Inhale and, with the next exhalation, roll your knees to the right side and rest them on a pillow.
Stretch both arms outwards along the ﬂoor to open the space between the shoulder blades then, as the lower back gradually releases, straighten the legs out slowly, aiming to eventually have your toes touch the hand nearest them. You can start by changing sides matching the movement to your breath and slow work up to holding your legs on each side and pushing deeper into the stretch.