Building a strong, flexible body will take multiple forms of movement and exercise. If you love cycling for great cardio, adding an upper body workout will probably be necessary as most of your cycling work is from the buttocks down. Yoga will help you stretch fully, assist you in breathing deeply for full oxygenation, and have all the great benefits of cycling.
Yoga Improves Overall Flexibility
The simple moves of a sun salutation include:
- Prayer Pose: Hands to the chest, a reminder to breathe
- Upward Salute: Hands overhead, stretch shoulders and upper back
- Standing Forward Bend: Stretches low back
- Low Lunge: Stretches the pelvis
- Plank: Strengthens the core and back
- Knees-Chest-Chin: Stretches Achilles and strengthens arms
- Cobra: Stretches and strengthens the abdomen
- Downward Facing Dog: Stretches back of the legs from glutes to heels
- Low Lunge: Stretches the quads
- Standing Forward Bend: Stretches back of legs
- Upward Salute: Straightens and strengthens the spine
- Prayer Pose: Reminder to cool down and breathe
This simple yoga warm-up does a great job of stretching your entire body while engaging all the body muscles and getting you ready for a more intense workout. A series of sun salutations can also help you cool down at the end of a long workout. Make sure to take breaks for water.
Yoga Builds Core Strength
Yoga practitioners enjoy the power of a class to both stretch and strengthen the body. Because the moves are slow and the poses are held while you breathe, practitioners also become more aware of their core. If you haven’t done any targeted core exercises, you may find that yoga improves your balance and allows you to see more of the scenery you’re cycling through.
Planks and side planks are the most helpful exercises to increase your core strength. If you can’t do a regular plank due to spinal issues, you can modify it by:
- planking from your knees instead of from your toes
- widening your knees to reduce pressure on your spine
- moving from all fours down to your knees and elbows
- go slow and stop if it hurts
Working from the floor up into a plank can be very painful if you have back issues. Instead, lower from above. As you continue this practice, you may find that you can bring your knees closer to shoulder width as your core strengthens. Once you’re there, try to plank from your toes.
Yoga Helps Breathing
Many yoga teachers will remind practitioners to breathe as they stretch and hold positions. This mantra of, “breathe, breathe, breathe,” can fill your mind at many points of the day. Dedicating, conscious breathing is incredibly soothing when under any form of stress, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional.
One of the challenges for cyclists is that, while your legs are very busy, your core is not as engaged as it could be. Consider adding time doing core-centric exercises, such as baby cobra, while you breathe steadily.
Best Yoga Poses for Cyclists
In addition to the sun salutations listed above, another great stretch for cyclists is the low lunge twist. If you’re not already a practitioner who’s comfortable getting into a lunge, look for a gentle yoga class, so that simple moves like a traditional low lunge becomes a habit.
Once you can hold a low lunge without wobbliness or strain, reach back with the hand of the knee that is forward. Lift the foot behind you and grasp the foot. Make absolutely sure that your grip is focused on holding the foot in line with the knee. With the knee in proper alignment, this stretch will focus on the muscles deep in the pelvis and the quads.
Focus on the Pelvis and Glutes
If you’re a yoga beginner and struggling with low back pain or tightness, the butterfly stretch is a great option to expand the hips and pelvis. Sit on the floor with your spine straight, then place the bottoms of your feet together with your knees out to the side. Slowly lower your knees toward the mat until you feel a stretch. Do not push with your elbows.
A Simple Mat Stretch for Yoga Newbies
Some of the more intense yoga twists can be a little scary for beginners. However, you can also stretch the pelvis with some mat work. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Draw your right ankle across your left knee and flex your foot.
Reach your hands around the left thigh and loop your fingers together. With your right foot flexed, pull your left thigh toward your chest until you feel a stretch deep in the hip. Hold the stretch for five seconds and lower the thigh; do three reps per side to loosen the pelvis, then try stretching your quads and hamstrings again. You may be surprised at how much more flexibility you have.
Do not point your toes! You will increase the chance that you’ll twist the knee. Flexing the foot stabilizes the knee so the stretch centers in the pelvis without putting pressure on the knee.