Yoga has become a popular trend these days, but does it actually offer any benefits, or is it just an unimportant fad? Maybe you’re wondering if it is even possible for you to like such a low-impact activity when you usually go for the high-intensity cycle rides. Is yoga really a good idea for cyclists?
Yoga is good for cyclists because it prevents injury and accelerates the recovery rate if sore or injured. It also improves performance through meditative yoga techniques that increase willpower and allow the cyclist to power through fatigue and other obstacles.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of yoga in relation to cycling and why yoga is a much better exercise than the traditionally followed ritual of stretching either before or after a workout, keep reading.
Most cyclists know that stretching is good for you – it improves flexibility and blood flow to your muscles, and dynamic stretching right before your main workout can improve performance, according to a study by Opplert and associates.
However, it would be best to replace your stretching sessions with the new kid in town – yoga. You don’t necessarily have to go for a full-out zen yoga class; a few dynamic yoga poses before or after a workout would also be effective.
But why pick yoga over stretching? The reason for this is because yoga is just better for cyclists. At its core, yoga is built around a philosophy of respecting your body’s needs and improving mental acuity by regulating your emotions. These two aspects are imperative to both training during a cycling session and recovery afterward.
Yoga also incorporates the key functions of stretching, along with several other benefits that you’ll learn about if you keep reading this article.
Besides strange physical positions, yoga is a spiritual practice at heart. It offers many different meditative practices and breathing techniques that you can use to improve your cycling ability.
One example is mantra-based meditation. In this type of meditation, practitioners are taught specific mantras that you chant to calm your mind whenever you are disquieted. Although it is better to speak these mantras out loud, you can meditate just as well by repeating them mentally.
These mantras can be modified to be more relevant to athletic activities and increase your willpower. For instance, when your legs are burning and you feel like you can’t continue any longer, you can chant mantras to motivate yourself and get through it.
Chanting mantras provides your mind with a distraction from the pain, letting you latch onto the repetitiveness of the mantra instead. This allows you to cycle greater distances without manually building up this willpower by cycling more often.
Yoga also commonly asks practitioners to take part in Pranayam, or “yoga breath,” which involves taking deeper breaths in a slow, controlled fashion. This differs from the type of breath that you take every day, which is shallow and unconscious.
Yoga breath is the opposite of the shallow, rapid breaths that athletes take during their more intense exercise bouts. The ability to slow and focus the breath might seem redundant to athletes, but there’s a great connection between breath and movement.
For example, professional athletes are known to inhale and exhale with their legs’ respective movements. This control over the breath is crucial when climbing over higher terrain or accelerating because otherwise, performance is seriously affected. Take it from Kristen Gentilucci, from Team USA Cycling – yoga works!
Cycling is a great cardiovascular exercise to improve your muscle strength and flexibility. If you cycle regularly, you’ll be facing the following health benefits:
- Improved joint mobility
- Stronger bones
- Reduced levels of anxiety and depression
- Decreased body fat percentage
It is also more low-impact than other popular workout activities, which reduces the probability of injury and allows a larger demographic of people to participate in this exercise. Despite this, it is still possible to be injured either during or after cycling. Here are some of the most common injuries, why they occur, and how yoga might help in these instances.
The very nature of cycling makes it impossible to maintain an erect spinal position at all times. If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you’re likely spending a few hours every week hunched over the handlebars. This posture results in lower back pain or strained muscles in your back.
If you don’t take the necessary precautions and shrug off these pains, they could progress and affect other areas of your body. For example, you could suffer from piriformis syndrome, where you have pain in your buttocks caused by swelling or tightening of the piriformis muscle. This could affect the nearby sciatic nerve, which runs down to your legs, causing pain or numbness in your feet, preventing you from cycling.
Here are some reasons why you might be suffering from lower back pain:
- Improper bike posture: While seated on your bike, the handlebars might be too low for your height, causing you to adopt a more aggressive stance, putting pressure on your lower back. If this is the case, consider raising the handlebars to relieve this stress.
- Improper work posture: Most cyclists are not professional athletes and hold either a steady job or are still schooling. If your posture sitting at a desk involves hunching over, the problem is exacerbated when you cycle.
- Lack of core strength: If your core muscles are weak, you will be relying on the muscles in your lower back instead to support you through more vigorous cycling sessions.
In all these instances, yoga, along with a good foam roller, can help prevent recurrences of lower back pain and decrease pain level when it does happen.
Here are some common yoga poses that work to strengthen your abdominal muscles to increase core strength:
- Boat Pose(Paripurna Navasan): To perform the boat pose, begin in the pose for Russian twists, then slowly straighten your legs out until they form a straight line mid-air. Bring your hands forward and point them towards your toes. Your body should have formed a V-shape with your arms parallel to the ground.
- Dolphin Plank Pose: This is a common plank variation that involves balancing on your forearms instead of holding your entire body up with your palms. This version is more complicated than the standard plank because you have to use your core muscles to a greater extent to support your position.
- Cosmic Egg Pose: In this pose, you hug your knees to your chest while lifting your toes off the ground. This requires using your abdominal muscles to hold the position without falling to the back or side.
Besides engaging your core, yoga also has specific poses that will prevent bad posture or relieve the strain from hunching over your desk or handlebars for too long.
Here are those positions:
- Cat-Cow: Cat-cow stretches are great for relaxing overworked, tense back muscles. When you move from the cat pose, or flexion of the spine, into the cow pose, or extension of the spine, you also learn which position feels more comfortable to your spine. Over time, you’ll subconsciously adopt that neutral position when you sit naturally.
- Tiger Pose: The Tiger Pose is great for stretching out the entire body, especially those lesser-used muscles like the back or neck. It also challenges balance. There are many variations in this pose, with the most basic one called ‘SongBird.’ For this pose, you begin in a tabletop position and lift one leg and hand parallel to the ground, holding that position for as long as desired.
- Cobra: This position allows you to open your chest and stretch your back and shoulders. Here, you begin by lying flat on your stomach on the ground. Then, using your hands to support you, arch your head and back up, mimicking a cobra’s posture when it is getting ready to strike.
With a stronger core, you can maintain proper spinal posture on the saddle even when fatigue sets in. This decreases the potential for back pain as a cycling injury.
Muscle strain is a less obvious impact injury than a collision on a bike. However, these can be just as dangerous because they lead to overuse injuries. Muscle strain is typically caused by improper posture on a bike, which leads to the cyclist having to change their posture to put excessive stress on a particular muscle, joint, or piece of connective tissue, like that in the knee.
While yoga cannot help with prevention, it can help you recover if you have slightly strained muscles. It does this by manipulating the spinal reflexes, which hinder recovery after a muscle injury. Yoga isn’t just composed of strange poses – it also involves a lot of meditation and learning various breathing techniques to breathe less shallowly.
For example, yoga helps manipulate your myotatic reflex. This is a reflex that causes a muscle to tense up if it is stretched. It is your body’s natural way of protecting your muscles from being pushed too far. Using the meditation techniques you have learned in yoga allows an injured muscle to stretch lightly, reducing inflammation and residual pain.
If you have a more severe case like pulled or torn muscles, your doctor will likely put you on a physical therapy training regime to strengthen your muscles again. When you start this regime, it will be unpleasant and painful, but using the meditation techniques learned in yoga, you’ll be able to get through it more easily.
While some yoga poses involve stretching, which can decrease muscle soreness if performed directly after cycling, remember that you should not be stretching muscles with severe damage. In these cases, stretching will only put excessive strain on these muscles and damage them even more. If you’re confused about when stretching is appropriate, consult with your doctor.
Even when some muscle strain does not lead to overuse injuries, it decreases performance. Poor flexibility means that you don’t have a good range of motion in specific parts of your body, such as the hips, which won’t give you a good aerodynamic time-trial position. Without this, your power output will be reduced because you won’t be able to get maximum force from your gluteal muscles.
This means that you’ll see worse times for specific distances, or you’ll get stuck in a rut with no way to improve your time, which can be disastrous if you’re a professional.
Yoga should ideally be performed after a workout because you can stretch out all of the tightened up muscles you have just used during your cycling session. It can also be used to decrease recovery time and bring your heart rate down.
Another reason to be using yoga to cool down is that most athletes remember to warm up and get their blood moving before the main event, but they don’t perform a proper cool down. Stopping your workout abruptly can cause lactic acid to build up in your muscles, leading to cramping and stiffness, hindering your performance the next time you step on the bike. It can also cause dizziness due to a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure.
However, it would help if you also kept in mind that you will be physically drained after your workout and only handle lower intensity types of yoga, such as Yin Yoga or Hatha Yoga. If you want to perform more hardcore yoga workouts, like attending Vinyasa or Power yoga classes, you should do them before your main workout.
If you’re wondering why you can’t just cycle slowly as a warmup before you ease into the actual session – you can. But when you repetitively train specific muscles, they lose elasticity and efficiency, negatively impacting your performance. If you never really have the willpower or time to do yoga after a session, you should seriously consider doing yoga as a precursor to cycling.
When doing yoga as a warmup, you need to use more the more challenging postures. These will require more energy. As a result, you will need to have a less intense cycling session on such days to prevent complete exhaustion.
If using yoga as a warmup or cooldown is not a suitable arrangement for you, you can attend yoga classes on your recovery days. This way, you’ll have more energy to properly do the poses and focus your entire attention on doing the activity well.
Yoga is filled with so many different poses, it can be challenging to know which ones will be the most applicable for cyclers. Here’s a list of the most basic yoga poses you can use for your sessions to get you started. These poses tackle the most common problem areas in the body for cyclists where tenseness can be found – the back, neck, hip flexors, and shoulders.
- Chaturanga: This is also known as the lower push up position, or the stance you get into at the very base of a pushup. A challenge to hold over longer periods, chaturanga targets the upper back, hips, and abs. Moving from this position to a higher pushup position also imitates movement while holding onto the handlebars of a mountain bike, so this pose should feel relatively natural to you.
- Upward Facing Dog: The upward dog stretches the hip flexors and chest muscles. Similar to the cobra, it’s one of those poses that improve respiratory breathing capacity.
- Downward Facing Dog: The downward dog is great for stretching out the calves, part of the muscle group which comes under strain due to cycling but is slightly harder to target.
- Warrior Pose: A single-leg exercise, the warrior pose is part of a flow of movements known as the Sun Salutations. This pose simultaneously targets the hips and quads.
- Side Arm Plank: This plank variation targets the oblique muscles located at the sides of your stomach. These muscles are part of your core but are targeted in standard core exercises to a lower extent. They are imperative to maintaining proper form while on a bicycle.
If you’re not a professional, it’s likely that you perform other forms of exercise along with cycling in your usual routine. The stiffness incurred from cycling will hinder proper form in whichever other forms of training that you’re doing. Yoga will bring your body back to a normal range of motion so that you can improve performance in other aspects of your training.
Be warned that yoga is not easy, and if you try to go all-in with the presupposition that it is and try to incorporate both yoga and intense cycling into your routine, you will soon face sore, overworked muscles. These will reduce your performance in the fields of both yoga and cycling.
Yoga can aid in undoing the issues caused by years of hard cycling without proper rest or stretching. Nevertheless, if you are suffering from any pre-existing health conditions, consult with your local GP before attempting any poses.
While practicing yoga stances are safe for healthy individuals with sore muscles, they’re a terrible idea for those with weakened muscles or any other health issues. Thus, don’t risk your health by practicing yoga if you have health problems without clearing it with your medical practitioner.
- Cycling Weekly: Common Cycling Injuries: Treatment and Prevention
- FitDay: Using Yoga to Heal Muscle Injury
- BetterMe: Yoga vs Stretching
- Healthline: 9 Benefits of Stretching
- Heart: Warm Up, Cool Down
- Casquette: Why Should Cyclists Do Yoga?
- DoYogaWithMe: Yoga Breathing Exercises – Pranayama Videos
- GXUnited: 5 Benefits of Yoga for Cyclists
- Training Peaks: Yoga For Cyclists
- Bike Radar: 8 Stretches to Improve Flexibility and Cycling Performance
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