Why is yoga for cycling so important?Cyclists tend to exist in a very two-dimensional plane. You’re always pedaling forward, doing the same receptive movement thousands of times in each ride. That means cyclists tend to have tight hips, in addition to common complaints of upper and lower back pain and tightness due to staying in a cycling-specific position for hours at a time. Yoga helps alleviate some of that tightness and correct those imbalances, and also gives you some tricks to take with you on the bike on your next ride. Remember, the best yoga practice for a cyclist is the one that’s done regularly. Yoga for cyclists can be potentially tricky: Many cyclists end up with minor injuries after going to a power yoga or hot yoga class. That’s typically because they haven’t been doing any mobility work beforehand, then they head to a yoga class and their fitness from cycling (and typically, their Type A personality!) allows them to push harder than they should in certain poses, which then leads to things like herniated discs and pulled muscles. You shouldn’t be afraid of yoga, though. It’s just important to remember that yoga isn’t your primary activity: You’re using it as a modality to help your cycling, not detract from it. So when doing yoga for cycling, keep stretches gentle and never push past discomfort and into pain. That might mean your forward fold has you touching your knees and not your toes, and that’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s a great starting point! So, with that caveat in place, let’s get started:
Getting started with yoga for cyclistsWhether in class or at home, you’ll want comfortable clothes that are easy to move around in, and some kind of yoga mat (or at least a comfortable carpet). Don’t try to do yoga on hardwood or tiled floors, as that can be hard on your knees. And cyclists already are hard enough on those! We highly recommend starting small, with just a few minutes of yoga each day. These can be done in the morning or after your ride as part of your recovery process. Doing these poses a few times each week rather than just going to a single yoga class will be much more beneficial for your cycling over time.
Yoga for cyclists: 6 essential post cycling yoga posesHere, we’re looking at 6 great yoga poses that can help cyclists build core strength and alleviate back pain while also working on hip mobility and generally relaxing your body after a tough ride. We’re focusing on yoga for cycling, so notice that we’re diving into how each of these poses benefits you on the bike. But yoga for bikers is also beneficial for your everyday work life as well: Think about how you sit at a computer, hunched over. Pretty similar to your position on the bike, right?
Standard plank poseIf you’ve ever done a CrossFit or yoga class in the past, you’re probably familiar with planks. As a cyclist, a plank is a great pose to try in order to develop a strong core, which can help maintain strength and balance on the bike, and even alleviate some back pain as well as help to take pressure off of arms and wrists. Sitting on the bike, if your core is activated, that’s less pressure for your arms, wrists and hands, and can even help avoid having numb hands while riding! Planks are especially helpful as part of yoga for mountain bikers, who use their upper bodies a lot more on the bike. To do a plank, either get into a high pushup position with hands on the ground, or opt for a lower plank by getting down to your forearms, with hands out straight in front of you. Both positions provide similar benefits, but depending on your wrists, you may find that the forearm version is more comfortable. Some people also find that the forearm plank makes it easier to stay focused and maintain a good position, while a high plank allows them to shift into less-optimal positions. Think about keeping your core activated—you should feel a slight burn in your midsection!—and a straight line from the back of your heels to the crown of your head. Your gaze should be a couple feet in front of you, not down between your hands or forearms: Again, think about this as a cyclist, keeping your gaze ahead to see the road, not looking down at your handlebars. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds before dropping to your knees for a break.
Sun SalutationConsider a sun salutation a sort of burpee in slow motion, if you’re more familiar with CrossFit than yoga class. It’s a great way to work yourself up and down off the floor with a few repetitions and a great way to wake up in the morning—even better if you can literally do it to greet the sun! Here’s the ultra-simple version you can add to your yoga for cycling morning routine:
- Start standing at the bottom of your mat. Focus on good posture here: Shoulders back and dropped, core activated, arms down at your sides, gaze forward, feet just a few inches apart. This pose, while it’s essentially just standing still, should also feel very active because your muscles are so engaged.
- Sweep your arms up towards the sky and tilt your head up
- On your exhale, dive arms down towards the mat into a gentle forward fold. You don’t need to touch the ground, just let your hands hang and relax. Your head should also be relaxed.
- On your next inhale, straighten just your spine in order to create an L shape with your body
- On your next exhale, go back into your forward fold.
- Bend your knees so that your hands connect with the floor.
- Walk hands forward to come into a high plank pose
- OPTIONAL: Slowly lower down all the way to the mat, then press back up into plank
- Lift your butt up and back towards where the wall and ceiling meet behind you, into a downward dog (your body and the floor make a triangle). Don’t worry about your feet fully touching the floor, just allow them to track towards the ground, getting a great calf stretch.
- Slowly walk hands back towards feet, coming back into forward fold. Straighten your legs, and slowly come up to standing.
- Repeat as many times as you would like.
This is one of the best poses for cyclists, since you can actually do a similar version of this in order to stretch your back while coasting on your bike! Get on all fours, with knees and hands on the ground roughly hip and shoulder-width apart. With your spine neutral from the crown of your head to your tailbone, this is the table position. From here, start by letting your hips, head and chest drop down, while your back naturally arches up, like an angry Halloween cat—that’s your Cat Pose. Then, bring your hips, chest and chin back up, looking up at the wall in front of you. Your belly will naturally drop as you do this, giving your low back a great gentle stretch. This is Cow Pose. Alternate between the two, moving with your breath and at your own slow, gentle pace for a few repetitions. This is a great way to loosen up when you’re on a long ride, if you’re starting to feel a tightness in your low back. You won’t be able to get the full range of motion while on the bike, of course, but you can get that same opening sensation.
Traditional pigeon pose
Pigeon pose is a favorite for cyclists for a few reasons. It’s a great hip-opener, and it also is ideal for relaxing post ride because it’s a very ‘set it and forget it’ posture where you can—if you must—check your phone while you stretch. (No judgement!)
To get into this pose, start in a high plank, then bring your right knee up between your hands, then allow your back leg to gently come down onto the ground. This is a high pigeon pose, and if this feels comfortable and like a good hip stretch, feel free to stay here. If you’d like to get deeper, you can walk your hands forward so that you’re supported by your forearms, or even fold over completely with your arms out in front of you. Stay here for 30 to 60 seconds, then come back to the more upright pigeon, lift yourself back into a high plank, and reset with your left leg coming up between your hands to do the other side. Ideally while you’re in the pigeon pose, you should be shifting slightly from side to side or in tiny circles around your hip, working into different spots in the muscle. This makes the pose a bit more active, while helping dig into those ‘sticky’ spots.
Plank to Deep Squat
To add more activity and strength as well as mobility to your plank, you can move between a plank and a deep squat. To do this, start in a high plank, then begin to walk your hands back towards your feet, lifting your butt and bending your knees as you go. Your heels will come closer to the floor as you work your way into a more upright position. When you’re balanced and in a low, deep squat, you can elect to lift your hands off of the floor, moving them in front of your chest into a prayer position. If you struggle with balance, you can keep them on the floor. If you would like to add more side mobility to this stretch, keep your left hand on the floor and reach towards the ceiling with your right hand while shifting your gaze up to the ceiling. Repeat this with your right hand on the floor, left hand reaching up.
Sitting on the floor with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet together, sit up as straight as possible. While maintaining good spine alignment, allow your knees to drop out to the sides, towards the floor. You’ll feel this stretch in your inner thighs. Don’t worry if your knees don’t make it to the floor: Most cyclists have hips that are too tight for that to happen, and that’s not a bad thing!
A Few Tips
Yoga and cycling go well together, when done correctly. Remember these few tips:
- Treat yoga as a tool for mobility and strength rather than a workout of its own—it should help your cycling, not hinder it
- Push to discomfort, not pain in poses. Yoga for a cyclist should be gentle, not uncomfortable.
- If a pose feels wrong, back out of it gently: Don’t try to push yourself harder than you need to!
- Wear comfortable clothes and make sure your knees and hands have something soft to press on as you move through a series of poses
- For cyclists who want to stay limber, practicing for a few minutes daily is better than practicing in one longer session weekly
- Stretching before cycling can be a great way to get started and warmed up for your ride. A few sun salutations and lunges are ideal for a dynamic warm up
- Post-cycling stretching should be relaxing. After your ride, finish on the mat doing some more chill stretches like cat-cow and butterfly to open things back up before going back to work.
- Make yoga part of your routine! Some people prefer to do it right when they wake up as a great way to start the day, while others prefer to use it to recover after every ride. Find what works for you.
- Remember that what’s ‘good’ for yoga may not be ‘good’ for cycling: If your hips are tight, that may actually be helping you put out power on the bike, and while having good mobility in your hips from doing yoga is a positive thing, too much yoga and hip flexibility can actually impact your bike performance. So don’t stress if you’re not ‘perfect’ at any yoga pose: You’re not supposed to be.
- Don’t be afraid to check out a yoga class in addition to practicing at home—you might love it! (Just promise that you won’t try to ‘win’ at yoga!)
About the author: Molly Hurford is a registered yoga teacher and an avid cyclist. You can find more from her at ConsummateAthlete.com