Many of you will already know that I'm a keen cyclist. If you haven't seen me ferrying my yoga mats around Oxford atop my trusty commuter, you might have seen me riding in my club colours on the Cowley Road; attended one of the classes I ran at this year's Women & Bikes festival; read about my broken collarbone, or heard me relate yoga and cycling at Thursday night's class, which have evolved from the cyclist-specific Winter Training sessions I started running back in 2015. (More recently, I have been working on the launch of VeloVedic training retreats for cyclists - our first event will take place over the August bank holiday - you can sign up to our mailing list here.)
Last month I teamed up with Oxfordshire Youth Cycling coach, Jake Backus, to film a short yoga sequence with the aim to encourage young cyclists to complement their training with some targeted strength and flexibility work. We were very lucky to be joined by two of Oxford's upcoming talent: Florence Wiggins, who rides for the Zappi Junior Women's Team; and Charlie Quarterman, who was recently signed by Leopard Pro Cycling. Both Charlie and Florence practise yoga regularly - you can watch the three of us talk about the benefits yoga can have both on and off the bike here.
We developed this video with youth cyclists in mind, but the sequence can be of benefit to all types of cyclist - both young and old - and if you're not a cyclist, well, yoga is for every body, not just the cycling body, so why not give it a go too!
If you want to dip in and out of the sequence, or find out more about a particular movement, I have broken the video down pose-by-pose (time signature in brackets) below. If you have any questions, you can contact me or leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
Why yoga for cyclists?
Our bodies are designed to move in many ways. When we continually repeat the same type of movement (I include doing the same kind of yoga posture - over and over - in this), our bodies can get used to doing that particular set of movements at the expense of being able to do other types of movements (use it or lose it, basically!), and this can also lead to stress and strain.
Regularly practising yoga postures, or taking part in other physical activities (such as walking, dancing, rock climbing, or whatever else it is you like to do!) alongside cycling, helps us to develop and maintain a greater range of movement and increase our overall strength and stability. Whilst it is true that learning to move in lots of different ways can help us to be more comfortable when out riding our bikes (as well as going some way towards preventing injury), more importantly, it improves our quality of life both now, and as we age.
As cyclists, we spend a lot of time arching over our handlebars and moving in a forwards direction. We tend to develop strong and powerful quads (thigh muscles) and glutes (buttock muscles) and neglect our comparatively underdeveloped upper body, lower backs, deep abdominal muscles and hip flexors. This means we are in need of backwards and side bending movements, as well as spending some time stretching our tight bits, and tightening our weak bits! This is where the 15 minute sequence comes in...
- If anything hurts (beyond what you identify as a muscular stretch), stop, adjust the pose in a way that stops it being painful, or simply miss it out for now (or, forever!).
- If you intend to practise this sequence regularly, once you are familiar with it, I encourage you to play around and adapt it to suit you - fast, slow, active, passive, soft movements, defined movements, part of the sequence, whole of the sequence - it's your body and your time, be free with it!
- All of the static postures in this this sequence can be held for anything up to 10 breaths. Be wise, stay in a pose for as long as you can maintain control (no quivering limbs) and breathe with relative ease. Practise little and often, and allow yourself to progress over time. Think marginal gains, not quick wins.
Dynamic and flowing salutations help to prep the body for more movement, or can be used as a self-contained strengthening (and stretching) whole body practice that will help improve proprioception (your sense of where your body is in space):
1. Moon salutation (Chandra Namaskar, 0:00) - a focus on backbending to reverse that cycling posture, the moon salutation targets those immediately identifiable post-ride tight bits. Stretch out the upper back, shoulders and hamstrings in downward-dog; quads and hip flexors in both a low and lateral 'runner's' lunges; mobilise the spine and engage the abdominal muscles in cat and cow.
2. Toe-tuck balance challenge (Pandangusthasana A & B, 02:34) - improves balance, strengthens the feet and ankles, stretches the calves.
3. Sun salutation variation (Surya Namaskar, 02:59) - building upon the work of the moon salutation, the sun salutation, continues the theme of backbending/chest opening and intensifies the stretch on the hamstrings and calves. If you can't go into a full runner's lunge, take the knee down as shown in the moon salutation.
Upper body and core:
4. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana variation, 04:37) - stretches the hamstrings, decompresses the spine and releases tension in the upper back by turning us upside down! If it's too much, keep the legs bent and rest your chest on your thighs as shown at the beginning of the sun salutation. You can also keep your legs straight and catch onto the back of a chair, or press your palms into a wall, aiming to keep your arms straight and back flat.
5. Triangle (Trikonasana, 05:31) - side bending to strengthen and stretch the torso, shoulders, legs and hips. If your knees start to bend, move the hand resting on your leg further up your thigh and stand more upright.
6. Dolphin plank (Ardha Pincha Mayurasasna variation, 06:50) - this not only starts to build strength in our 'core', but spreads muscular effort through the entire body. Think about pressing your forearms down into the floor, engage your thighs by 'lifting up' at the knee-caps, squeeze your buttock muscles and draw your abdomen in as you exhale (NB: this is a gentle movement, avoid 'pulling' your belly in). Don't suffer, work-up to that edge where it feels difficult, but not impossible. If in doubt, ask yourself: "Am I breathing? How am I breathing?" and act appropriately based on the answer.
7. Seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana A & B, 08:50) - targets tight hamstrings. You can sit on a cushion, or block if it's uncomfortable, or against a wall to help straighten your back and give you a bit of support. If the stretch is too intense, bend your knees and/or limit the distance you move forward. If you like the feeling, you can also use a strap (or, the belt of your dressing gown!) to wrap around the balls of your feet - focus on keeping your arms straight without 'locking out' the elbows and keep your spine long. Try to forget about your toes if you can't reach them, that's not the destination or 'point' of the posture.
8. Square pose (Agnistambhasana, 09:50) - works on tightness and tension in the glutes and piriformis; this is a top pose for cyclists and one of my absolute favourites! If you have trouble stacking the knees, sit in a normal cross-legged position, or use a block (or a big book) to stack the uppermost foot on top, which is what Charlie does in the video. We're all asymmetrical to some extent, so if you feel particularly restricted on one side, start with that side first, swap, and then end with the tighter side.
9. One-sided frog (Bhekasana variation, 12:16) - a quad and shoulder stretch in one. If you can't reach the foot, you can use a strap (but, again, use it to guide the foot and apply the necessary tension, don't use it to yank the foot down), focus on taking your heel towards the buttock muscle on whichever side you are practising.
10. Locust (Shalabhasana, 13:27) - strengthens the entire back of the body and stabilises the shoulders. Spread the load throughout your body by using your quads, glutes and hamstrings as you lift up. Focus on breathing up towards your chin, rather than pressing your belly into the floor, as doing this is very uncomfortable! Squeezing the feet and thighs together will make this harder.
Time to rest!
11. Child (Balasana, 14:33) - it's time to rest and recover! You can support your head on a cushion, or block, or bring your arms forward and rest your forehead on the back on your hands. Let your breath go back normal. Feel good? :)
More resources you can try (that have been tried and tested by me):
- Lexie Williamson, Yoga for Cyclists, Bloomsbury: London, 2014.
- Matt Rabin and Robert Hicks, The Pain-free Cyclist, Bloomsbury: London, 2015.
- Yoga for Cyclists, Yoga with Adriene on Youtube
Acknowlegdement: Last, but never least, I would like to thank the Ark T Centre for supporting us and providing the space to film this video at a reduced rate. If you have never been to the Centre, please find an excuse to visit and support the excellent work they do!