UNLIKE THE WHOLE-BODY experiences of climbing or surfing, cycling emphasizes isolated groups of muscles. Because of this and the emphasis of the sport on forward motion, cyclists tend to have more issues with tightness in the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteal muscles, as well as possible knee, lower back, and hip problems due to that imbalance.
Below are some yoga poses that can help equalize the overdevelopment of certain parts of the body associated with cycling by getting their creaks out and strengthening other lesser-used parts. It is good to have a blanket or padded bolster for a few of these poses.
(Note: The images do not necessarily correlate with the yoga poses listed. Click on the hyperlinks for Yoga Journal’s expert photos.)
1. Pascimottanasana / Seated Forward Bend
Benefits: Releases the lower back by stretching the hamstrings; this is the most basic and one of the more intense forward bends in yoga.
How: Touching your toes with straight legs is not the goal. First, sit on the floor, using a blanket under the sit bones to support the lower back. Bend your knees as much as you need to have your chest lay flat on your thighs, releasing your face down as well.
Place your hands comfortably on the outsides of your feet, and being to straighten the legs by walking your feet out, inch by inch. When you begin to feel your chest leave your thighs (or just before you feel your shoulders crunching towards your ears), breathe into the pose. This way, you are lengthening into the pose and not pulling on the hamstrings. Hold for 30 seconds; repeat 1-2 more times if desired.
2. Virasana / Hero Pose
Benefits: Stretches out the quadriceps and ankles and re-aligns the knees; if the knees hurt in this pose, sit on as many blankets or books as necessary to get rid of the pain.
How: Kneel on the floor and place a bolster or blanket underneath the hips (between the ankles). Sit down on the blanket or bolster, which you should now be hugging between your inner thighs, and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Pull your chest up and straighten your spine, while working your knees closer together.
For a more intense quad stretch, begin to walk your hands behind you and maybe lean down into your forearms, while working your knees together and into the floor. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
3. Ustrasana / Camel Pose
Benefits: Stretches out the quadriceps and tight ankles, and strengthens the back muscles. Also, this counteracts the crouching action that occurs during training and racing.
How: From Virasana, come up to a kneeling position and tuck in your toes, so your feet are flexed and your ankles are off the floor. Remove the blankets, and place your hands on your lower back. Use your thumbs to support your lower back as you lift your chest and move it forward, allowing your back to bend, starting in the upper spine. Allow your neck to release back, and keep this supported backbend.
If you need a more intense stretch, reach towards your ankles, keeping your chest open and shoulder blades back. Bend back more deeply into the upper spine, and hold this for 30-60 seconds.
4. Ardha Matsyendrasana / Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Benefits: Releases the whole back and realigns the spine. This is a great pose after Ustrasana, but this also helps counteract the crouching inherent in cycle racing.
How: Sitting again on the floor, using a blanket it you need it, bend your right knee into your chest, and bend your left knee and slide the foot under your right knee so it sits next to the right hip. Lengthen your spine and open your chest, and twist your body over to the right.
You can support your spine by placing your right hand next to your right hip and hugging your right knee into your chest with your left hand. With every inhale, lengthen, and with every exhale, twist further to the right. Untwist and switch sides after holding on the right side for 60-80 seconds.
5. Ananda Balasana / Happy Baby Pose
Benefits: This is a restorative pose that helps stretch the hamstrings and release the hip flexors without too much stress. It also helps release the lower back in a less intense way than a seated forward bend. This type of work counteracts the forward motion of cycling, which can lead to knee tightness and strain, by giving the hips a larger range of motion.
How: Lying on your back, bend both knees into your chest. Hold the outside of each foot with its respective hand and begin to spread your knees farther apart. Line your ankles up with your knees in the air, and with every exhale, drop each knee into each armpit a little further while also trying to ground your tailbone and keep the back of your head on the floor.
You can also rock back and forth a little, like a happy baby. Hold for 60-90 seconds and repeat if desired.
6. Viparita Kirani / Legs Up the Wall Pose
Benefits: This is also a restorative pose, and it helps draw any swelling or tension away from the feet and ankles without the stress of doing a full inversion.
How: Place a rolled up blanket or bolster about 6 inches away from and parallel to a wall. Sit up so that your right hip is against the wall, and in one motion swing both legs up the wall, letting your hips sit as close the wall as is comfortable with the bolster supporting the lower-middle back.
Let your arms fall out to the sides and press your shoulder blades and the back of your skull into the floor to help give your spine some length. This should feel great and stress-free. Breathe and stay in the pose from 5-15 minutes.
Check out a photo essay on some of the freakiest bikes you can find at Matador Life.
Feature Image by jtlondon