Benefits of Yoga for cyclists:
Core strength Good core strength is vital for Cycling power, posture and injury prevention, paricularly in your lower back region. Many cyclists have highly developed back muscles and comparatively weaker abdominals.
Flat back posture
Cadel Evans is well known for practising yoga to improve his form on the bike, especially to gain a flatter back. Cyclists lose the natural lordotic curve in the lower back (lumbar spine) as they reach over the handle bars. A very rounded back can create drag, but also cause pain in lower back, upper back, shoulders and neck. Cyclists with a flat back are likely to have more supple back muscles, but also sufficient flexibility in their lower back, hips, and hamstrings to perform an anterior pelvic tilt (i.e. sticking the bum out, or “cow” posture). Yoga postures can release and/or strengthen these areas to improve comfort levels. Tension and even slipped discs can occur from pressure on supporting ligaments of spine, the back is not designed to be held in flexion for prolonged periods. Neck pain can also occur - the head weighs 4.5-5kg – this is a lot of weight to support when not stacked directly over the cervical vertebrae.
We only use 20% of our lungs when breathing normally. When did you last think about your breath? Usually breathing is done automatically, using the subconscious, however yogic breathing exercises make us use our conscious mind. Linking the breath to the mind means we can learn to use the breath to control our how we feel – we can learn to breath slowly to relax ourselves in stressful situations, or to bring mental focus when we don’t want our mind to wander. The practice of breathing is called “Pranayama”. Prana means life force, and yama means control.
Long exhalations engage the parasympathetic nervous system, encouraging relaxation and allowing the body to stretch. Using the whole area of the lungs to breathe will help to exercise and stretch the muscles involved.
For cyclists, longer exhalations will allow for greater oxygen – CO2 excchange, as well as a calmer mind. Cyclists can be tight through the back as well as having a rounded spine and shoulders (compressing the internal abdominal organs against the diaphragm) and engaging the abdomen whilst in the riding position, not allowing for the maximum breath capacity. Most of the breathing action will come from the diaphragm, however the intercostal muscles between the ribs and muscles around the neck and shoulders also assist in the breathing. The smaller accessory muscles tire more easily, so learning to breathe deeply through the upper chest and through the back can be helpful in the cycling stance.
Strength without bulk
Yoga both strengthens and lengthens muscles, the benefit is long, lean muscles without gaining bulk. The stronger forms of yoga can be used instead of or in conjunction with a weights program to complement your cycling. It helps to correct muscle imbalances by often strengthening several multiple muscle groups at the same time – functional strength and balance. It helps increase bone density for cyclists, which is a non impact sport – in yoga you are supporting your whole body weight (sometimes with only one body part touching the ground!). Holding challenging poses teaches mental strength – you learn ways to use your breath and form to stay calm and centered when you encounter challenging experiences in real life.
Balance is not just awareness of your body in space. In yoga you move your body through every available direction, not just linear as in cycling. You will move your body in all directions, even upside down. Your perspectives will change and you’ll get a fuller sense of your body and what it can do.
Yoga will balance the work of your training. Sports are goal oriented. Yoga instead emphasizes the journey, not the destination – being in the present moment. Take some time out to appreciate the moment and be in touch with your body.
Flexibility Tight muscles are prone to injury in the form of muscle strains and tears, especially from repetitive use injuries. If you have a freer range of motion, the body will be able to use the most efficient path to move. You also become aware of imbalances in your body and you can work to become more balanced – and hopefully prevent injuries before they happen. Stretching elongates your muscle fibers (which shorten in response to accumulation of lactic acid). A longer set of muscles can contract more and generate force. It can help the body process lactate after exercise and can improve muscle oxygenation. Yoga also cultivates flexibility of the mind. The poses, breath exercises and meditation practices all encourage focus on the present moment, commonly known as “mindfulness”. By letting go of memories of the past and projections into the future, we can find happiness in the here and now. You learn to relax and allow the body to recover from the stresses of training. During training, you become more aware of tightness developing – for example, tightening up the shoulders, or slumping. A relaxed mind and body will help you to sleep better than you ever have before.