Cycling is a great sport that offers many benefits — from cross-training to calorie-burning to getting you places — but holding that position for long stretches can strain the neck, shorten the spine and tighten the back and hips. On top of that, the upper body tends to be underdeveloped in cyclists, which causes the stronger parts of the body to pick up the slack. This often leads to muscular imbalances and overuse injuries.
Yoga helps elongate the spine and strengthen the underused areas as well as stabilize muscles in the hips, groin and ankles. It also loosens tight hips and hamstrings, giving you a more powerful pedal stroke. A longer practice on your off days, plus doing these five poses after a ride, will make your time in the saddle stronger and easier. Hold each of these poses for 5–10 breaths to elongate and loosen the muscles you just worked.
1. CAT AND COW
Cat and cow pose go together like peanut butter and jelly. Cat stretches the back and strengthens the abdominals, while cow opens the chest and strengthens the back. Together, they bring mobility and flexibility to the spine and relieve back and neck tension.
The move: Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees so that your palms press into the ground and your knees rest under your hips. Make sure your wrists, elbows and shoulders form one straight line and your knees and hips form another.
As you exhale, press into the ground with your hands and round your back like an angry cat. Gently bring your chin toward your chest to activate your abdominals, pulling your navel toward your spine.
On your inhale, come into cow by arching your back in the opposite direction. Broaden your chest and lift your tailbone to the sky so your belly sinks toward the floor.
Hold each pose for several breaths or find a gentle flow between the two so that with each exhale you round into cat and with each inhale you open into cow.
2. DOWN DOG
This lengthens the back muscles and hamstrings. Widen your stance and keep a soft bend in your knees to make the pose more accessible.
The move: Begin on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Slide your palms forward so they rest in front of your shoulders, and tuck your toes under. As you exhale, press your palms into the ground and lift your knees off the ground, straightening your arms and legs. Your body will form a wide, upside-down V shape.
Push your thighs back, pressing your heels toward the floor, but don’t worry if they don’t touch. Broaden your shoulders by rotating your arms slightly so your elbow creases face the sky. Relax your neck, and take 5–10 breaths here.
This total-body strengthener is great for the upper body, back and core, which are often underdeveloped in bikers.
The move: Begin on your hands knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders. Engage your abdominals, tuck your toes and step your feet back. Keep contracting the abdominals so you create one long line from your head to your heels and avoid sticking your butt in the air or dropping your belly down. Look slightly ahead of your fingers to keep your neck long. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
4. STANDING STRADDLE WITH SHOULDER OPENER
This stretches the hamstrings, releases the low back and opens the chest and shoulders. Use a strap or towel to make the shoulder opener more accessible.
The move: Face the long edge of your mat with your feet 3–4 feet apart. Turn your toes in slightly and engage the thighs. Bring your hands to your hips and, as you exhale, lean your torso forward until it is parallel to the floor. Lengthen through the entire torso and on your next exhale fold completely. Focus on hinging from the hips so you stretch the hamstrings without compromising the back. Take the arms behind your back, interlace the fingers and let your arms fall toward the floor. Let your head be relaxed and heavy. Relax your eyes and hold here for 5–10 breaths.
READ MORE > 5-POSE YOGA FIX FOR DESK DWELLERS
5. HALF LORD OF THE FISHES
This deep twist is a great release for the spine, opens the shoulders and stretches the hips.
The move: Sit on the floor or the edge of a blanket with your legs extended. Cross your right leg over your left so your right knee points to the ceiling and your right foot sits outside your left knee. You can keep your left leg straight with your foot flexed or bend your left leg so that your left foot rests near your right hip. Try to keep both sits bones on the ground.
Inhale, elongate your spine and stretch your left arm overhead. Exhale and twist to the left, releasing your left hand to the floor behind you. Inhale and stretch your right arm overhead. Exhale and twist, bringing your right elbow to rest against the outside of your right knee. Continue to find length through the torso with each inhale, being conscious not to collapse through the chest. Hold for 5–10 breaths and repeat on the other side.