If cycling is your primary sport or hobby, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about how to build power, speed, and endurance. When you think about yoga, on the other hand, you might consider it an equivalent to stretching or something you do to prevent soreness after a ride. And although you would be right to assume yoga has plenty to offer when it comes to avoiding aching muscles, there’s actually a lot more to it than that.
Based on the fluid connection of movement and breath, yoga gives you the tools you need to take control of your breathing, get your heart rate under control, and ultimately access more power on the bike. It also helps keep your muscles supple, and therefore less prone to injury. Encouraging space and alignment in the joints and increased mindfulness are two other beneficial aspects of yoga.
To get a little more insight into what yoga can do for cyclists, We Love Cycling partnered with Tereza Velhartická, a yoga teacher based in Prague. In addition to providing a cycling-focused, easy-to-follow video that you can try at home, she talked to us about the importance of a mind-body connection, how yoga can help you recover more quickly from a ride, and why it’s important for us linear-minded cycling folks to get a spinal twist in from time to time.
What’s your athletic background and how did you become a yoga teacher?
I’ve always been very active. I grew up skiing, running, cycling, and was very involved in acrobatics. My journey with yoga began 6 years ago with hot yoga. I loved the intensity of the practice and was soon going 4 or more times a week. After a while, though, I started to feel like something was missing from the sequence and began experimenting with other types of yoga. I fell in love with vinyasa and the next thing you know, I was training to be a teacher.
How does yoga complement more cardio-based activities like cycling?
I understand that it can be hard for those who love the rush of a high heart rate to get excited about something that seems slower like yoga, but it really presents so much potential to improve your performance in all physical pursuits. I initially approached yoga like I’ve approached all other sports, wanting to build strength and endurance. But I soon realized that it has so much more to offer. We rarely take the time to fully tune in and appreciate what our body is doing, how it feels in different positions, and how that affects us mentally and emotionally – yoga provides that opportunity.
Why is yoga such a great complementary activity for cyclists in particular?
Yoga can help cyclists in three main ways: it improves flexibility, builds strength, and develops breathing techniques.
If you regularly put in long sessions on the bike, it is critical to stretch and work on flexibility. After spending so much time hunched in the same position, the shoulders, neck, chest, and hip flexors all require some attention. Those are all parts of the body that yoga targets. Once you incorporate stretching and improve your flexibility, you’ll also quickly notice that you recover faster after training on the bike.
In order to safely enjoy cycling, you want to ensure that your muscles and joints are strong and stable. For cyclists, it is especially important to work on strengthening the core. Our abdominal muscles are connected to and work with the lower back, so improving core strength will help alleviate back pain. Core exercises also strengthen the muscles along the spine, improving overall posture and naturally allowing the spine to be more flexible.
If you want to be able to stay relaxed and focused while you ride, it is important to have some control over your breathing. A steady, smooth breath allows you to calm your mind and connect with how your breathing affects your body and the power you’re able to exert. Yoga puts this focus front and centre, allowing you to cultivate better breathing habits that will then come automatically when you ride.
Which yoga poses are most important for these three components? Flexibility, strength, and breathing?
Improved flexibility in the legs, spine, and hips
Downward dog, forward folding, and low lunge
Downward dog, considered an ‘active resting’ pose, is great for both stretching and strengthening your muscles. It releases tight areas like the calves, hamstrings, and shoulders, and allows you to stretch out your back while strengthening the arms and legs. The inversion is also great for blood circulation, as your head is lower than your heart. It is my favourite pose, and I find that even when I’m feeling weak or lazy, down dog helps me energize and feel good.
Hip openers, like low lunge and tree pose, are wonderful for cyclists. In addition to opening up and releasing the hips, these postures also require some focus and balance, which promotes the connection between breath and concentration.
Any forward bends are also a great way to stretch out the hamstrings, while providing a release to your lower back and spine. It is important to remember to relax the muscles in the neck here too, and just let gravity do the work.
Build strength in the core and along the muscles of the spine
Plank, side plank, and boat pose
The importance of a strong core is easy to overlook in cycling, but this is essentially what will allow you to keep your lower back strong and healthy while you ride. Three great exercises for building core strength, that can be practiced in or out of sequence, are plank pose, side plank and boat pose. Plank pose tones all of the core muscles of the body, including the abdomen, chest, and low back. It also strengthens the arms, wrists, and shoulders, and is often used to prepare the body for more challenging arm balances. Boat pose, meanwhile, also targets the abdomen but additionally strengthens the vertebral column and hip flexors.
Open up the chest to improve breath and airflow
Bridge pose and cobra
We already spend most of the day with our shoulders hunched forward and our chest closed. Heart opening postures like bridge pose and cobra allow you to stretch out your shoulders, open your chest, and remind yourself to breathe deeply. Again, bridge also provides a stretch to those hip flexors, so it is a great posture to do after cycling.
Cycling is a very linear motion whereas yoga involves a lot of twisting. Why is twisting important for overall health and fitness?
Twisting is important for everyone as it promotes a healthy spine, acts as a natural detox to the body, and improves internal organs and digestion. For cyclists in particular, twists are also the ideal exercise to relax the back and alleviate pain throughout the entire spinal column. A simple, reclined supine twist is one of the best solutions out there for many types of back ache.
Finally, do you have any advice for cyclists who are nervous to try yoga for the first time?
Keep in mind that there are so many different styles that all fall under the umbrella of yoga. Regardless of your level or what your goals are, you can find a method of practice suited just to you. You don’t need to be flexible to get started and yoga is not a competition to see who can touch their toes. You may look different in the poses than someone with more experience, but as long as you take it slow and try appropriate postures for your level, you’ll still receive all the benefits. Yoga should never hurt; it is all about finding ways to develop a better understanding of your body and how to make it feel good.