SIMPLE POSES TO HELP STRETCH OUT YOUR MUSCLES AND FOCUS YOUR BREATH FOR A BETTER RIDE.
Since being in a bent-over position is the norm for cyclists, our hips and lower back become tight. Yoga can help loosen these muscles, as well as strengthen them. Below are poses that you should incorporate into your regular routine and how to do them.
Calf stretch into a wall
Bring one leg behind you (around half a metre) then place the foot ﬂat on the ﬂoor (making sure your toes are still pointed straight forward).
Slowly lean forward over your front leg, but keep your back knee straight and your heel ﬂat on the ﬂoor. You should feel this stretch in the big muscle of your calf (gastrocnemius).
If you then bend your back knee slightly (keeping the foot ﬂat on the ﬂoor) the stretch should be felt lower down your calf (soleus). Hold for at least 15 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
How to do it: Start on all fours, with your knees directly below your hips. Keep your wrists, elbows, and shoulders in line and perpendicular to the floor. Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling. Allow your head to drop toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest (left). As you inhale, arch your lower back and allow your belly to sink toward the floor. Lift your head to look straight forward (right). Repeat several times with your breath.
Downward facing dog(Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Begin on all fours with your hands slightly in front of the shoulders on the ﬂoor and toes tucked forwards.
On an exhalation, keeping your toes tucked under, lift your knees from the ﬂoor, straightening your legs and raising your bottom while moving onto the soles of your feet and working to press your heels into the ﬂoor.
Push through the shoulders so the bottom is pushed back and the stretch can be felt through the back and hamstrings.
Repeat a few times. Take at least ﬁve breaths.
Expanded leg pose (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Variation A: Place your hands on a pile of books placed below shoulder level. Work towards eventually placing your hands in between the feet.
Variation B: Interlace your ﬁngers behind your back and fold your torso over, allowing the arms to come overhead. A belt held between your hands can be used if your shoulders and arms are initially too tight to yield.
You may not think that you are in need of a squat, but sitting in this oh-so-natural-to-our-physiology position will help to gently coax the entire pelvis back into its natural position, help to open the lower back, and will give your ankles and Achilles tendon a good stretch.
Squatting will help to keep your back and hips healthy so you can continue to ride to your hearts content. See if you can build up to a 60 second hold, starting with just 10 seconds if this pose is new to you.
Seated glute stretch and hip opener
Take at least ﬁve breaths. As you relax into the stretch you may eventually be able to place both forearms on the legs. The right forearm rests on the inside of the left foot while the left forearm is placed at the front of the right knee (over the left foot).
Take your right knee off the ﬂoor and place it against the wall with your toes pointing upwards on the wall and your shin against the wall.
Slide your knee down towards the ﬂoor, making sure that the shin and knee are in contact with the wall at all times.
Re-arrange the left leg so that the sole of the foot is now on the ﬂoor. The left shin and thigh should be making a 90-degree angle.
Take at least ﬁve breaths. This is an intense stretch. Gradually take your hands off the ﬂoor and on an inhale, place your hands lightly on your left knee.
This is one of many preparatory stretches for back-bends. This stretch focuses on the quadriceps and hip ﬂexors and eventually the spine, as well as opening the chest and shoulder muscles.
Low Lunge Twist
Hip flexors and quads are notoriously tight for cyclists because of the seated posture and repetitive cycling motion. The hip flexors become tightened as the knee pulls up, and the quads become tightened during knee extension as the foot presses down. One large thigh muscle, the rectus femoris, is both a hip flexor muscle and a knee extensor, so it works double duty when you cycle! It is vital that you stretch out this area so your pedal stroke isn’t made less efficient by a lack of mobility. This twisting pose will open your hip flexors and quads as well as (bonus!) your chest, shoulders, and spine.
Low lunge will help to gently open the entire front of your leg and hip, and will even invite space into your pelvis and lower abdomen.
Start in a low lunge, right foot between the hands. Make sure your right knee is directly above your right ankle. Drop your left knee to the floor. If it is uncomfortable to have your knee on the floor, use a blanket or fold up your mat for extra cushioning. Bring both hands inside your right leg (on a block if the floor is too far away).
Keeping your left hand planted on the floor or block, inhale as you stretch your right arm forward in front of you, and exhale to reach your right arm up and back, toward the wall behind you.
Your chest should be facing your right leg. Try to keep your right shoulder from rounding forward toward your right thigh.
When you’re ready, bend your left knee and try to catch the outside of your left foot with your right hand (but don’t force it). If you can’t reach, loop a strap around your foot or try bringing your hips farther back to eventually catch your foot with your hand.
Once you’ve got a grip with hand or strap, on an exhalation, gently sink into your hips.
Make sure to lift your right shoulder up and keep your chest open as you twist your torso to the right.
You may use a little bit of right arm strength, by bending the right elbow while maintaining the grip, to pull your left heel toward your left glute (but don’t force it).
Keep your left hand planted on the floor, and press the floor away from you with your left hand to keep your left arm strong.
Try not to let your right knee fall out to the side; although you might feel more of a stretch in your right glute that way, it will reduce the stretch in your left quad and hip flexor, so keep your right knee in.
Hold this position, and take five to seven breaths as you soften your chest, hips, and thighs. Repeat on the other side.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
How to do it: Start on all fours. Slide your right knee forward toward your right hand, then angle it at two o’clock. Keep foot flexed to protect your knee. Next, slide your left leg back as far as your hips will allow. Keep your hips square to the floor (don’t let them twist). If you’re not feeling a deep stretch in your right glute, slide the right foot forward little by little toward your left hand. Walk your hands forward over your right leg. If you are not comfortable extending that far down, hold the pose with your arms or forearms on your mat or the floor in front of you, and let your hips sink forward and down. If right hip is elevated, you can place a block there for support. To get full release in the hips, breathe and release the belly. Stay in this position anywhere from 10 breaths to five minutes. Repeat on opposite side.
As a cyclist, you spend a lot of time flexed forward over the handlebars. This position shortens your abdominal muscles and lengthens and weakens the muscles that run along the back of your spine (erector spinae). A cobra or sphinx pose will lengthen the abdominal muscles and strengthen the erector spinae and other muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades, including the rhomboids and lower trapezius muscles. This will make your cycling posture more solid and decrease your chances for low back pain.
Lie facedown on your mat and bring your hands below your shoulders.
Press the tops of your feet down into the mat and keeping your elbows bent, press into your hands to lift your chest away from the floor.
The more you can use your back muscles to lift your chest, the better, so try to keep as little weight on the hands as possible (you might even try lifting them away from the floor).
Keep your elbows drawn in toward your sides so your shoulders don’t round forward.
Allow your shoulder blades to draw slightly away from your ears and keep your neck long. Broaden across your collarbones.
If this is too much, come down to your forearms so that your elbows are below your shoulders for sphinx pose. Make sure your elbows and palms remain shoulder-distance apart.
Keep your shoulders relaxed back and down and your neck long as you lift your chest up and forward.
Press your elbows down into the mat and drag them back toward your hips like they’re going to slide on the mat (don’t actually move them).
In either pose, hold for five to seven steady, relaxed breaths, feeling your chest and belly soften and open.
Upward facing dog pose is going to help open your chest, shoulders and neck, as well as your abdomen, hips and fronts of the legs.
This pose is essentially going to be reversing the position you are in while on the bike, helping to bring much needed balance to your body. Hang out in this pose for 20-30 seconds, rather than just flowing through it in a vinyasa for best results.
How to do it: Kneel upright with your knees hip-distance apart. Press your shins and the top of your feet into the floor. Rest your hands on your lower back with your fingers pointing to the floor. Gently lean back. Beginners can hold this position. If you are comfortable here, reach down and hold on to each heel. Keep your head in a neutral position, or allow it to drop back. Press hips forward as if you’re pushing them against a wall in front of you. Hold for about 30 to 60 seconds. To release, bring your hands to the front of your hips. Inhale, lead with your heart, and lift your torso by pushing your hips down toward the floor. Your head should come up last.
Camel pose (Ustrasana)
Inhale and gradually move your back into an arc on the exhale until the back of your head makes contact with the wall. Bring your hands towards your heels. If you can’t reach them, you can place a pile of thick books on either side of your shins and reach those. Take at least ﬁve breaths.
Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
Gomukhasana is a great posture because it targets shoulders and glutes, areas all cyclists should address. Your shoulders can get tight (especially the anterior deltoids) from supporting some of your body weight on the handlebars and rounding forward, and the glutes get tight from being in a seated posture for a prolonged period of time in a repetitive range of motion. You may find in this posture that you also get a little stretch to the IT band (on the outside of the thigh) as well. This pose is also good for cyclists because it provides a different range of motion for the hips to explore, rotation instead of flexion or extension.
Begin on your hands and knees and then pull your right leg forward to cross your right knee directly in front of your left knee (as though you were seated on a crowded train and were crossing your legs in order to make room for the person next to you).
Now move your left foot right until your heels are positioned wider than hip-distance apart.
Next, walk your hands back and lower your hips down toward the floor. Your left hip will touch down first, followed by your right.
Move slowly, and if you have trouble getting both hips down, try straightening out your left (bottom) leg in front of you (keeping your right leg crossed over the left) or elevating your hips on a folded blanket.
Make sure you’re not sitting on your left heel and that both your sit bones (ischial tuberosities) are grounded down into the mat or blanket. Try to stack your right knee on top of your left one, but don’t force it; it’s okay if they’re not perfectly stacked. Sit up tall and lift your rib cage away from your pelvis, lengthening your spine. To ensure that your lower back doesn’t round, roll your pelvis forward and your sit bones back behind you. In doing so, make sure to be mindful of your core muscles; keep your belly gently drawn in and up; avoid overarching through your low back and jutting your rib cage forward. Lift your chest, and lengthen through the crown of your head.
To add the upper body component, reach your right arm straight up and your left arm straight down. Bend both elbows so your right palm and the back of your left hand both rest against your back. Try to reach your fingertips together (without forcing them). If they don’t meet, hold on to either end of a strap or towel with each hand or simply rest your hands on your back. Continue actively reaching your fingers toward each other, and stay mindful of your posture. Make sure your chest remains lifted; keep your chin parallel with the floor, neither lifted nor lowered; and lengthen through the back of your neck.
Most people think this stretch is for the lifted arm, when in actuality we can get more benefit in the shoulder by focusing on the lower arm; specifically, we can strengthen the rotator cuff muscles (particularly the subscapularis) as well as the rhomboids and stretch the notoriously tight pectoralis muscles and anterior deltoids. To focus on the lower arm, make sure your shoulders are parallel with the floor; the tendency will be for your right shoulder to hike up. By making sure your shoulders are level, you ensure that you’re stretching through the shoulder girdle instead of laterally flexing (side bending) through your spine to accomplish the binding of your hands. Next, try to roll your left (bottom) shoulder back while gently guiding your shoulder blades toward each other. This will deepen the stretch in your left anterior deltoid (the front of your left shoulder), a place that is notoriously tight for most of us who live in this technological world. You may have to bring your hands farther apart to achieve this, but doing so will be more beneficial in the long run. Hold this posture for five to seven steady breaths. Repeat on the other side.
How to do it: Kneel with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and the top of your feet facing down. Bring your knees together and slide your feet apart so they are on each side of your hips. Press the top of your feet evenly into your mat or the floor. Slowly sit down between your feet. Use your hands to turn the top of your thighs inward (left). Lean back onto your forearms and slowly lower your torso to the floor (right). Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Position your feet about six inches away from your hips. Make sure that your feet are pointing straight ahead. On an inhale, press your feet into the floor and lift your pelvis as high as you comfortably can. Move your arms underneath your body and clasp your hands together between your feet. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, breathing evenly. Slowly lower to start position, one vertebra at a time. Repeat 2 to 4 times.
Many cyclists become quad/hip flexor-dominant cyclists, meaning they underutilize their glutes and hamstrings and overuse their quads and hip flexors. This bridge variation will strengthen your glutes and hamstrings so they can help the quads and hip flexors (glutes will help quads, and hamstrings will help hip flexors). Once you’ve opened up your hips with the previous poses, you can strengthen the glute muscles and hamstrings, which will make your pedaling more powerful. In this bridge variation, the focus will be on glute activation and strengthening instead of on backbending.
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat, and heels close to your seat. With your arms down by your sides and your palms face down, press down into your feet and arms to lift your hips.
Unlike in the traditional bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana), we do not want to backbend for this exercise. Instead, use your glute muscles to lift your hips into a position that puts your knees, hips, and shoulders in a straight diagonal line.
Work your glutes even more by lifting your toes and pressing down into your heels.
If this is too easy, try lifting one leg, but make sure the hips stay level.
Hold for five to seven breaths, or do ten to twenty repetitions of lifting and lowering your hips.
You can turn this into a gentle restorative pose to finish your practice by placing the block under your sacrum and securing a strap around your thighs to make sure your knees don’t fall open wider than your hips. Relax here and breathe.
Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana)
Many cyclists get tight inner thigh muscles (adductors) that can lead to an imbalance in the knee joint, which could in turn cause knee pain or discomfort. This tightness can also cause the outer gluteal muscles (the opposing muscle group) to not engage correctly when they’re needed. Balance in these muscle groups is important in order to keep your hips stable in the saddle.
Start seated on your mat. Bring the soles of your feet together and bring your heels as close to your pelvis as you comfortably can. Sit up tall.
If you’re having a hard time lengthening your spine, try sitting on a folded blanket or a block to elevate your hips. Relax your knees down toward the floor, but don’t force them down.
Grasp the feet with the thumbs on the soles of your feet and fingers around the tops of your feet (if this grip isn’t available to you, grasp the ankles or shins).
Open the soles of your feet up toward the ceiling like you’re opening a book. Keep the pinky-toe sides of the feet together and draw your knees farther down toward the floor.
At the same time, lengthen up through the crown of your head to make your spine as long as possible.
If you need more stretch, inhale as you lengthen up, and then as you exhale, fold forward. Try to keep your spine as long as possible.
If you have the leverage, you can use your elbows to gently guide your knees closer to the floor. Hold for five to seven steady breaths, or longer if desired.
RECLINING BOUND ANGLE
Supta Baddha Konasana
How to do it: Lie on your mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall out to each side. Place one hand on or near your heart and one hand on your belly. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Sit on the ﬂoor directly in front of the end of a bolster (or a few folded blankets), and bring the soles of the feet together so that your legs form a diamond shape. Reclining on your elbows, lie back onto the bolster and stay like that for 5–10 minutes. This stretch releases tension in the diaphragm, chest and shoulders, and the groin and hips.
The supported bound angle pose can be held for as long as you like
Revolved belly pose (Athara Parivartanasana)
This is a good stretch for those with particularly stiff backs. It releases tension in the spinal column, hips and shoulders and relieves discomfort in the lumbar spine. Lying on your back with your knees bent, bring them into your chest. Inhale and, with the next exhalation, roll your knees to the right side and rest them on a pillow.
Stretch both arms outwards along the ﬂoor to open the space between the shoulder blades then, as the lower back gradually releases, straighten the legs out slowly, aiming to eventually have your toes touch the hand nearest them.