Nick Livermore looks at how and why cyclists can benefit from twisting and bending their bodies in ways they never knew they could.
I can’t touch my toes. There, I said it. Hundreds of hours spent cycling since I became addicted to the sport last year have left me about as flexible as the UCI set in a bath of solid cement. This isn’t a problem in everyday life, but being so inflexible can lead to persistent injuries and muscle strain. It’s not hard to see why I’m considering awkwardly shuffling into my first yoga class. I’m going to try not to let the fact I’ll look absurd influence my decision.
Don’t worry; as a complete and utter novice I’ll not even attempt to give you bad advice about which yoga poses are best for cyclists. Besides, there are already plenty of articles about that hanging around. Instead, you’ll find below a few reasons why yoga is a good idea for cyclists and why so many of the cyclists I’ve been talking to are considering taking it up:
Stop Going in Circles – If there’s one thing cyclists do a lot of – or rather, their feet – it’s going in circles. Doing this for hours on end up hills, down the other side and across the flat means that cycling is a very specific form of exercise. Ok, sometimes you might work your arms getting out of the saddle, but in general cyclists will have over-developed and over-worked legs.
The problem with this is that as a cyclist you’re likely to develop muscle and joint tension, leading to stiffness, which can slow you down and damage your technique. Yoga not only promotes the use of a greater number of your muscles, it moves them through their full range of motion, encouraging mobility and easing unwanted muscular and skeletal stress.
The benefits? Improving the flexibility of your overworked muscles and joints can make for a more fluid pedal stroke – something even Wiggo might be proud of – and more effective positioning on your bike; remember, aero, aero, AERO.
Start Getting Stronger – You may think that as a dedicated cycling you’re incredibly strong and that cycling more is just going to make you stronger. While this may well be the case, the focused nature of cycling means that you’re not going to be improving the strength of your entire body; only your legs and other muscles associated with being in the saddle.
However, speed and endurance don’t come only from your quads and hamstrings. Think about your back, core and upper body; these neglected areas are worthy of your consideration. Back pain especially can be a great problem for keen bike users.
Yoga is, in many ways, a gentle full-body workout and helps to strengthen areas that are weakest. Developing under-appreciated muscles can lead to greatly improved strength, endurance, bike control and reduce your chances of developing a season-destroying injury.
Concentrate on Performing – Yoga isn’t just about improving physical ability and performance, it’s also the practice of enhancing mental health and promoting the effects of relaxation and concentration. While this concentration doesn’t directly affect your overall physical performance, it can help you improve your technique and breathing. Learn to concentrate for extended periods of time and you could well find yourself going from strength to strength.
Clearly, yoga is a practice relevant to all cyclists and one we should all at least consider. Of course, there are a lot of different types of yoga and deciding which type or class is right for you could be a process of trial and error. Not everyone is the same; some, for instance, are naturally more flexible than others. I’ll certainly be reporting back about my experiences with yoga and tips about how to minimise how ridiculous you look.