5th June, 2017
Flexibility and mobility is the range of movement around a joint (like the hip or knee) or a collection of joints (such as the spine). As cyclists we often overlook it, as on the surface it doesn’t appear to be that relevant to us (unlike a gymnast for instance) and increasing your flexibility doesn’t lead directly to riding the bike faster or does it..........?
Much as I love cycling, humankind was not designed to ride a bike; our position on a bike is an unnatural slouched posture. Cycling is a highly repetitive movement with a limited range of movement; our legs are never fully extended or fully flexed, leading to tightness and at worst injury. The muscles only contract concentrically (while shortening) not eccentrically (while lengthening) so overtime the muscle fibres physically shorten, this is called adaptive shortening. We also move our joints predominantly in a straight line with no rotational or lateral movement.
The forward-leaning, crouched position adopted by riders make the hip ﬂexors tighten, causing an anterior pelvic tilt and an excessively arched lower back and the core muscles to weaken. Quads are often stiff from overuse, hamstrings shortened and shoulders locked forward causing tightness across the chest from the ‘closed’ shoulder position. Postural changes like this can lead to chronic problems such as lower back pain that will affect your daily activities, not just riding. As muscles get tight they also get weaker, affecting the chain of alignment, increasing the risk of pain, discomfort and injury.
Yoga uses both dynamic and stationary poses that strengthen all the muscles of the body including your cycling muscles, but more importantly helps with muscular balance to prevent injury and strengthen you both on and off the bike. Postures such as “Locust” which extend the lower back are a great antidote to the ﬂexed, forward-leaning position on the bike.
There are many forms of yoga from gentle Hatha yoga, to the more demanding vigorous pace of Ashtanga yoga. All styles are beneficial; choose yoga to balance your physical and emotional well being. I am enjoying Vinyasa Flow taught by Lucy Day at Windsor Warrior, the focus is on continuous flowing movement using the breath to help move the body and quiet the mind, moving the thinking body into the feeling body. Styles such as Ashtanga and Power Yoga are dynamic flowing styles working through a full range of movements; these forms of yoga really build strength and muscular endurance.
12 REASONS for cyclists TO DO YOGA
Cyclists need to focus on leg strength, which many standing poses in yoga target, but they also need to focus on flexibility and lower back strength. Many yoga poses target the hip flexors and lower back, helping to balance muscle strength and create space and mobility in the spine.
COMFORT AND CONNECTION
Cyclists often complain of post-ride ‘niggles’ like sore knees and lower back or neck pain. This is likely due to the position, not the actual riding. A professional bike fit is a must, but riders with poor range of movement will suffer more than others, especially in longer events. For instance if you have a stiff lower back, you’ll typically overreach with the arms, putting too much weight on the hands and cause tightness/pain across the upper back and neck. Getting more connected with your body helps you to identify where your alignment and position can be improved.
Having the flexibility to turn your head all the way round means in races and events you can see what’s going on behind you and be fully aware of the other riders, but more importantly on the open road you can properly look to see what the traffic is doing behind you before you manoeuvre.
Flexibility is also important for cross-training, for instance if you want to perform a squat you need good ankle, knee and hip mobility. Strong legs should be counter balanced front and back. Cultivate your weaker areas for an all over strong body.
If your range of movement is inhibited by a lack of flexibility the amount of power you can produce can be reduced. A stronger more stable core ensures all power is transferred to the pedals.
Any sports which require an extreme position to be held for any length of time benefit from flexibility training, so a perfect example is time trial, where a rider has to maintain the aerodynamic position, often for long periods, while trying to maintain a high power output. You need a good range of motion in the hips and a strong lower back to achieve an aerodynamic time-trial position; if not your power output will be reduced as you won’t be able to get maximal force from the gluteal muscles.
Concentration is vital, a cyclist able to reduce adrenaline and control a scattered mind with concentration techniques will remain calm and focused in the heat of a race. Yoga keeps you focused on a deep and steady breath, forcing you work aerobically. Lucy says being aware of your breath is like a barometer for your overall state of mind. Training your muscles aerobically and learning how to control your breathing are two very important aspects of training and racing for any endurance athlete. A cyclist able to breathe slower and deeper will breathe more efficiently and economically.
When your body awareness is enhanced you can you use this as a tool to notice what feels tight or stiff and learn what to do to alleviate it. Windsor Warrior teaches that yoga is not just about flexibility or gymnastics; it builds a greater connection to you, as well as building space, length and strength across the front and back body.
A rider with a strong back, hips and hamstrings will be far less prone to overuse injuries and in the disciplines where crashing is commonplace, such as BMX and MTB, flexibility can help injury prevention and recovery.
The ability to control the bike, with leaning and counter leaning and shifts in body weight, can be improved with increased strength, range of movement and flexibility.
IT FEELS GOOD
Let’s be honest yoga feels good, the breath, body and mind working together in harmony! Feeling good mentally and physically is a winning combination. Remember a relaxed muscle is a happy muscle.
And how great is the Savasana (relaxation bit at the end!) Perfect antidote to our busy lives!
So although cycling is a great workout for the whole body you may want to think about doing some yoga to counterbalance the cycling position and subsequent areas of stiffness.
Here are some simple poses Lucy at Windsor Warrior has suggested cyclists may like to start with. She teaches classes from her Yoga Home on Mondays and Fridays which you can book by calling 07970 049928.
Anjaneyasana or Kneeling Lunge as demonstrated below is great for stretching out the front of the legs and the hip flexors and groin. Raising the arms over head and engaging the core protects the lower back. Be sure to keep your front knee over the ankle and lift the chest as you sink the hips.
Cobra or Bhujangasana in Sanskrit is the perfect pose to open the shoulders and chest. Feel the space and expansion across the chest and clavicles by pressing down through the hands. Roll the shoulders back and away from the neck. Lift the upper body whilst keeping the elbows bent and tucked into the side of the ribs, the core and ribs should be lifting off the mat. Perfect for reversing the position held on the bike.
Lucy states squatting is underrated! Squatting is essential for hip health, especially as we spend so long sitting on a bike or a chair. Try Goddess Pose or Malasana. The pose opens the hips and strengthens the legs and brings space and length to the spine. Raise the arms and draw the elbows back to feel the shoulder blades squeeze together and the chest lift and open.
Camel pose is wonderful for opening the chest, hips and shoulders. After long periods of hunching or rounding over the handlebars your body deserves some heart opening. Press the hands on the base of the spine, engage the core and tip the tailbone to protect the lower back. Lift the heart and roll the shoulders back.
Twisting feels good and the spine loves it! Firmly pressing down into the back hand and lengthening the spine allows space for a deeper twist and greater opening across the chest and upper spine. Perfect if you tend to round the back whilst riding.
Balasana or Child's Pose creates length and space along the spine and releases tightness in the hips and glutes. Extend the arms forward and sink the hips down, take the knees wide and allow the belly to lower to the mat. Rest the forehead onto a block or the mat and breathe space and energy along the upper, middle and lower spine.
You can find Windsor Warrior on Instagram and see Lucy demonstrating more difficult poses, you can like the Facebook page to hear about classes in the Windsor area and to book call 07970 049928.