Over the last decade, the number of pro cyclists in India have been increasing by leaps and bounds. As people grow wealthier, they are moving out of old mindsets and they are realizing that a cycle is not just a mode of conveyance for the poor but a lifestyle choice that can not only be used for commuting but also contribute to fitness and at the same time reduce one’s carbon footprint on our planet. Most people who take up cycling are generally of the fittest category because of the huge health benefits that cycling imparts. Long distance cycling is an athletic activity and needs to be complemented by stretching and exercise. Incorporating yoga into your routines can help cyclists stay supple, avoid injuries and prolong their careers.
Yoga for Cyclists
Cyclists who take up yoga to stay injury-free also discover that Yoga can also add to their performance. Some of these effects are mental, such as the ability to remain calm under pressure and stay focused for extended periods of time. Some of the other benefits of yoga are physical benefits like better balancing, more efficient breathing and quicker recovery. These benefits will could be minor but sport performance is all about getting those few extra percentages. These benefits will start accumulating over a period of time and will improve your overall performance. Remember for peak performance – performance improves by the aggregation of marginal gains.’ In the West, there has been a huge surge of professional cyclists who have been adding yoga to their strength and conditioning routines. Bradley Wiggins practises yoga for better core strength without adding muscular bulk. Cadel Evans credits yoga with maintaining his flat back cycling stance. If you are a cyclist you may be used to fine-tuning your bike. But now by throwing sport-specific yoga in the mix, you can now fine-tune your body and mind and attune yourself to the requirements of the sport. Yoga can benefit both the professional and amateur cyclist.
‘The best cyclists are very flexible. Fabian Cancellara is very supple. The longer your muscles are, the more powerful you are and the fewer injuries you will get.’ Ryszard Kilpinski, Soigneur, Team RadioShack-Nissan, Outdoor Fitness magazine, November 2012.
Lets see what India’s ancient discipline like yoga can offer to the modern cyclist apart from banishing common pains like lower back pain:
1. A Stronger Core
A strong core is essential for cycling power, posture and injury prevention, particularly in your lower back region. A lot of cyclists have well-developed back muscles but weak ab muscles. This muscular imbalance can cause a wide range of back problems. A tired rider will poor core muscles will tend to slump placing undue pressure on the shoulders and wrists.
2. A Flatter Back
Cadel Evans, winner of the 2011 Tour de France, is famous for practising yoga to improve his riding form and to gain a ‘flatter back’. But what exactly is a flat back, and how can you achieve one? Curvature of the lumbar (lower) back region and a rounded back causes a rider to crane his head to look ahead at the road. This posture creates drag and can also cause lower back pain, upper back pain, shoulders and neck issues. If you ride with a flat back, you are more likely to have more flexible back muscles and also have more flexibility in your lower back, hips, glutes and hamstring.
3. Strength Without Bulk
If you are into speed, then even 1 extra kg of extra muscle can add to your time. Yoga helps you to strengthen and lengthen your muscles so you never end up bulking up or losing the range of motion around your joints. Your muscles become long and lean and helps you to develop a powerful yet flexible body that is less prone to injury.
4. Releasing Tension
If you are holding tension in your shoulders, wrists and upper and lower back, your energy is drained and your pedaling form and efficiency is compromised. On long grueling rides, you suffer more so. You body will tend to slump, your arms will lock and and your hands will grip like a vice. This is not an efficient way to ride with the result that your shoulders and neck are strained. Yoga helps address these issues by releasing the tightness in the shoulders and upper body.
5. Less Injuries
Yoga can be called as ‘prehab’ as opposed to ‘rehab’. Common problems like tight hamstring muscles, hips, quads and lower back can be reduced with the help of yoga. A personal yoga instructor can be especially beneficial because he / she will focus on asanas that will specifically target these notorious tight spots. In cycling, your legs are never fully straightened and so your hamstrings do not get a chance to lengthen fully and that means that your hamstrings will be prone to tear and strain and the end result will be a gradual loss of elasticity. Yoga will also help you to avoid knee problems that are also quite common because of the strength imbalance in your quadriceps.
6. Efficient Breathing
A lot of people fail to think about their breathing until they run out of breath – usually at the top of a hill. Yoga can help you consciously control the rhythm and depth of your breathing and transform it from an automatic function into a free training tool. Cyclists should learn how to breathe efficiently by breathing slower and deeper to maximize oxygen intake. Your yoga instructor will help you to breathe more by using the diaphragm and also create a more supple torso. The basic instinct of panting rapidly is not really the most efficient way to breathe during running or cycling. Yoga has a bunch of techniques that can slow down your breathing and help you breathe in deeply.
7. Fit For Life
You may be a great cyclist but can you kick a ball without pulling your hamstring? Do your knees buckle under when you stand up to leave the theatre after watching a 3 hour movie? The fixed and linear nature of cycling creates stiffness in the hips, back and shoulders. This lack of mobility can affect your ability to move freely. Your body was designed by nature to move not just forwards but also sideways. You should also be able to extend backwards and also rotate. Yoga can help you move through all these planes of motion to ensure that you are not just fit on the bike but fit for life!
Stretching does not have to be a boring exercise. Though you can practise strict Ashtanga Yoga with static poses, your yoga instructor can help design a dynamic and fast-paced yoga workout which is similar to the cardio workouts that you like. If you are one of those athletes who feel that a good workout is incomplete without sweating and huffing and puffing then you can practise Hatha Yoga or Power Yoga where the poses are sequenced in a fast flow. The faster pace and high intensity nature of these sessions means that precision can be lost. Doing a classic yoga session is always advisable because flowing between yoga asanas helps you to concentrate on breathing techniques which is a skill that can be useful when cycling as a means to improve breathing economy and concentration.
9. Training the Mind
Success in any athletic sport is often as much as 50 % mental. Take two people who are equally matched in terms of build, ability and experience and the one who is tougher mentally will always be the winner. We are all aware that the mind will usually surrender before the body does and self-doubt is a sore point for athletes especially in gruelling endurance sports like cycling and marathon running. On the same note, your mind can be your greatest ally and asset if you can control it and use it to your benefit. Yoga will help a cyclist anchor his mind firmly to the here-and-now. Being mindful, alert and aware can make you a winner at the end of it all!
10. Faster Recovery
Professional athletes will always factor in recovery time into their training schedules because it is only during rest that you can come back fresher and stronger. Cyclists who are working in a full time job or have a family to support, finding the time for rest or to switch off is rare. It is just not feasible to lounge on the sofa all day long and nor can you get a massage every day from a masseur. Simple Yogic techniques incorporating stretches held for long periods of time require minimum effort and can speed up your recovery and restore muscle length. Yoga can also help you to wind down your distracted mind and prepare it for a good night’s sleep. The best recovery of course is a good eight hour of sleep and Yoga can not only help you relax and fall into a deep sleep but Yoga itself is a form of relaxation. Good recovery of your body is important if you want to be strong and ready for the next day’s riding. Besides, knowing how to relax and meditate is also a useful skill for surviving the stresses and pressures of everyday life!
Call us on 9820607875 if you would like to hire a Personal Yoga Trainer if you are a pro cyclist or training for Marathons or Triathlons and see for yourself how Yoga can improve your performance, speeds and recovery!