Expert yogi Sharni Quinn explains how you can get the maximum out of your cycling training by adding yoga into the mix.
As a cyclist, you understand how to train hard, you know how to push your body and you have probably achieved great results. However, what if you could also boost your power, stay injury free, build more muscle and retain a positive state of mind for race day? You can do all this by adding yoga to your training!
No, yoga is no longer just for hippies or ‘women only’. Yoga is also not about striking a pose or touching your toes. And if you are thinking to yourself, ‘Well, why bother, I can’t touch my toes anyway,’ – that is exactly the reason to start.
FLEXIBILITY AND FOCUS
By including yoga into your training programme, you not only increase your flexibility but you will also create mental clarity, breathing efficiency and complete focus – which are powerful resources. Whether you are cycling professionally, recreationally, for fitness or just transporting yourself from A to B, by incorporating a regular yoga practice into your training and learning basic breathing and meditation tools, your training will ultimately benefit and improve.
THE PERFECT COMBINATION
In fact, cycling and yoga are the perfect combination. Using yoga as your cross training can only complement your ride, and it assists with preventing injury and strain, strengthens the muscles that don’t get used in cycling, and stretches out hunched shoulders and a tired, rounded back. Yoga also helps with the mind-body aspect and thus a calm, concentrated mind and supple body then results in a champion cyclist.
IMPROVING YOUR TRAINING
We spend much time concentrating on physical exercise. However, just as we train our bodies, our minds need coaching as well. Besides building physical strength, improving flexibility, stretching out tired muscles and helping with injuries, yoga can also help cyclists with focus, clarity, motivation and confidence.
While doing yoga, your body is familiar with being ‘stressed’, working with endurance and yet being calm at the same time. Holding some yoga postures is a similar feeling to your muscles to climbing a hill or sprinting to the finish line. By breathing through these intense moments, we focus our mind, calm our body, and motivate ourselves to keep on going.
A retired pro-racer, Katheryn Curi Mattis, says, ‘It’s hard to maintain calm under pressure, but I would come back to breathwork or relaxing my shoulders . . . fundamentals of the yoga practice, that are really applicable on the bike.’
By using yogic meditation and visualisation techniques you become more present while on the bike, more aware of your surroundings, and also more in touch with how your body is feeling during the ride. You create greater awareness on handling and the ability to ride safely.
Yoga calms the mind but it also teaches us to channel our thoughts and have one individual aim and focus. We learn not to engage with ‘outside’ distractions and focus on the task at hand – having relaxed and selective thinking – thereby allowing the body to do that for which it has been trained.
Breathe through the burn
A cyclist who is able to breathe deeply and at a slower pace – even when in racing situations – will breathe more efficiently and therefore transfer more oxygen to overworked muscles, settle the mind, recover faster up hills, and improve performance.
When your body feels tired and you are heading up a hill, focus on taking deep breaths. Breathe in for four counts and out for four counts. Aim to breathe from your belly, into your ribs and then into your chest. Then exhale from your chest, ribs and lastly tummy. Using this deep yogic breathing technique not only sends more oxygen into your blood and to your tired muscles but also creates mental focus, and before you know it you will be flying over the hill.
Stretch it out
After spending long hours on the bike, one is bound to feel stiff and tight in certain areas. By adding yoga to your training programme, you will not only stretch out those same areas and restore them but you will work on your balance, body awareness, core strength, recovery, and posture as well.
Yoga is great way to balance out your other training and helps to prevent overuse and injuries. Good posture and stretching will help relieve tension in your body after serious rides.
DO THESE YOGA POSTURES
Do these yoga postures after next time in the saddle to stay loose, mobile and injury free.
Down Facing Dog Pose
Alignment: Place your hands on the mat (or floor if you don’t have a yoga mat), shoulder distance apart, and your feet on the floor, hip distance apart. Spread your fingers wide which stretches out your hand muscles, keep your arms straight, lengthen through your spine, work your hips up to the sky and stretch into your legs. However, don’t worry if you can’t get your heels on the floor. You can peddle your feet out one at a time to get a further stretch into your hamstrings.
Physical benefits: This feels amazing for your hamstrings as well as a good stretch for all the muscles along your back.
Wide Leg Forward Bend
Alignment: Come to standing, keep feet parallel, and separate legs wide apart. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale slowly lower your body over your legs – keeping spine straight and long. If it feels tight in the hips then just take your hands in front onto blocks on the floor. If your body is feeling ok then interlace hands behind you, take arms up over your head, breathe deeply and enjoy the stretch.
Physical benefits: Stretches the hamstrings and inner thighs. Opens up the shoulders and arms. Relieves tension in the back.
Alignment: Move onto your back, bend knees and place your feet on the floor. Keep your feet parallel and make sure feet and knees are hip width apart. Inhale and press your feet into the floor lifting your hips up to the sky. Interlace hands behind you and work shoulders and arms as close together as possible. Hold for five deep breaths. Slowly lower down one vertebra at a time.
Physical benefits: Excellent for counteracting the upper body positioning when on the bike. Bridge Pose opens up the chest, and whole front side of the body, releases tension in the shoulders and arms, and stretches through the hip flexors and thighs.
On your next rest day, try out a yoga class to get more exposure to various postures and relaxation techniques. It is not only a different way to stay active, but also something different to keep motivated and give yourself some much needed physical and mental recovery time.