Yoga for: Cycling
Look at the aerodynamic position of any pro cyclist and you’ll see similarities to the steady posture of a seasoned yogi. Carefully position limbs, a rock-solid core and relaxed breathing – the two have more in common than a mutual love of lycra.
That’s what draws so many cyclists to the mat in search of the perfect panacea to bike related tensions. Chloe Hall, group cycle instructor, avid cyclist, photographer and yoga instructor at Virgin Active Merchant Square, is the first to admit that she didn’t have the liquid limbs of the archetypal yogi. “I’d done a few sportives and cycled the Alps and Pyrenees,” explains Chloe, “Naturally I was not particularly flexible anyway, but I noticed how increasingly tight and inflexible I was getting.”
It was because of this she turned to yoga. As you cycle your hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and glutes are under constant stress which causes the muscles to shorten over time. Tight, unforgiving muscles work to pull your body out of alignment and significantly increase the risk of injury.
Your yoga fix
Yoga remedies this by lengthening muscles and taking them through a full range of movement – something you rarely get in the saddle – and increasing flexibility. The forward folds, downward dogs, lunges and twists in a yoga class will help promote muscular balance and healthy movement around the joints. Whatever the variant, it’s tough not to feel a little looser.
Any newfound bendiness will help you hold position with far more ease, and reverse some of the other aches and pains that follow you along the road. “Because of the hunched posture on the bike, and compounded by our modern lifestyle of sitting in front of computers (or being behind a camera in my case), many cyclists and spinning enthusiasts will have weak upper bodies and tight chests. Repeating this year after year we risk developing a kyphotic posture or rounded shoulders,” explains Chloe, “yoga can help strengthen the back, stretch the chest muscles and draw the shoulders back into a better posture.”
Chloe recommends poses that compliment your position on the bike by reversing the movement. As your shoulders are hunched forward, try poses that will bring your shoulders back and stretch across your front such as camel pose, hero pose and upward facing dog.
Whilst the initial appeal to cyclists may be improved flexibility and reduced chance of injury, Chloe stresses that there is so much more to yoga, “yoga can help build strength in your key cycling muscles, and holding your entire body weight in yoga balances challenges the whole of your body, plus the steady breathing in a yoga class will help calm the mind.” But yoga is also a mental discipline – holding a posture when it gets physically challenging is no different to a huge hill climb or interval training session where your mind is screaming at you to stop – can you breathe into the discomfort and work with it rather than react to it?
“Yoga improves your core stability on the bike,” says Chloe, “so you’re better able to hold good posture, breathe more fully, and direct energy (and therefore power) into the legs rather than losing it from your upper body flailing about.”
As your body becomes more fatigued, the steady breathing that yoga promotes makes sure you take on enough oxygen. “It’s not good to get in the habit of shallow breathing,” says Chloe, “it pumps cortisol and adrenaline through the body leaving you feeling stressed and anxious. The adrenaline hit might be useful for a hill sprint but not when you’re trying to unwind or sleep.”
One of the biggest impediments to cyclists developing a yoga practice is the common misconception that you have to be flexible in order to do yoga. “So many people have said to me ‘oh I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible’ but yoga encourages us to work with whatever body we have, wherever we are, right now,” Chloe says, “we can only work with the strength and flexibility we bring to the mat today so just let go of this myth that we need to be able to do gymnastics or touch our toes in order to do yoga – we don’t.” The philosophy is that everybody is different but we can only do our best, today, and that’s absolutely good enough to make the most out of yoga.
That’s why Chloe swears by the benefits of a happy marriage between yoga and cycling. “If I get the chance I will practice a flowing yoga sequence for a warm up and then again after a big ride including more seated postures and longer holds to work on flexibility. But yoga is so much more than stretch work – like cycling it requires discipline and patience, but it’s transformative both physically and mentally.”
Chloe teaches yoga Monday evenings and Wednesday lunchtimes at Virgin Active Merchant Square.
To find out more about her, visit www.chloehall.co.uk