The importance of including yoga in your cycling training regimen can't be overstated.
As a cyclist, we spend long hours on our bikes that are built to be uncompromisingly stiff. The range of motion available to you while you ride is limited and, over time, favors specific muscle groups over others resulting in muscle imbalances, tension, long recovery times, and injuries.
Yoga is an ancient discipline with thousands of years of history.
Yet only recently have cyclists discovered the benefits of practicing it on a regular basis.
By lengthening overused parts of the body and strengthening underdeveloped areas, yoga will give you a robust foundation for your cycling regimen that you will feel noticeable right away.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a multi-faceted discipline with an equal focus on the development of mind and body. References to yoga date back to the Vedic period of ancient India in 1500 BCE.
During yoga, practitioners focus on a blend of breathing techniques, mindfulness of every physical movement, and specific poses that range from simple to rigorous.
Within yoga, there are various schools, each with its own focus, style, and history.
- 1Hatha Yoga. Classes with a focus on Hatha yoga allow you to learn the basics of breath control combined with physical movement. The light focus on meditation, when compared to other schools of yoga, is also a boon for some who prefer a purely physical approach.
- 2Iyengar Yoga. It's made of precise, defined movements with long holds and deep stretches. The Iyengar style is primarily focused on aligning the body and creating equality between the left and right sides. Iyengar is especially useful to cyclists because it focuses on opening the muscles as much as is safely possible, leaving the body feeling refreshed and energized.
- 3Ashtanga Yoga. A vigorous, intense, and physical style of yoga that is best practiced after you have experience under your belt. The demands of Ashtanga require excellent core strength and endurance to flow between the movements that practitioners should know by heart.
- 4Vinyasa Yoga. An accessible form of Ashtanga with a focus on athleticism and strength building. Practitioners flow between movements with equal emphasis on the breath and body, working up a sweat throughout.
- 5Bikram Yoga. Practiced in a hot room with low humidity as a way to warm the body and cleanse it. A series of poses are performed in repetition throughout the practice until it ends with you in a puddle of your own sweat.
- 6Restorative Yoga. An excellent practice for the end of a long bike ride or training week. The focus here is on sinking the body into as deep a state of relaxation as possible with simple poses that are held for long periods of times.
How Can Yoga Improve Cycling
As a cyclist, it's easy to focus solely on riding your bicycle to the detriment of everything else.
Your core and overall flexibility suffer as you find yourself going from bike to couch, too hammered from the weekend's group ride to do much else.
Core strength is, however, a major component of your overall cycling capability and is beneficial in everything from improving your aerobic intake (breathing) to climbing faster.
Despite appearing slow and perhaps even easy, yoga poses are difficult to maintain and require a significant focus on the core.
1. Improve Core Strength
In yoga, the core is the seat of the breath and source of strength for the rest of the body.
Every movement starts from the core and leverages it through firm engagement to bring the rest of the body into the position necessary.
2. Climb Faster
Practicing yoga with an extra emphasis on core-specific movements will equate over time to greater stability on the bike, especially noticeable when riding uphill and even more so when you are starting to fatigue.
If you've ever noticed other riders, or perhaps yourself, swaying from side to side during an uphill effort, it is because they lack the core strength to stabilize themselves on the saddle and deliver all of their energy to the pedal stroke.
3. Avoid Discomfort
Cycling leads to increased muscle development in the glutes and lower back. But because the core is not actively engaged throughout the range of motion you find in a typical bike ride, it falls to the wayside in terms of strength.
With extreme disharmony between your abs and back, discomfort while riding is an inevitability.
Discomfort = Less Time on the Bike = Not Fun
4. Increased Flexibility
The range of motion necessary throughout a bike ride is limited by the bike itself. A bicycle is fixed, rigid, and requires certain parts of the body to remain cramped while others extend only to compress again.
Think of your leg extending up and over the top of the pedal stroke only to tense and go back up again on the return. The repetitive nature of limited motion movements throughout a bike ride results in tense, cramped muscles and hampered flexibility.
If you've ever tried to touch your toes or reach straight up to the sky after a long ride, then you might already be familiar with the restricted flexibility cycling brings on.
In this way, cycling is quite similar to sitting for long periods of time on an office chair with the main difference being you're losing calories while riding.
5. Prevent Injuries
Yoga drastically enhances flexibility by taking you through a range of motion that is dynamic, varied, and loosening.
Every conceivable muscle group in your body will be challenged and lengthened throughout a yoga session with the result being the rejuvenation of those powerful muscles.
Maintaining a stretched and flexible body is critical for avoiding injuries and discomfort on the bike.
In cycling, a small discomfort or tension can, over time and enough pedal strokes, develop into a pestering injury that causes you to lose valuable riding and training time.
Yoga is one way, and by the admissions of many cycling pros, the best way, to keep yourself injury free and ready for the next ride.
Pro Cyclists Known for Practicing Practice Yoga
If you're still in doubt about adding yoga to your cycling, just ask Peter Sagan, the triple world champion and one of the greatest cyclists of the modern era, what he thinks.
Sagan is a strict practitioner of yoga for core strength and is able to pull off quite a few unbelievable moves. Sagan isn't the only proponent of yoga in the pro peloton, either.
Bradley Wiggins famously championed the practice of yoga on the way to his first Tour de France win in 2012.
Taylor Phinney has called it indispensable to his training regimen. Here are some of the yoga poses that Phinney practices that have helped him both on and off the bike.
This is what Phinney has to say about yoga.
"I do yoga out of necessity to return a sense of balance to my body and mind. While cycling all day is liberating and beautiful in its own right, adapting your asymmetrical body to a symmetrical piece of carbon or titanium (or steel for you badasses) for hours on end causes unforgiving misalignment that can only be remedied off the bike. Yoga is not a workout, yoga is whatever you want it to be.
Simplicity is key in this restoration process. Move with your breath and listen to your body, your overall intention will sculpt itself and continue to evolve as you move. All you have to do is show up and honor yourself." - Taylor Phinney
Cadel Evans, the first Australian to ever win the Tour de France in 2011, credited yoga with helping him to achieve his famous flat-back aerodynamic position on the bike which aided him greatly in flat stages and time trials.
Next time you're perusing a gallery of photos from pro team training camps, take a moment to notice that nearly every one of them practice some form of yoga.
Just as cycling equipment first circulates in the procycling ranks before trickling down to the rest of us, yoga is sure to become a cornerstone practice for a majority of cyclists in due time.