Yoga is beneficial for cyclists for a number of reasons, including flexibility, core stability, circulation, and bone density.
Flexibility is incredibly important for cyclists and probably the most common reason for anyone to start a yoga practice. When the hips aren’t flexible it moves the work from the muscles of the legs and hip flexors to the lower back and spine. For example, on long or fast rides, it’s necessary to be low in the drops of the handle bars and this requires the hips to hinge forward so that the sit bones can move back. If the hips don’t have this range of motion, or the hamstrings are too tight, the pelvis will tilt posteriorly, rounding the lower back. This puts excessive strain on the disks and will cause fatigue sooner, as well as put the body at risk for herniations.
Yoga can increase overall flexibility with just a few short rounds of stretching per week. Plus, the longer a muscle is, the more force it can generate, which of course means more power output on the bike. The most effective time to stretch is immediately after a ride when the muscles are warm. This is also a great time to counter stretch your body from being in the same position for so long. Your upper back and hip flexors will thank you!
I can’t think of anything that core stability won’t help, including cycling. It’s important to remember that core doesn’t just mean your “six pack” muscles. It also includes your other layers of core muscles, lower back muscles, hip flexors and lateral gluteus muscles. I also like to add the shoulder girdle here. The shoulder girdle is very mobile, but fairly unstable. It’s helpful to keep it connected to the ribcage to access the strength of the core, especially when you need to pull up on the handle bars when climbing out of the saddle or sprinting.
Cycling itself doesn’t offer much in the way of building upper body strength, and the lateral gluteus is generally forgotten leaving the low back and knees at risk. Yoga offers the best way to strengthen the triceps and biceps while keeping them long and lean. An example would be working plank on the forearms and the hands interlaced. This is a great core stabilizer while also mimicking the arms when using time trial bars. The coordination of assessing ALL of the “core” muscles will give the cyclist better strength and control while handling the bike.
I’m sure that you’re thinking that cycling definitely will improve your circulation over yoga. In some ways this is true. The heart is definitely pumping the blood throughout the body when you are working hard. But even racers know the importance of warming up to get the circulation going before the race. You may not want to stretch much before a ride, but dynamic movements with the breath, can get the body warm and prepared.
Circulation can also mean respiration. Many cyclists are limiting the intake of oxygen just because of their posture. It’s common to round the upper back since the arms are reaching forward and the legs are drawing into the chest, especially if you are in the tucked position I mentioned earlier. The ability to draw oxygen into the lungs requires the ribcage to expand. This increases the volume of the lungs while lowering the pressure within, vacuuming oxygen in. Just by opening the chest and allowing for movement in the front, side and back ribs, a cyclist can increase their oxygen possibly up to 25%.
Last but not least is bone density. Cycling is a very rhythmic motion which can be great on say the knee joints, compared to the heavy pounding of running. But the down side is that it’s not a weight bearing exercise. Bones get stronger when there is force exerted on them which won’t happen while riding your bike. Because of that fact, cyclists have a higher risk for developing Osteoporosis, which makes the bones brittle and easy to fracture.
Styles of Yoga like Hatha or Vinyasa, are considered weight bearing exercise and thus helps to build bone density. Lifting of one’s own body weight plus the force of the tendons on the joints creates a need for the bone to add more layers, thickening the bones. This is especially important as we age, or if a cyclist has been riding his or her whole life without including other weight bearing exercises. Having stronger bones will help in the unfortunate event of a crash, but the best prevention is to stay calm and keep the rubber side down. In conclusion, yoga will help you ride longer and stronger!