So your a cyclist, you’ve got all the kit, the bike and are getting out on the road as much as life will let you! After a while you will naturally hit limits in performance or worse develop niggling injuries that stop you enjoying your time on the bike. Whether your new to cycling, have been turning the wheels for years or dare I say decades all of you will experience this at some point! A great way to combat the onset of niggles and to improve overall performance is to add Yoga to your regular training programme.
Yoga is something that the Peloton have been employing for years and its something that you can benefit from too! Just take a moment to think about the position that you spend hours every month in as your riding your bike. Hunched forward, pumping your legs down then back up towards your stomach, rounded shoulders compressing your chest. The amount of time we spend in that position means that over time our muscles begin to shorten, as the muscles shorten the amount of power they can produce also decreases leading to a decrease in performance and an increase in the occurrence of injuries as we gradually tear muscle fibres and mis-align joints.
We have been running a Yoga for cyclists course over recent weeks and the feedback has been amazing! From a group that could barely bend so their hands past below their knees and not even dream of sitting on their heels they are now becoming much more flexible. I have always used the mantra ‘muscle length equals muscle strength’ and this has been echoed within the group. Comments made to me have included ‘I set a new 10mile PB – and I haven’t even been able to cycle much recently’ and ‘I rode over 50 miles today without any back pain – that hasn’t happened for years!’
Yoga doesn’t need to be all serious and floating either which I know is something that puts a lot of you off. In our class we have started to introduce some serious stretches (or asanas if you want to use the Yogi terminology), focusing on the muscles that are going to make you a better cyclist. We even have plenty of laughter proving that it doesn’t need to be serious all the time!
Often pilates is the recommended form of exercise for reducing and managing back pain, but have you ever thought about yoga. Here’s how yoga can help:
Yoga involves twisting, flexing and extending the spine which is great for improving spinal mobility and flexibility of the spine. Twisting of the spine (spinal rotation) helps to release the smaller muscles between each vertebrae and improve their range of motion. Lots of back strains are caused by twisting and flexing type movements due to tight muscles. Twisting poses are also great for stretching the QL (quadratus lumborum) muscle which spans across the lower back and often is tight from lots of sitting resulting in lower achey backs. Keeping the spine mobile is massively important to reducing the risk of injury as is keeping the spine strong. Holding the poses in yoga encourages strengthening of both the muscles targeted and the core muscles of the body, and as we all know, strong core muscles are vital for strong healthy backs.
Yoga is also great for lengthening the hamstrings and opening the hips. Lots of people with lower back pain have either tight hamstrings or tight hip flexors, or both. Imbalances or tightness in these muscles create postural issues particularly in the lower back, affecting the curvature of the spine leading to aches and pains in this area. Modern life of sitting at a desk all day not only causes tight hip flexors and hamstrings but also encourages rounding of the shoulders and a forward head position, yoga can open up the chest muscles to counter balance this learnt posture and reduce neck and upper back stiffness.
Through the deep breathing used in yoga, circulation is increased encouraging blood and nutrients to discs to help keep them nourished and lubricated. The lower lumbar discs that do not have a direct blood supply are nourished through movement, the movement and breathing combined in yoga is great for improving disc health.
Is yoga ever not appropriate for back pain? Like any exercise there are certain exercises that must be avoided with certain back problems. General guidelines are as follows: avoid forward bends if posterior herniated discs are an issue. If suffering with osteoporosis avoid forward flexion, twisting and side bending exercises. Back bends should be avoided if spodylisthesis is present, as should movements that combine forward flexion and twisting. Sitting postures are best avoided if suffering with sciatica. If back pain is acute it is best to avoid practicing yoga for 48hours from the onset of pain.
Interested in trying yoga? Check out the timetable here