It’s Time To Swap Your Wheels For Wheel Pose
By Yoga Teacher Fern Ross
Road, hybrid, single speed (really, with South London’s infamous hills?), Boris… whatever your ride of choice, whether you compete or commute, there is no denying that cycling is one of the best modes of transport around. It certainly beats cramming yourself into someone’s armpit on a hot, sweaty Tube.
First things first, if you’re cycling around London and beyond on a regular basis then kudos to you: you’re doing your bit for both your health and the planet, and that is to be commended. But cycling miles each week can take its toll on the body. After all, how often do you stretch out those weary miles after each ride? More often than not, the chances are you race across town, arrive at your destination, maybe fit in a quick change if you’re lucky, and get to work. Repeat on way back (swapping work for sofa).
Stretching is, let’s face it, a bit of a pain: one more thing to tick off the never ending to-do list. But, and this is a BIG BUT: your muscles are only as strong as they are flexible. And tight, tense muscles are more prone to injury. Here are three reasons why every cyclist should do (or at least try, please!) yoga:
IT BOOSTS STRENGTH
Cycling predominantly utilises the quads, hip flexors and core to propel you forwards, but these primary muscles will only ever be as strong as your body as a whole. Moreover, cycling can often lead to bilateral imbalances in the body (from say, always looking over one shoulder or always pushing off from stationary on one leg). Standing postures such as warrior pose, balance poses like warrior 3, and core work such as navasana (boat pose), all increase strength, functional movement and alignment, as well as re-balance balance the body. Rather than focusing on strengthening body parts in isolation, yoga encourages you to move the body as a whole, strengthening secondary ‘assistant’ muscles such as the hip stabilisers while doing so. Focusing on integrated, conscious movement on the mat translates into increased performance on your bike, because your foundations will, quite literally, be more stable.
IT INCREASES FLEXIBILITY
A muscle is only as strong as it is flexible. Overworked, tight and tired muscles can become dry and fibrous, so stretching is vital for a healthy, balanced body. Yoga is brilliant for opening up the parts of the body than can get tight and tense when cycling. When on a bike, the body is in a state of flexion for a prolonged period of time, which can lead to tightness in the shoulders, hip flexors and lower back. Simple stretches such as cobra, child’s pose and low lunge, are all wonderful ways to relieve tension that can build up in these areas, reducing your risk of injury and speeding up recovering time. Regular stretching also increases your range of motion, therefore boosting the ‘push/pull’ strength that you need for cycling and making you stronger as a result.
IT FOCUSES YOUR MIND
How often are you aware of your breath when cycling, if ever? The chances are you’re more aware of the traffic fumes than the quality and depth of your breath. By breathing more efficiently, you pump more oxygen to your muscles and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, meaning your ride will feel more effortless. Breathing properly also improves mental focus and concentration, useful for both navigating the mean streets of London and competitions alike.
3 POSES EVERY CYCLIST SHOULD TRY
A wonderful stretch for hip flexors and quads. Come onto all fours, then step the right foot next to the right thumb (shuffle it forward if it doesn’t quite get there). Lower the left knee down, then reach both arms towards the sky. Sink the weight into the right knee, but keep drawing the navel towards the spine and lift up through the pelvic floor to protect the lower back and keep the pelvis neutral. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then switch sides. If you experience knee pain, pad the lowered knee with a towel or cushion.
A delicious way to ease out the spine and counteract all that forward flexion. Start by lying flat on your belly, legs hip-width apart. Bring the hands underneath the shoulders, and press the tops of the feet into the mat. Press the little toes towards the mat to broaden across the lower back, press the pubic bone into the mat and draw the navel towards the spine, then begin to press into the hands and lengthen the chest forwards and up, drawing the shoulders down and away from the ears as your lift. Keep the gaze at the floor in front of you to avoid tension and compression in the back of the neck. Only lift the chest off the floor as high as is comfortable for the lower back - extension is the important action here.
THREAD THE NEEDLE
The best stretch for opening up tight hips and glutes. Optional hamstring and calf stretch if you can face it! Begin by lying flat on your back, both feet on the floor, knees bend at about 90 degrees. Cross the right shin across the left thigh, so the right ankle is placed just below the left knee. If you want to take the stretch a bit deeper, draw the left thigh towards you with both hands. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then switch sides. If you want to add in a hamstring and calf stretch, bring the left foot back to the floor (knee bent), and raise the right leg towards the ceiling, pressing through the heel. You can either hold onto the back of the right thigh or calf, or use a towel or belt around the ball of the foot. Hold for 5-10 breaths here before switching to the left side. Enjoy!