Yoga for cyclists is incredible for improving your strength and flexibility on the saddle. Here’s the how, why and what to start stretching!
What’s your favourite position? No matter whether you like road cycling, MTB or Time Trialing. Chances are that you end up spending a lot of time in the same position on your bicycle.
The nature of cycling is such that our upper bodies are near static and the lower moves in the same rhythmic motion. Which is what we love about being in that state of zen.
This consistency though has a downside as you clock up the miles. Your body gets stuck in a rut and your range of motion decreases. Which is where, yoga holds so much importance for bicyclists. It helps improve your flexibility and strength, to keep you going strong on your bike.
We are grateful to Arushi, Charvi, Jagadish, Shiya & Sumit (x2!) for taking time out to share their knowledge and experience with us to create this knowledgebase for you. The community rocks!
Why Yoga for Cyclists?
The first question you might have is why do cyclists need yoga. The below are a handful of reasons why we need it and how yoga helps.
Bicycles were invented by humans and as such, cycling is not natural to the human body as say running or walking. We ‘teach’ our bodies to ride a cycle, which is a rather weird sport.
The upper half of the cyclists body is almost motionless (except in the middle of a crash!), while the lower half is constantly at work. Yet, the legs are also maintaining a constant motion.
Imagine an average rider with a cadence of 80, riding for an hour. They will average 450+ revolutions for every hour of riding. Multiply this with 20 odd hours of riding in the month and you realise that it is easier to learn yoga than to learn to multiply correctly!
The point is that, your motionless top half and uniform bottom half sees the muscles getting habituated to a specific range of motion. Ever try touching your toes immediately after a reasonably long ride, see how that feels.
Yoga increases flexibility.
Remember that upper body which needs to stay motionless for long hours in the saddle? Yeah, that is only possible with a strong core. Increased development of the glutes and hamstrings, pressurises your lower back muscles to maintain that posture.
Lack of core strength strains your lower back. Which more often that not, leads to more complicated back injuries.
Yoga helps develop core strength and improves the posture on your bike.
No matter how hard you train, you need to allow your body to recover. Else all that training goes to waste. You need to consciously devote time to aid recovery.
Yoga helps your body recover faster by improving circulation while you hold the multitude of poses.
With faster recovery, improved flexibility and a stronger core, you are in a better position to keep yourself away from injuries. Because injuries mean having to stay away from the saddle. And none of us want to live life away from the saddle!
Balance & Breathing
Riding a bike is all about maintaining balance. You don’t do that and you fall on your face.
Yoga with its many postures, helps you understand your body balance better. This helps with your bike handling skills, as your brain is more attuned to staying upright.
Breathing is fundamental to yoga, as it is with cycling or any other sport. Being able to control your breathing will help you master the art of pacing on your bike rides.
How to Start?
Below is a list of yoga asanas which are beneficial for everyone, but especially for cyclists. These asanas are beginner friendly and doable by anyone with even a minute amount of fitness.
All of these stretch the muscles sets most relevant to cyclists. It will help you become more flexible and as a result fitter and faster.
None of these asanas are complicated which require the supervision of an instructor. Yet if practiced regularly, they will suffice to maintain your everyday bicycle body balance.
Stand with your feet together or about 10 cm apart, with your arms by the sides. Steady the body and distribute the weight equally on both feet. Now raise your arms over the head. Interlock the fingers and turn the palms upward. Now place the hands on top of the head. And fix your eyes at a point.
Inhale and stretch the arms, shoulders and chest upward. Raise the heels, coming up on the toes. Stretch the whole body from top to bottom without losing balance or moving your feet. Hold your breath and the position for a few seconds.
Inhale while raising the arms, hold breath in the stretch and exhale while lowering the arms.
Benefits: Tadasana develops physical and mental balance. The entire spine is stretched and loosened helping to clear up congestion of the spinal nerves at the points where they emerge from the spinal column. It stretches the rectus abdominis muscles and the intestines.
Stand straight with your feet apart and extend both arms to keep it parallel to the ground. Inhale and raise the right hand facing upwards, then exhale and bend your waist towards the left. Bend till your left hand is near your left ankle, while keeping your right hand steady.
Hold the shoulders steady and turn your head towards the ceiling. Your chest shouldn’t be facing the floor, it should be facing towards the front.
Benefits: Trikonasana is one of the best yoga stretches for cyclists, as it works on the hips, groins, hamstrings, calves, shoulder, chest and spine. This asana relieves back pain, a common occurrence after being seated for a long time. It also helps with mental and physical equilibrium, which is crucial for safe riding. Perform this asana on both sides to get equal benefit to the left and right hip.
Dhanurasana also known as the bow pose.
Lie flat on your stomach with feet apart at hip width and arms near the torso. Inhale and lift your ankles with knee bent towards your buttocks. Simultaneously hold your ankles with your hands. Breathe constantly as you hold this pose for 20 odd seconds. Release the pose as you exhale.
Benefits: Strengthens the back and abdominal muscles. Opens up the chest, neck and shoulders. Tones the leg and arm muscles and adds greater flexibility to the back.
The cow/ cat pose as it is also commonly known.
Bend your knees and rest it on the floor, with thighs perpendicular to the floor. Place your palms on the floor, keeping your arms straight, so that your back is parallel to the ground. There should be no stress at this point anywhere on your body, as you start in this neutral position.
Now, inhale and raise your chin as you tilt your head back, while pushing your navel down and raising your tailbone. Hold this pose for a few seconds. This is Marjarasana.
Then exhale and drop your chin to your chest and arch your back. This is Bitilasana.
You do these combination of poses as you inhale and exhale.
Benefits: This combination of asanas helps bring flexibility to the spine. It also strengthens the wrists and shoulders. This also massages the digestive system and improves digestion, along with toning the abdomen.
Salamba Bhujangasana/ Bhujangasana/ Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
How to do Bhujangasana or cobra pose as it is commonly known.
Lie on your stomach with legs together and toes pointing outward. Your arms should be beside your thighs and chin should be on the ground.
Brings your arms in front of your head and shoulder. Arms should be parallel to each other. Fold arms at the elbows. Place palms on the ground to the sides of the shoulder.
Inhale, slowly raise the head, neck, and shoulders up to the navel or beyond it. Raise the chin as high as possible. Maintain it as long as you can.
Exhale, bring your body down to the neutral position.
Salamba Bhujangasana is an easier version of Bhujangasana for beginners. In this you follow the same steps as above, except you keep the navel on the floor, thus reducing the arch of your back.
The Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is a slightly higher level of the Bhujangasana, which is also known as the upward facing dog pose. In this, you arch and stretch your back even more.
Benefits: Opens up the shoulders and neck to relieve pain and tones the abdomen. While simultaneously strengthening the entire back and shoulders. You also improve the flexibility of the upper and middle back and expand the chest.
Vajrasana or the thunderbolt pose is a simple asana which is beginner friendly.
Start by kneeling on the floor, pull your knees and ankle together with the sole of your feet facing upwards. Exhale as you sit back on your legs, with your buttocks resting on your heels.
Put your hands on your thighs and breathe in as you straighten your spine by using your head to pull your body upward. At the same time, press your tailbone towards the floor.
A slightly more advanced variation of this is Balasana or child’s pose.
Start with first getting into the thunderbolt pose. Then extend your arms forward, with your palms flat on the ground. Your chest should touch your thighs, as your arms are extended ahead. Hold this pose for 30-45 seconds and breathe slowly to relax.
Benefits: Vajrasana is one of the best asana to strengthen your pelvic, thigh and lower back muscles. It helps you to keep your mind calm and stable, which is needed for cyclists.
Balasana enhances blood circulation in the lower abdomen, improving digestion. Relieves excess gas and pain in the stomach region. Strengthens the nerves of legs and thighs. Makes knees and ankle joints flexible. Keeps the neck and spine aligned and erect.
Anjanesasana or the low lunge pose is generally done subsequent to the downward facing dog pose.
You start with your feet planted on the ground and hands placed palms down up ahead. You then draw your right foot towards your right hand, such that your knee is directly above the ankle. Your left knee meanwhile is lowered all the way to the floor.
Breathe in as you stretch your arms overhead, with the chest and head facing the ceiling. Pull your tailbone towards the ground while engaging your core muscles. Hold and then return to neutral position. Alternate the legs for your lunges.
Benefits: Anjaneasana has tremendous benefits for cyclists, because while cycling your back is hunched for a long time. This asana gives a great arch to your spine and nice stretch to your psoas muscles, which is good for recovery.
This asana targets: hip flexors, quadriceps, ankles, core balance and spinal flexion.
From mountain pose, take a big step back with your left leg so that your left foot is pointing to the left about 45 degrees. Feet should remain hip width apart. The body faces the front of the mat.
Bend your front knee and thigh, keeping the weight in the front heel and big toe and the back foot is pressing from the outer heel. Square the hips and ensure the knee is directly above the ankle. On inhalation, lift the arms up straight, releasing the shoulders from the ears and widen the shoulder blades.
Stay in the pose for 5-15 breaths. Exit the pose as you exhale, pressing your back heel as you straighten the front leg and lower the arms. Then step the back foot forward to return to mountain before performing the pose on the other side.
Benefit: Strengthens and tones your lower back, arms and legs. It strengthens your thighs, ankles, calves, shoulders, arms and back.
It stretches your navel, ankles, thighs, groin, lungs, thorax, calves, shoulders and neck. Likewise it is an incredible asana for those who are in sedentary jobs. Useful for digestive system and spine. This asana backs off solidified shoulders. It additionally discharges stress from the shoulders very quickly.
Baddha Konasana is also known as the cobbler pose. You start this asana by being seated with your legs outstretched in front of you.
Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together and pull your feet as close to your body as comfortable. Press your feet together and let gravity pull your knees as close to the ground as comfortable. Keep your back straight and spine long.
As a modification, you can lean forward to stretch your spine further.
Benefits: It stretches the groin and inner thighs, while increasing the flexibility of knees, angles, feet and hips. This opens the entire pelvic region and is beneficial for the lumbar region.
It is the best pre-natal exercise and also helps relieve menstrual stress. Also useful for people with flat feet.
Ardha Matsyendrasana/ Purna Matsyendrasana
Ardha Matsyendrasana is also known as the half lord of the fishes pose. This pose sounds more complicated than it actually is and with a bit of practice is easy for any beginner.
You start with being seated with your legs flat in front of you. Then bend your right knee and place it over the left knee to form a pyramid with your leg. Bend your left leg, to bring your left heel as close to your right buttock as comfortable. Sit straight and hold your right ankle with your left hand, with the arm on the outside of your right knee.
Twist your torso towards the right, keeping your gaze steady with your hand. Straighten your right arm and place your palm on the floor behind the left side of your waist.
Hold this position for a few breaths and then release and do the stretch on the other side of the body.
Purna Matsyendrasana or full lord of the fishes pose is a full spinal twisting posture. It is a more advanced variation of Ardha Matsyendrasana.
Benefits: Tones the spine, it expands the vertebrae and increases the blood flow to the spinal muscles and nerves. It also stretches the leg muscles, getting the blood flowing through the calves, hamstrings, knees and ankles.
This pose also improves the flexibility of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Since the arms are used as a lever for the twist.
The twisting and stretching of the abdominal muscles facilitates the digestive tract. Chest muscles are also expanded, thus increasing lung volume and breathing capacity.
Natarajasana is also commonly known as the dancer pose. As with dance, it works out a number of parts of the body.
Stand with the feet together and focus on a fixed point. Bend the right knee and grasp the ankle with the right hand behind the body.
Keep both knees together and maintain the balance. Slowly raise and stretch the right leg backward, as high as comfortable.
Make sure the right hip does not twist and the leg is raised directly behind the body. Reach upward and forward with the left arm, bringing the tip of the index finger and thumb of the left hand together to form jnana mudra.
Focus the gaze on the left hand. Now hold the position for as long as is comfortable.
Lower the left arm to the side. Lower the right leg, bringing the knees together. Release the right ankle and lower the foot to the floor. Lower the right arm to the side. Relax, then repeat with the left leg.
Benefits: This asana strengthens the back, shoulders, arms, hips and legs. It helps develop a sense of balance and coordination and improves concentration.
Shavasana also known as the corpse pose is practiced at the end of a yoga session. It is easy to do physically, but requires intense concentration of the mind.
Lie down flat on your back. Relax the shoulders and keep your arms slightly away from your body, with palms facing upwards. Keep your feet spread at hip width.
Close your eyes and relax the entire body by breathing deeply. Hold this pose for a few minutes, as your body relaxes and becomes more aware of each singular part.
This will help you relax completely and feel refreshed.
Real World Benefits of Yoga
Charvi Kain, describes her real life experience of practicing yoga and how it has helped.
I have been practising yoga on and off since I was 14 years old. I was the kid who would get picked last in any team sport. Walking into my first yoga class was a revelation that I could actually belong in a fitness activity!
Yoga of course is much more about the mind than just the body. Even as a group activity it is so welcoming and non judgmental. In recent years, I’ve found cycling to spark a similar “freeing” feeling in myself. From a performance perspective, the breath work certainly helps maintain our aerobic capacity while the surya namaskar is the perfect warm up for a long ride!
About the Contributors
We’re grateful to all of you for taking time to share your knowledge and going specially to click these photos. Proud to have a strong and vibrant cycling community in India…
Arushi Rana is from Dehradun, Uttarakhand. She got motivated to take up cycling by seeing her younger brother Avneesh cycling long distance from Doon to various cities in 2019. She did a successful bikepacking trip from Manali to Khardung La, in June ’19 which boosted her confidence and hasn’t stopped till date.
Professionally, Arushi is a certified Yoga Teacher having a master’s degree in Yogic Science from Uttarakhand Sanskrit University, currently based in Rishikesh. She has also been been running a Kathak school in Dehradun for the past 6 years, affiliated to Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Prayagraj.
Jagdish Sachanandani is from Jaipur, Rajasthan. He started cycling in 2020. Jagdish is also a Yog Trainer since 2019. He is also an M.A in Yoga.
He posts some stellar pictures of cycling and yoga on his Instagram account.
Shiya Lalwani is National level cyclist, who has been competing for the past 4 years.
She started her journey as a mountain biker and bagged a medal at the nationals. Her interest and curiosity in cycling kept growing. And she explored road racing and track racing. She has also won a medal at the road and track nationals as well.
Along with cycling training, she does a lot of strength and mobility training. Yoga has helped her improve mobility and breathing power. Yoga has been a way of life for her and it gives mental peace.
Sumit x 2
Sumit Thapliyal is from Dehradun and has been cycling since he was 12 years old. He is also a certified yoga teacher.
Sumit started practicing yoga 5 years ago. The practice of yoga helps to work through his daily mental and physical experiences. Because yoga brings awareness to the inner body sensations, it reflects what’s happening in the mind.
Yoga is not just about being the most flexible person. Though the more you practice, the more flexible you will become.
Sumit Patil, is an experienced endurance racer, who wears many medals on his chest. He was one of the first Indians to have qualified and ridden PBP and RAAM. Sumit is also the first Indian to complete a Full Everesting, way back in 2015. He also holds the record for the fastest cyclist to ride from Manali to Khardung La in 72 hours.
As an athlete, Yoga has been an integral part of his training regime since his school days.