Complementing your training with other exercises is a great way to ensure you’re keeping every part of your body strong, flexible and fit. Cycling and other repetitive sports like running, swimming and such, focus the effort in certain muscles while leaving other unattended, the result is an unbalanced development of the body. Soon, the stronger muscles start to put strain on the joints and on the weaker muscles allowing all manner of injuries to start taking place.
Here are five yoga poses that can be of great help, practice them AFTER your cycling and no matter what you do, don’t forget to breathe!
Work on straightening your legs and bringing your heels to the floor. This might take some time if you have tightness in your calves and hamstrings, so take it easy, stretch gently as much as possible BUT if there is ANY pain, take a few steps back for you’re probably going too far. Check that your toes are facing forwards and your feet are separated hip width and your hands shoulder width, keeping the neck completely relax and all the area between the neck and shoulders extended, you can achieve this by trying to keep your shoulders as far away from your ears as possible.
This is one of my favorites and I can literally feel my body asking for it after a long ride. It takes a great ammount of flexibility in some of the areas most cyclists are tighter so be carefull and patient… emphasis on the patient part since you will most likely be thrown out of balance constantly the first few times you try it. The idea here also is keeping the legs sraight with your heels on the floor. If it’s too much you can slightly bend the front knee, but keep in mind you are working towards stretching it, use your breath for working on stretching deeper and deeper, little by little. Another adaptation that is very usefull is starting with your lower hand placed on top of your calve and slowly progress in sliding it down until you reach the floor. Alignment is far more important than where your hand is, so don’t compromise the extension of the spine, the possition of your feet or the openess of the chest. I find that it helps a lot if on every inhale I lenghten my spine as much as possible using my lower abdomen for pushing my hips back and the upper abdomen for pushing the chest forwards while reaching far away with my both arms and both legs lenghtening them; then on the exhale work on twisting my spine a little deeper, specially the upper back, pressing my heels a little harder on the floor and focus on keeping my hips leveled. Sciatica? THIS is the pose for you, you’ll feel the stretch from your lower back all the way down to your heel… it also do wonders for the lateral lower abdomen, if you do it right, you’ll feel the burn!
Another powerfull one that brings immediate relief after a hard ride, if bringing your hand down to the floor is too much, try placing your elbow on top of your thigh. Then again, alignment is key. Place the whole soul of your feet on the floor checking that the front toes point straight forwards and same with the front knee. Depending on how tight are your hips (a problem in most cyclists), the knee will tend to point to the side away from your arm and your navel down towards the floor. Work on using the hip muscles for opening wide and push the knee towards the armpit while simoultaneously working on rotating the hip as if you wanted yout navel pointing to the ceiling, you will feel the stretch on the hip… goooood, you want to feel that. The opposite side of the body is also busy, press your back heel strong into the floor, push the floor and that will help lenghtening the ankle, leg, waist, chest, shoulder and arm. On that other end, stretch your upper hand far away as if you were trying to reach far for something and try to rotate your shoulder out, keeping it away from your ear.
Another one with tricky alignment, the stretch is intense so progress slowly focusing on keeping the spine long, imagine that you are reaching far with your chest, use the upper abdomen for extending your chest forwards and the lower abdomen for pushing your hips back, paying attention in keeping them leveled. The front toes AND knee should point forwards, as your chest, navel and head, and the back foot slightly open , about 45 degrees to the side. Ideally the palm of your hands are together with the fingers pointing toward the head. This is a really intense stretch for the wrists, which helps prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and tightness on hands, wrists and shoulders; but please be carefull and if you feel pain in the wrist, even if it’s a little bit, release your hands. An adaptation can be making a fist with both hands and press them together or holding on to your elbows. Choose the appropriate adaptation for your level, in all of them push your shoulders back keeping the chest open and the neck long.
5 Marichyasana III: Marichi’s Pose III.
Stimulates and massages the internal organs, especially liver and kidneys.
Relieves mild back pain, stretches and strengthens the spine.
Prevents hip pain by stretching and strengthening the surrounding muscles.
Twists are always goooooood, but keep in mind half of their goodness depends on keeping the spine long and chest open. If reaching your hands is too much, you can always place the back hand on the floor and bend the front arm, placing the elbow next to your knee. On the inhale lenghten the spine, open the chest, push the shoulders back and during the exhale twist a little deeper working on twisting each and every vertebrae of the spine.
Yoga takes time and doing it on your own can be confusing “wait, which arm goes where and then I stretch how?!”, I always recommend at least at the beginning taking a few classes with a good teacher that can correct you and help you develop a better notion of the propper alignment. But more than anything, DO it, FEEL it and little by little your own body will tell you how. Most times if it feels bad, awkward, then there’s something is out of place, check every part of your body, where your toes are pointing, how is your spine… if it feels good, then most likely you’re doing it right, go deeper, dive slowly into that good feeling. Be patient and keep in mind it’s not so important ‘reaching’ the whole pose, that might be a long term process. Focus more on what your body is feeling. Use your breath for opening those tight places in the body and advance gradually. If there is pain, step back!… Like my teacher used to say “practice and all is comming!”.