Asanas for the Cyclist

Feature photo by Kassandra Bracken, Asana photos by Caren Hui of Yogalife Studios

Feature photo by Kassandra Bracken, Asana photos by Caren Hui of Yogalife Studios

Many Edmonton locals are choosing to leave the car keys at home in favour of bike shoes and helmets as a means of commuting around our lovely city. As mentioned in a previous post, Edmonton’s warm summers have allowed for the development of a large density of summer festivals (see our festivals post here), and what better way to get to these festivals, and evade what is often a parking nightmare, then to hop on a bike and pedal to your destination.

Those who don’t use cycling as a way to commute may be found in local spin studios, which have grown in popularity within our city with the growth of studios like YEG cycle, Spinunity, Soul Cycle and Tru Ride. If you’re one of these two people, this post is catered to you, looking to provide yoga asanas that help to combat the common aches and pains that may follow heavy cycling.

Image from YEG Cycle's blog

Image from YEG Cycle's blog

Though a fun way to get around, and an easy activity to get your heart rate up, cycling for long distances (or in the case of spin classes, long durations) comes with its fair share of ailments if not balanced with cross training and stretching activities like yoga. Like any repetitive activities, we need to pay attention to the position our body is in for the duration of the activity, and look at what stretches and movements get us out of those postures we hold for so long. We should choose positions that counteract the ensuing tightness that is inevitable when fixed in a certain posture for a long time.

In the case of cycling, first of all we are either seated, or up on the pedals. Both positions keep the lumbar spine in a flexed position forward, with our hands on the pedals. In this position we invite tightness into our hip flexors, and also immobility into our lumbar spine as we aren’t really doing any rotations at that point in our back throughout the activity. Second, the chest is typically bent forward over the bike handles, with our shoulders rolled forward on the trunk, resulting in tightness in our pectoral muscles, and decreased mobility into our shoulders into external rotation. Finally, and most obviously, cycling is a lower body heavy activity – our glutes, our hamstrings and our quads are constantly working in sequence for the duration of the activity, and after long sessions on the bike can result in global leg tightness.

So how do we address these issues? Below are three categories of stretches as well as specific asana examples to work on the potential tight areas following an intense cycle session.

Lower Body Asanas:

Depending on the position of your body over your feet during cycling, you could work almost all major areas of the lower extremity – those who cycle with the upper body bent further forward work the glutes/hamstrings whereas those who cycle with the upper body more upright work the quads in a greater proportion. With the legs, it’s all about the feel of the postures. Whichever postures feel the most challenging and result in a higher intensity stretch are the ones to work on. For all cyclists, make sure you incorporate a hip flexor stretch that works into the iliacus/psoas complex as these are notoriously tight no matter how you cycle.

Low crescent lunge (Anjaneyasana)

This posture is great for addressing hip flexor tightness. Make sure, as you deepen into this posture that you are keeping the hips tucked in, and working towards elevating your chest towards the ceiling. By tucking your hips in and pushing them forward towards the front foot, you will feel a hip flexor stretch into the back leg.


Revolved triangle pose(Parivrtta Trikonasana)

Any forward fold, with the knees kept straight will address hamstring tightness. Revolved triangle is a great option for addressing both hamstring tightness and trunk immobility as it incorporates trunk rotation into the posture as well. If this is not accessible to you, a standing or seated forward fold is a great option to address both hamstrings simultaneously.


Reclined hero pose (Supta Virasana)

If you find that your quad muscles (the front of your thighs) are big problem makers after your cycle, reclined hero is a great posture lengthen out those areas. Go to a depth where a stretch is felt along the front of the thigh, either to your wrists, elbows, or fully on to your back.


Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

An effective way to address the deeper gluteal muscles that get tight during cycling is through pigeon pose. For the greatest depth, keep the front leg parallel with the short end of your mat, and move slowly into sleeping pigeon. If this is not accessible, fire log pose, or the figure four position on your back is a suitable alternative.


Upper Body and Heart Opening Asanas

For the most part, while cycling our arms are fixed, grasping the handlebars of our bike. This keeps the shoulders and pectoral muscles in the same position for long periods of time. It’s important to counteract the resulting tightness through moving our upper body in the reverse direction through heart openers.

Upward facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

This posture has the dual benefit of not only opening up those hip flexors, but also reverses the posturing of cycling by moving into lower back extension, while simultaneously opening up the heart and addressing potential pectoral tightness as a result of being fixed over the bike handles.


Bow pose (Dhanurasana)

This posture allows for the chest to open, relieving those tight pectoral muscles, while also inviting more mobility into our shoulders. Make sure during this posture that the shoulder blades pulling towards each other is what guides the movement of the arms, not just the reach for the feet. If this is not in your repertoire of postures, modify by interlacing the hands behind the back, and again allowing the shoulder blades coming together to elevate the chest off of the floor.


Lower back Asanas

Supine Twist (Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana)

A quick and easy way to invite more mobility into the lumber spine is through any supine twist. Laying on your back, with your knees together, drop them to one side making sure to keep the shoulders fixed to the mat. This focuses the twist on the lower body. Choose a leg position that allows for the greatest tolerable depth in this position.

If you are looking for more appropriate postures that can address the specific issues you experience from cycling, don’t hesitate to ask any one of our qualified instructors for advice following your class, or to book a one-on-one session to troubleshoot any issues you think need special attention. General guidelines: make sure the asanas produce a “stretch sensation” and not sharp pain. Muscle tension is good, but pain that is abrupt and cutting is not, and could be indicative of a more serious over use injury. In these cases, take these concerns to your local physiotherapist or physician to get a better diagnosis. Remember to keep all your health care providers and yoga instructors in the know! (see our previous article yoga and physiotherapy here).

Enjoy the ride this summer (and maybe even early Autumn too!) and make sure to keep yourself injury free by balancing out your cycling with a good yoga session!