It is important for all athletes (and anyone who stays active) to keep two key areas of the body open, flexible, and balanced: the hamstrings and the hip flexors (mainly the psoas). Both of these are primary causes of low back crankiness, especially for cyclists and runners, as well as reduced efficiency, power, and speed in pedal stroke or running gait.
I've got some must-do yoga movements to target these two critical areas. The pre-ride/run sequences can even be done with your cleats or running shoes on. Regularity is key! Try to do these consistently for great results.
Pre-Ride/Run SequenceMuscle research proves that it is important and better to do dynamic stretching before training in order to move the muscles and build some heat and blood flow. The sequence below targets the psoas and hips; do it up to three times each side before your ride or run. Make sure to follow the breath instructions for optimal results to prep your body and focus your mind.
Step 1. Breathing deeply, stand tall and confident in mountain pose. Inhale.
Step 2. Exhale and lift your left leg, hands remaining at your side.
Step 3. Inhale, stepping your left foot back and raising your arms overhead, your left leg straight and strong, your right knee directly over your right ankle.
Step 4. Exhale and pivot from your hips to arrow pose, keeping your back flat, your arms straight in line with your ears, and your right knee over your right ankle.
Step 5. Inhale and draw your hands together at your heart center, plugging your thumbs gently into your sternum. Watch that right knee; keep it over your right ankle.
Step 6. Exhale and twist to your right so that your left elbow "catches" your right knee. Gaze upward, with your left leg strong and your right knee over your right ankle.
Step 7. Inhale and untwist until your weight comes fully into your right foot. Keeping your right knee slightly bent, lift your left leg and balance with your arms straight, gazing down at the ground.
Step 8. Exhale and drop your left foot next to your right. Pause in chair pose, your tailbone drawn down, arms reaching high.
Step 9. Inhale and press into your feet to stand, arms at your side for mountain pose. Switch sides.
Before, During, and After Ride/Run SequenceThis is a great release for your low back, glutes, outer hips, and IT band. You can do this in shoes and even holding the top tube of your bike during a ride or standing roadside during a run.
Step 1: Standing tall with your tailbone dropping and your hands at your hips, cross your right ankle over your bent left knee. For ease in balancing, grab a wall, a chair, a tree, a car, your top tube, your training partner, etc.
Step 2: Reach your hands forward, keeping your back flat and your shoulders back and down.
Step 3: Pivot from your hips and reach forward. Your hands should stay shoulder height and your back flat.
Step 4: Drop your arms to your legs (right hand inside right knee, left hand on right foot), keeping your back flat. Switch sides.
Post-Ride/Run SequenceAfter riding or training, static stretches (where we hold poses for at least one minute) help to lengthen our tight hamstrings, overused hip flexors, and spine for injury prevention, balance, and recovery. Here are three of the many great ways to release the psoas, hip flexors, and back.
The cross-legged bridgeThis is a light backbend that strengthens and releases your back, legs, and hips as it massages your spine and opens your chest.
Lie down with your back flat on the ground and your knees bent, your elbows bent along your ribs, and your fingers pointing to the ceiling. Bring your right ankle onto your left knee and flex your right foot. Push your left foot and elbows hard into the mat to lift your hips off the floor. Don't tuck your chin; keep your throat open. Drop your right knee toward the floor but don’t let your right hip drop; keep both hip points level. Breathe deeply and steadily. Hold for five or more steady breaths, then switch sides.
Thread the needleThis stretch opens and releases your outer hip and hamstrings while neutralizing your spine.
Lie down with your back flat on the ground and your knees bent. Bring your right ankle onto your left knee and flex your right foot. Lift your bent left leg and bring your right knee toward your chest. Put your right hand on the inside of your right knee and your left hand on your right foot. Gently push your right knee away from your body. As you exhale, continue to draw your left knee closer to your chest, keeping your lower back on the floor. Relax your shoulders and back. Hold for a minimum of one minute, then switch sides.
Hamstring havenThis one stretches all your hamstrings while releasing any accumulated tension in your lower back.
Grab a strap or belt and lie down on your back with legs extended. Place the strap around the ball of your right foot. Slowly lengthen your right leg, letting the strap slide through your hand, until your leg is fully straightened and your elbows fully extended. Relax your upper neck and shoulders. Press the ball of your right foot into the strap while pulling the strap into the ball of your foot. Keep the back of your left thigh pressing into the ground, your left foot flexed. Hold one to two minutes on each side, breathing deeply and steadily. Note: If your hamstrings are extremely tight, keep both knees bent and work slowly toward straightening your legs.
Want to take your mobility to the next level? Yoga is a game changer. It offers physical and mental benefits to complement your training in ways that other things can't touch. Contact us for more information today!
Tune Yoga, a former professional cyclist, and a PCG associate coach. She and her fellow PCG coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Leslee can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.