Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stretch for Better Bike Performance

Whether you're a time-starved cyclist trying to optimize your performance, a dedicated yoga practitioner, or anywhere in between, here are some tips on how to get the most out of each yoga/mobility move and understand how the benefits translate to good form on the bike (or in any sport).

Peaks Coaching Group Yoga Stretches Mobility for Better Bike Performance

1. Lift the chest + lengthen the spine.

This is one of the things I repeat most often in my classes and when coaching cyclists, both on the bike and on the yoga mat. On the yoga mat, when you invite space in the spine, draw the crown of the head to the ceiling, and get as much length as you can, you'll feel simultaneously strong, confident, light, buoyant, and engaged. It also promotes great health in the spine and other systems of the body. On the bike, this translates to a more open chest to optimize oxygen uptake and efficiency in the central nervous system through proper postural alignment.

Peaks Coaching Group Yoga Stretch for Better Bike Performance

2. Lengthen the tailbone + engage the rib cage.

When we stand most of us stick our butt out and our rib cage forward, increasing the arch/curve in our low back. This can exacerbate deep back ache and can be caused by core weakness in the back and belly muscles. On the bike, this means a weak core that draws energy away (an “energy leak”) from the pedal power of the legs, and it contributes to nagging back pain that hinders performance and enjoyment. This is not something you are trying to do on purpose, so stop it!

Instead, draw your front ribs in toward your back ribs when you stand, pull your belly button in toward your spine, and lengthen your tailbone toward down toward your heels. You don’t want to completely obliterate the lumbar/low back curve, just reduce it and effectively lengthen and strengthen the core: front, side, and back. Rewiring your body in this way when standing will translate to proper postural form and function while in the saddle.

3. Find your roots: hands, sit bones, feet.

In yoga standing poses on the mat, press your feet into floor for grounding and stability. The feet are the forgotten body part, crammed in “leather coffins” all day (cycling shoes being some of the worst of all). Give them freedom, space, and health by spreading them wide and planting them firmly when doing your yoga or standing in other capacities.

Similarly, in seated yoga positions, feel your sitting bones equally root into the floor, or when you're sitting on chairs try to find that rooting in the pelvis.

In yoga poses using the hands, spread the fingers wide and root into the mat, making for a stronger, even safer practice. This helps open, release, and strengthen the hands that grip your bike handlebars so tightly.

Peaks Coaching Group Yoga Stretch for Better Bike Performance

4. Hold the yoga pose but never the breath.

Inhale deeply. Exhale completely. Repeat. This is the core element of a yoga practice to focus the mind and calm/release the body. Learning to lengthen the breath and syncing the movements to the breath are critical components to yoga. This translates to stronger cycling performance by giving your body more of what it needs when it needs it most, keeping it as non-responsive as possible even in tough efforts on the bike.

Peaks Coaching Group Yoga Stretch for Better Bike Performance

5. Energize + relax simultaneously.

Yoga postures require awakening and engagement of the area involved, so try to find a sense of ease and letting go even as you engage the focus muscle. Take the stretch to the point of resistance, then take a deep breath and back it off a bit. This is particularly important for cyclists and other athletes: let your muscle recover, renew, and relax. On the bike we ideally find a “Zen-like” state in our efforts, even when pushing hard in a time trial or tough interval set, or chasing down a break or rambunctious riding partner. Training yourself to stay relaxed and focused while pushing and engaging is the key to taking your performance to the next level.

Leslee Trzcinski is a certified yoga instructor, 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 info@peakscoachinggroup.com.

Photo credits: Scott Hamilton