Is your bottom sore today? How about your lower back? Maybe your neck and shoulders feel tight after being on your bike? If so, read on!
Cyclists often experience tightness in the major muscle groups used in riding a bike: the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips, shoulders, and neck are particularly in need of regular stretching.
The reason why cycling is so demanding on these muscles is partly because the motion is all on one plane: Forward.
In addition, the cyclist and the bike become one in order to achieve the motion forward. The quadriceps are the pumps that drive the machine forward, getting stronger and bigger. The other muscles in the legs, hips, lower back and stomach are all engaged in driving the machine forward. The upper part of the body (Shoulders, arms, chest and neck) is hunched forward and relatively disengaged, other than for retaining balance and not falling off the bike. As the body bounces up and down on the bike seat, the hip joints act as shock absorbers but the main pressure of this bouncing action is taken in the base of the spine and sacro-iliac joint. The arms, wrists and shoulders also act as shock absorbers. This creates a whole series of imbalances in the body, with some muscles being very strong (Think of quadricep dominance) whilst opposing muscles in the same group are compromised (Think of shortened hamstrings and Achilles tendons.)
Perhaps the most obvious imbalance is the repeated exertion of some muscle groups and joints (mostly those from the waist down) and less utilisation of others (from the waist up). Those that are used a great deal (such as the hamstrings) will tighten and this may cause the most common problems experienced by cyclists: Lower back pain, tight hips, reduced joint mobility and poor alignment. Simultaneously, there is a tendency to underuse certain muscle groups which in theory could support correct alignment and increase power output (the postural muscles). Adding all of this up equates to a potentially unhealthy cycle of body habits.
A cyclist is likely to benefit from attending any good yoga class regularly. There are hundreds of different yoga postures, some would argue millions. Each posture addresses different parts of the body simultaneously and can be roughly categorised, for example standing postures, forward bends or back bends. A well-sequenced yoga class will function on the basis that every action has a reaction: Through pose and counter-pose, expansion and contraction, compress and release, balance in the body will be recovered.
On a musculoskeletal level, yoga’s prime concern is to find freedom and balance in the body via healthy alignment. This is achieved by increasing flexibility and strength in all muscles via mindful and co-ordinated breath and movement. The inhalation and exhalation not only accompany every movement, but both breath and movement have a clear energetic direction. It is this unique combination that makes progress in yoga so swift and obvious.
A good yoga class for biking and cycling will utilise postures that:
- Increase mobility in the joints that typically suffer from reduced mobility – in particular, the hips, shoulders, back and knees
- Strengthen postural muscles to encourage correct seated alignment and ease overuse of the upper body (particularly the trapezius and pecs minor), hips (especially the illiopsoas and groin) and lower back strain (sacro-illiac region)
- Release, tone and lengthen the commonly overdeveloped muscle groups (quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings)
- Work on the body’s asymmetry
- Counteract the cyclist’s position when astride a bike (Opening the chest, moving hips and legs on different planes, releasing SI joint, twisting and bending the spine)