As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the U.S., so did a bicycle boom. According to YJ sister publication Outside, sales of stationary bikes tripled and sales of outdoor bikes more than doubled in 2020. These sales presaged a massive increase in the use of bikes in our homes and on our streets—and a lot of sore leg muscles. That’s where yoga for cyclists can help.
A deep dive into the muscles used during the pedal stroke can help us understand how yoga can help cyclists recover from their rides. The downward stroke of the pedal starts with a combination of the gluteal and quadriceps muscles. Your hamstrings and calf muscles are recruited a quarter way through the revolution. The hamstring and calves return the foot up from the bottom of the pedal stroke, and the quadriceps pull the foot backward and up to the apex of the revolution.
At an average of 80–100 revolutions per minute, those muscles will inevitably become tight from working so hard. Taking time for a yoga routine to round out your cycling workouts can ensure athletic sustainability and freedom from injury.
4 yoga poses for cyclists
Sucirandhrasana (Eye-of-the-Needle Pose)
This pose stretches the glutes without stressing your knee. Lie on your back, draw the knees toward your chest, and cross your right ankle above your left knee. Keep your right foot flexed, interlace your hands around the back of your left thigh, and push your right knee away as you pull your left thigh in. You should be feeling a nice stretch on the outside of your right hip. Hold for 5–10 breaths and switch sides.
Anjaneyasana, variation (Low Lunge)
The hip flexors work hard to draw your knee up and bend your torso forward at the hip when you’re cycling. Crescent lunge stretches the hip flexors of the back leg to counteract tightness from cycling. From Tabletop, step your right foot forward and stack your knee on top of or slightly behind your right ankle. Elongate your left leg behind you, keeping your left knee on your mat. Cushion your back knee with a blanket or by folding up the mat. For a bonus quad stretch, reach back for your left ankle and bend the heel toward your buttocks. You can use a strap to catch hold of your ankle if it’s out of reach. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Ardha Chandra Chapasana (Sugarcane variation of Half Moon Pose)
Half Moon is another great quadricep and hip flexor stretch. It also relieves any pressure on the back knee that you might experience in Low Lunge. From Low Lunge, tuck your left toes and lift your back knee off the ground. Place your right hand outside of your right foot, to the floor or a block. Shift your body weight forward onto your right foot. Press down into your right foot and lift your left leg to hip height. Once you’re stable, bend your top knee and reach your top hand back to catch hold of your left foot. Draw your lifted foot toward your buttock to stretch your quad and the front of your hips. Option: You can use your stationary bike for balance as you catch hold of your lifted foot. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Switch sides.
Uttanasana, variation (Standing Forward Bend)
This is one of my favorite variations of standing forward bend because it stretches the lateral hamstrings and IT band. This is a tough area of the leg to stretch, but so necessary! Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Cross your right ankle in front of the left. Hinge at your hips and fold your torso forward and down. You can bend your knees as you fold. Use props or your bike (as pictured) under your hands to control the depth of the stretch. Bend the front (right) knee to feel a deeper stretch in the back left IT band. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Ingrid Yang, MD, JD, E-RYT-500, C-IAYT has been teaching yoga since 1999 and is a physician specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Her expert grasp of anatomy and human physiology bring a unique, thoughtful and joyful experience to the practice of yoga. Ingrid is also a certified yoga therapist under the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and a Reiki master of the Usui tradition.