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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.
8 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.
Eka Pada Galavasana, variation (Flying Pigeon modification)
This is the quintessential buttocks yoga stretch for avid cyclists. This pose allows you to determine the depth of your stretch while also building strength and stability in the ankle of your standing leg.
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), cross your right leg above your left knee into the shape of a figure 4. Bend your left knee and lower your hips any amount to find a stretch in your right buttocks. If you have a stationary bike, you can hold on to your bike for balance. Hold for 5-10 breaths. Stand up and switch sides.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Downward-Facing Dog is one of those great multi-purpose yoga stretches for cyclists. It stretches the backs of the legs (calves, hamstrings and glutes) and opens your chest, which is often tight from hunching over the handlebars.
From a Plank Pose, shift your hips up into the air, making an inverted V-shape with your body. Drop your chest back towards your shins and bend your knees slightly to take strain off the backs of your knees. Pedal through your feet. This will enhance the stretch in the opposite calf muscle of the bent knee. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Upavistha Konasana (Seated Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
Cycling requires intense use of the inner thigh muscles (adductors). Tight adductors can cause knee pain and under-utilization of your outer glutes, which you need to remain stable in the saddle. This pose stretches the hamstrings and adductors while relieving pressure from the knees. You can also isolate the stretch over each leg by side-bending over one leg at a time. Hold for a few breaths.
From seated, widen your legs out from right to left. You can start with your feet placed wider than your outer hips, and widen from there. Hinge at your hips slightly, and walk your fingertips forward any amount as you release your torso down toward the floor. You can place yoga props under your chest, stay on your fingertips or palms, or release your elbows to the ground. To activate different leg, hip, and back muscles, experiment with various activations of your feet, such as flexing your feet, pointing your toes, and flounting your feet (a cross between pointing and a flexing your feet). Hold for 10-20 breaths.
Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)
We focus a lot on the leg muscles for our post-cycle stretching, but don’t stop there. While we are cycling, we are also hunched over the handlebars and bent forward at the hips. Upward Plank pose stretches tight pectoralis muscles by shifting the chest upward, and also stretches tight hip flexors.
Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your hands several inches behind your hips and your fingers pointing forward. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, big toes turned inward, heels at least a foot away from your buttocks. Exhale, press your inner feet and hands down against the floor, and lift your hips until you come into a reverse tabletop position, torso and thighs approximately parallel to the floor, shins and arms approximately perpendicular.
Without losing the height of your hips, straighten your legs one at a time. Lift your hips still higher without clenching your buttocks. Press your shoulder blades against your back torso to support the lift of your chest. Without compressing the back of your neck, slowly drop your head back. Be sure to point your toes for an additional stretch at the front of your ankles and press the hips and chest up to the sky to open up the front of your body. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
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.