Five yoga stretches for cyclists that I love

These five simple daily stretches will make you more flexible and stronger on the bike

In this article on yoga stretches for cyclists I’m going to share my favourite daily yoga sequence that help support flexibility, strength and performance on the bike.

My top five yoga postures for cyclists to make you more flexible:

Sun salutation
Supine spine twist
Camel pose
Pigeon pose
Lunges

Headstand splits at Mandrem beach circa 2019
(Practice makes perfect and the beach is great place to fall down 😉

A lifetime of cycling

I’ve been a cyclist for a long time. I’ve crashed bikes into bushes as a child, ridden them off ramps as a teenager, commuted in a big city and cycled halfway around the world. All that repetition leads to a certain body shape with particular areas of strength and power.

Conversely, all that cycling lends itself to weak core muscles, inflexible joints and tight hamstrings. As a youngster, there’s rarely any need to stretch – it’s automatic. However, as we grow older, plainer, saner, we remember all the stretches we must do. 

An absolute beginner

I began a regular yoga practice early on in my London career as a salesman. I’d dipped a toe at university and found it of great benefit – a few gentle stretches would help me to relax after a busy day on campus.

These tentative first steps were only the beginning, but it was a false start. In my middle twenties I started a company and found myself commuting north of a 180km per week. 

By my late twenties the distance was down to a more modest 100km a week but the miles were beginning to tell. The stiffness in my calfs after a short ride a sure sign that there was work to do.

Happily, at this time I joined a new company which happened to offer a gym membership. I enrolled and found myself attending my first proper yoga class. After just a few sessions on the mat, I was hooked.

Upward facing dog
(Feel the flex from your feet through your legs to your chest)

Hot yoga

Three years into the new job and I was a three to four times week guy. I even did a 16 week stint of Bikram Yoga, the hot room and hot pants craze that became popular in the UK circa 2013.

One of the best things about the yoga stretches that I learned during this time was the variety; I had three different teachers sharing three similar but diverse practices. This range of movement across disciplines has informed the choice of yoga stretches for cyclists that I now practice.

The usefulness of any yoga posture or stretch is determined by our ability to be in the body. The success of the asana is dependent upon the awareness of our own body, our breath and the sensations that arise as we move through the sequence.

Advanced forward fold
(hang loose, don’t try to touch your toes first time, just feel the fold at the waist)

Get there with breath

By this I mean, its important to be focused on the breath (deep full breaths into the belly, up through chest into the clavicle and shoulders – you’ll notice here of your shoulders are tight), the abdomen should be ‘zipped’ up so that the tummy is flat and the hips scoop up.

Stand up straight now to feel the shape of your body with this breath.
Body fully relaxed, feet rooted firmly to the ground, knees slightly bent, shoulders rolled back, chest out.

Arms straight hanging loose but firm from your shoulders, hands about a foot apart from your sides (so there’s a wedge shape space between your arm pits at the point to the wide end at your hands).

Now breath in deeply  – feel the breath move into your belly up through your abdomen into your chest and shoulders. Great! You just did your first yoga posture – its called ‘mountain pose’.

Wuji

This is the basic starting point for our practice. My top five yoga stretches for cyclists aim to provide a starting point for yoga novices to cultivate their own practice.

These are the bare essentials to use daily, whether you cycled of not. They’re full range movements that support the cyclist in everyday life.

Namaste.

Pro tip: remember to keep your tummy tucked and sit bone pointing down to create lots of space in your ribs and chest (imagine pulling a zip up the front of your body). It should feel active, not tensed. Check in for correct posture with a few deep breaths. This is called Wuji in qigong and is your baseline posture for life.

Final meditation after yoga sequence at Agonda beach, south Goa, circa 2019

Five yoga postures for cyclists that I love

Sun salutation

A sun salutation, some times referred to as Surya Namaskar, is a sequence of yoga postures that come together to form the basis your new practice.

Sun salutation combines 12 yoga stretches for cyclists are designed to promote flexibility, prepare the breath for deeper postures and to warm up the body for twists and compressions.

It’s a dynamic set that provides the foundation of a regular yoga practice. This is my personal favourite way to start the day. This is a sequence that you can do anytime; pre ride to boost your performance or post spin to relax.

Downward facing dog
(the crease at the waist is the most important factor in this pose)

Sun salutation sequence

  1. Begin by standing with feet together, place your hands in prayer at the centre of your chest, focus on the breath
  2. On the inhale, stretch your hands up above your head, slightly arch into a backbend
  3. As you exhale, with your tummy pulled flat, fold at the waist as you place your hands on your feet, touch your toes if you can, however the focus should be on the quality of the stretch from the waist – you’ll feel the pull in your hamstrings as you release the breath
  4. Hands to the mat, inhale, step back with your left foot into a deep lunge, weight balanced between your right foot and left toes, arch into a backbend raising your hands above your head in prayer
  5. Fall forward, release the breath, hands to the front of the mat, step both feet to the back of the mat, fold at the waist, push up into downward facing dog
  6. Take a breath in, drop into a press-up position, knees raised from the ground, bum in the air, exhale as you glide through your outstretched arms
  7. Into upward facing dog; top of your feet flat to the ground, legs straight, hands at your waist as you push your upper body up, stretching the lower back and tailbone
  8. Inhale now as you push back into downward facing dog
  9. Exhale, step back with your right foot, lunging deep into the left side of your body as we reverse the sequence, hands above your head in prayer into a backbend
  10. Step forward, inhale, tummy tucked in, exhale as you fold at the waist arms relaxed to the ground
  11. Inhale, come up with a straight back, hands above your head in prayer
  12. Exhale, hands to chest in prayer

That is one full round of salutation to the sun. Typically, I repeat this asana three – five times. I’d recommend at least three sun salutations as a way to warm up in readiness for the next stretch.

There are many variations on this classic sequence, these yoga stretches for cyclists are an essential step towards greater strength, flexibility and relaxation based performance improvement. 

Hamstring / inner hip stretch
(I like to rest in this position for a minute to feel the alignment before the spine twist)

Spine twist

I love spine twist. It’s my new favourite. This yoga stretch is perfect for cyclists because it puts space between each vertebrae of the spine and helps the erector spine do its thing.

Riding a bike puts us hunched over the bars more often than not. The lower back is compressed and the shoulders become rounded. This is not a natural position.

Supine (lying down) spinal twist is the perfect remedy for those long days in the saddle. 

  1. Lie down on your back, legs straight together, spread arms out to form a T shape
  2. Bend your left leg and place the foot on the right knee
  3. Drop your left knee across you body to the ground on your right side
  4. Keep your left shoulder on the ground, head stays neutral, facing up
  5. Breath in this posture with deep relaxation for 8 – 10 breaths
  6. Repeat on the right side

For me this posture brings awareness to many parts of the body. There can be tension in my lower spine, upper back or hips. It varies day to day on what activity I’ve been doing.

Spine twist can feel uncomfortable at times, which means it is an important stretch to do. Practice where the pain is! I continue to persevere with this asana with variations.

It’s absolutely OK to drop the knee fully to the ground and work to bring the shoulder down. It’s also fine to place the foot flat on the ground on the outside of the knee if the original position is too strong.

Feel into it with breath and figure out what’s most comfortable for you. The benefits are many, your back will be very grateful.

Camel pose
(start gently sitting on your heels before you lift into the full posture)

Camel pose

Camel pose will work your quads, open up your chest and put a juicy bend in your back. This simple yoga stretch for cyclists should form part of your daily practice.
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The benefits of this stretch are centred on flexibility and strength. You may want to have a bolster handy in the early days – getting tight quads to yield can be a tricksy.

Pro tip: fold your mat into two or three thick layers for extra comfort on your knees. 

  1. Kneel down on your mat, coming to sit on your heels
  2. Lift up off you heels to hold you heel with your hands
  3. Slowly, lean back until your head touches the ground
  4. Arms can be by your side or for a deeper stretch, stretched out behind your head
  5. Rest here for 8 – 10 breaths

You may find that 1. is enough for you. You may find the full extension more comfortable with a bolster. Play with the possibilities until you figure your sweet spot. 

Camel pose
(Feel the strength in your quads and core)

Pigeon pose

I really love pigeon pose. It’s a full power hip opener that activates your lower back, stretches out your hips and balances the body in equal parts.

An essential yoga stretch for cyclists that has proven to be the bees knees for optimal performance on and off the bike. You can get into this pose from any sequence.

I tend to go in the running order of these yoga stretches for cyclists as listed but you can just as easily jump straight in when you feel the call.

Advanced camel pose
(I can’t get close to this, don’t push yourself, feel into your limit with breath)

Pro tip: don’t force your way into it, work with your breath to feel your way through the posture

  1. From standing position, tummy tucked, like you’ve zipped up the front of your body, lots of space between your ribs, across your chest, arms into the air in a wide arc
  2. Fold forward, hands to the ground, step or jump back to a plank, toes touching the ground, feet flexed
  3. Step your right leg forward, foot to the outside of your right hand 
  4. Glide your left foot flat, left leg on the ground
  5. Tuck you right leg at a right angle across your body along the mat in front of you with your foot flexed, toes pointing forward
  6. Lower your torso down so your left hip rests on your right heel
  7. Walk your fingers like a spider out in front and apart, like you’re making a Y shape
  8. Breathe
  9. Feel the stretch in your hips, your lower back and the expansion through the rest of your body
  10. Take 10 breaths as you relax into the pose
  11. Unfold yourself, repeat the process on your left side
Lunges
(An essential daily yoga stretch for cyclists)

Lunges

Lunges are THE stretch for cyclists. The range of movement activates so much of the body that is lazy during cycling that lunges are hard to beat.

Lunges have been a game changer for me.

After months of inactivity I found that I had weak abdominals, low back stiffness and lazy buttocks. Lunges changed all that. There’s tons of variations and they’re super easy to do.

So easy in fact that you can do them almost anywhere without and kit. No excuses!

  1. Take a full step forward with your right leg
  2. Dip your left knee to the ground
  3. Keep your back straight and dip vertically
  4. Squeeze your legs tight and come up
  5. Repeat on the right
  6. Walking lunges at least twenty on each side
  7. Add a dumbbell or similar in each hand as you progress to improve your strength
  8. Advanced lunge: one leg straight out in front

These are my top five yoga stretches for cyclists. Do you have a favourite stretch? Share your top recommends below:

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