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Yoga: The Legal Performance Enhancer

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The benefits of cross training have long been understood in the fitness industry.  The American Council on Exercise defines cross training as “an exercise regimen that uses several modes of training to develop a specific component of fitness.” Some benefits include injury prevention, longer adherence to a fitness program by avoiding boredom, improved coordination, maintained fitness during rehabilitation and active recovery. Cross training can be any combination of various training modes and can be used for general fitness or for specific athletic training.

One such combination is yoga and Spinning®, and not just for the obvious physical reasons. Both yoga and Spinning have a similar mental engagement, whether the participant is pushing her boundaries or looking for ways to surrender on the mat or in the saddle. Yoga addresses the cyclist’s need for strengthening, lengthening and focus.

YOGA FOR STRENGTH
Spinning enthusiasts, as well as cyclists need strength in the legs, the upper body and the core and the following poses address these needs specifically:

Warrior Series for the legs

  • Fierce Pose (Chair Pose)
  • Warrior 1
  • Warrior 2
  • Warrior 3

These four poses, when performed with proper alignment and full commitment, not only offer strength to the quads, which are heavily used in cycling, but also create stability in the ankle, knee and hip joints.

Planks, Dogs and Dolphins for the upper body

While most Spinning® bikes can be adjusted for handlebar height and fore/aft so as not to put undue strain on the shoulders, road, mountain and tri bikes all require both strength and stamina in the shoulder complex. Moving through traditional sun salutations gives the cyclist the opportunity to develop strength in the upper body.  If the strength is already in place in the shoulders, then the upper body does not need to work so hard while actually cycling.

  • Plank to push up (Chataranga): either on hands and knees or hands and toes, the body is held straight and strong. Without holding the breath, bend the elbows and lower then raise the body.
  • Down Dog: From hands and knees position, lift the body and straighten the legs in an inverted “v.”
  • Dolphin: Similar to Down Dog, the elbows and forearms are on the floor.

Through either static holds of these positions, or by moving in and out of these positions, the shoulders, chest and arms will coordinate for great posture on the bike as well as staving off fatigue, which can affect cycling performance.

Boat and Superman for the 360 Core

The core encompasses the front, back and sides and, although during cycling it is important that the core is relaxed, it needs integrity for balance and traditional fitness crunches aren’t adequate.

  • Boat pose: Balance on the “sit bones” and extend the legs and arms forward, while elongating through the spine and lifting the chest.
  • Superman: While on the belly, extend the arms forward overhead and contract through the spine to lift the chest. The glutes should remain relaxed so that the muscles of the back are doing the work.

Like all exercises, special attention should be paid to discomfort, which might indicate that this is not an appropriate exercise for you.

YOGA FOR RELEASE
Unfortunately, as wonderful as Spinning and cycling are, they exacerbate the problems of posture most of us face due to long hours of sitting in front of a computer. Rounded shoulders into a collapsed chest, a forward jutted head and tight hips and hamstrings are all challenges to posture. Some yoga poses counter these issues directly.

  • Mountain pose: As simple as it might look to just stand, when done correctly, with shoulders drawn back and down, palms rotated forward and pelvis in a neutral position, mountain pose is perfect for resetting the collapsing posture. One variation would be to rest the fingers on the sides of the head and to gently draw the elbows back, with shoulder blades retracting and descending down the back, to open the chest.
  • Pigeon pose: Like the deepest of lunges, the extended back leg is on the floor, and the front leg actually folds across in front of body, with the outside of the lower leg, from foot to knee, in contact with the floor. The very flexible person can melt over that front leg for a deeper stretch of the hip and low back.

YOGA FOR MENTAL FORTITUDE
Not to be underestimated, focus is a key skill that yoga offers the cyclist. It is vital to acknowledge the mental side of your practice, and that can take many different forms while on your mat. 

Sometimes it is about really tuning into the sensations of your body, whether it is a new feeling which keeps it interesting, or it is pain that should be addressed with repositioning or backing off.

Sometimes that mental fortitude, or determination, will grant the opportunity to stay in the discomfort (not the pain) for a while in order to welcome new strength and tolerance.

Most times, a yoga session is an opportunity to clear the agendas from the head and just explore the outer edges of what you might think you’re capable of.

All of this, from strengthening, to lengthening to focus is applicable to the cyclist who wants to not only improve their performance and their fitness but also reinvigorate their cycling through cross training with yoga.

Sources:

What is Cross Training and Why is it Important? ACE Ask The Expert, September 2009, Jessica Matthews (http://www.acefitness.org/blog/36/what-is-cross-training-and-why-is-it-important)

Instructing Hatha Yoga, Kathy Lee Kappmeier, Diane M. Ambrosini  Human Kinetics, 2006, pages 114-128

Instructing Hatha Yoga, Kathy Lee Kappmeier, Diane M. Ambrosini  Human Kinetics, 2006, pages 214, 261

Full-Body Flexibility for Optimal Mobility and Strength, Jay Blahnik, Human Kinetics, 2004, page 50


Author: Cori Parks

Cori Parks runs the Open Palms Studio Spinning facility in Cambodia. She is a STAR 3 Spinning® Instructor and is certified in group fitness, personal training and weight management.

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