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How yoga can benefit cyclists

Cyclist magazine
18 Mar 2020

Experiment with yoga and see how its benefits can be used to good effect by cyclists

Cycling’s hardmen of yesteryear would have scoffed at the idea of using yoga to improve performance but with the prospect of remaining indoors in self-isolation a distinct possibility very soon, we should be utilising all methods of keeping fit for the bike while not actually riding outside.

Sure, you can ride on the turbo trainer until the cows come home, and while following these workouts will definitely keep you super-fit, chances are you will want to adapt your training and experiment with a few different exercises to keep you in top shape.

You can opt for a bit of bodyweight training and leg strength work to improve explosivity and power, but you may also want to introduce a bit of yoga to increase that much-needed core strength and flexibility. 

How does yoga work?

Usually performed privately for the experienced, or in a studio with an instructor and a class, which typically last from 45 minutes to an hour.

Perfect if you want to put your lunch breaks to good use. We were lucky enough to get a one-to-one session with our lovely instructor Nikita Akilapa. With a multitude of difficulty levels, it’s key that you’re honest about your abilities. Don’t assume this stuff’s easy – it isn’t!

Why is yoga particularly useful for road cyclists?

‘Yoga can really help to relieve the physical niggles that come with cycling – from tight hamstrings, calves and thighs, to lower back discomfort and shoulder pain,’ Nikita told us. Not only does it help repair pain-afflicted areas, it also protects your body by making it stronger.

‘It helps mobilise the joints and strengthen the muscles around the joints to keep the joints safe,’ Nikita added. For young cyclists looking to get more serious about cycling, it’s a great way to improve your form on a bike. For veteran riders, it can undo the harm done by years of hard riding and the pain that all too often results in. 

What are the other benefits?

A big aspect of yoga is controlling your breathing, so you get more out of every breath. By breathing more efficiently you’ll improve your body’s ability to transport oxygen to your muscles. For many, yoga is also a form of meditation and can actually help you to relax your body and de-stress. In this sense it’s not dissimilar to cycling, meaning you’ll be able to find your Zen both in and out of the saddle. 

What’s it like actually doing it?

For the first 10 minutes, we worked on our breathing, adjusting our lungs for the lesson ahead. ‘These breathing practises help you engage your parasympathetic nervous systems, which helps keep you calm, but also helps feed the muscles,’ Nikita told us.

Once suitably relaxed, we started performing some moves. After watching Nikita’s easy-to-follow demo, she got us doing things like ‘The Warrior’ and ‘Downward Dog’. Engaging our core was a staple for the session, from doing the plank to balancing on our sit bones, and you could certainly feel the burn afterwards.

After about 20 minutes, it was clear that while yoga may be slow-moving and graceful (when done properly) it’s real exercise and we were soon sweaty from our efforts. What first seemed like a simple number of stretches turned out to be a beat-down for the whole body. And like all tough bikes sessions felt truly cathartic.

At the end we were lying on our back, taking deep breaths, controlling our exhalations as instructed, eyes closed in a meditative state. When we were done, the ride home was a delight, with our limbs loose and achy back at peace for once. 

Three yoga moves to practice at home

Cat/Cow 

Get on all fours and make sure your knees are directly under your hips, with your hands directly under your shoulders. Now, tucking your toes under your feet for more flex, push your backside and face towards the ceiling, pushing your stomach to the floor, inhaling as you do so, so that you look like a cat stretching.

Then as you breathe out, reverse this and push your stomach in, making your back curve upwards, so that you look like a cow loafing about in a field. This engages your spine and increases your back’s flexibility without risk of injury. 

Cat/Cow improved 


Assuming the Cat/Cow starting position, stretch your left arm out in front of you and your right leg out behind, so you balance on the other two limbs.

Then slowly bend the knee of your right leg reaching behind you as you do, and hold your foot with your left hand. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side. This is tough but it helps you strengthen your core while also engaging your quads. Vital muscles groups for a cyclist.  

Forward Fold 


Stand up straight and bring your belly in before bending down slowly. Keep your legs straight and bring your hands down to hold your calves.

Get as low as you can, then hold the position for 30 secs before rising slowly. This will test your flexibility, stretching your hamstrings and lower back. Breathe in deeply and slowly as you lower yourself.   

Find out more about Nikita Akilapa’s ‘yoga for cyclists’ workshops at yogawithnikita.com

How else can I do yoga from home?

Although novices are best off seeking a qualified instructor to teach them the basics, yoga classes can be accessed online from the comfort of your own home.

In fact, there are thousands of videos on YouTube that teach classes of all levels and even a few tailored towards yoga for cyclists specifically.

To start, you could try to follow this 25 minute video below:

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