I’ve been a mountain biker since before V-brakes, and while I’ve gone through periods of my life when biking was relegated to venturing out on the odd saturday, at other times I’ve biked almost every day; my total hours logged behind the bars of a mountain bike (notwithstanding bmx, road or track) must exceed tens of thousands.
Nearly all that time on the bike was spent in a slightly hunched position, with arms out in front, shoulders forward, knees bent, and an upward curve in my neck in order to look forward at the trail ahead. Mountain bikers, unless something goes hideously wrong on the trail, rarely move significantly out of what’s called the sagittal plane – we move forward and back, rotate a bit, and lean left and right to a degree, but we do work lots of muscles very hard indeed: our glutes, hamstrings, iliopsoas, calves, shoulders, forearms, and some of our back muscles get very strong, while our posterior deltoids, some core muscles, and depending on what kind of riding we’re doing, our pectorals, and biceps and triceps may be weaker in comparison.
What this means is that we have a tendency to have short but strong hamstrings, short IT bands (the connective tissue running along the outside of the leg from the hip to the knee), shoulder girdles that are strong but not very open, tight hips, and difficulty in back bending rearwards.
Many years ago, after a few nasty injuries, I realised that better flexibility could be one way to reduce my likelihood of injuries when I crash, so I started a somewhat intermittent flexibility programme, trying out stretches I found on youtube videos and in exercise magazines. Through that, I found yoga, and tried some classes, with varying degrees of success.
More recently, I discovered “Vinyasa Flow” yoga, which encompasses yoga poses (asanas) into flowing, dynamic, energetic routines that stretch muscles and connective tissues while building strength and stamina. I loved it, and have maintained a steady and consistent practice ever since. Recently, whilst riding at Revolution Bike Park in Wales, I took a pretty big slam, I believe big enough to have easily broken bones that I’d already broken previously, but while I was bruised and beaten, I was ok.
Granted, N=1 in this case, but I’m sure that my extra flexibility and strength helped prevent worse injury.
Since that crash, I’ve completed my Vinyasa Flow Yoga 200 hour teacher training with Frog Lotus Yoga in Spain, and started practicing Forrest yoga too, which involves more intense poses focused on core strength.
Yoga, with the correct practice, can certainly help to improve your performance on the bike, by strengthening muscles that may be difficult to strengthen just by riding. It can help prevent injuries, by providing a greater range of movement in your tissues, which means that when you crash, you’re more likely to “bend” than “break”. It helps you to recover faster from injuries too, if you’re already stronger and healthier from your practice, or you use yoga exercises to specifically recover from an injury. Yoga can help you ache less after a hard ride, and allow to get back on the bike the following day more comfortably. If you want to continue to ride into your 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, yoga can help with that too.
Finally of course, it’s an enjoyable practice: find the right classes, or the right videos, the right style(s) for you, and integrate it into your lifestyle, and it can not only be enjoyable, but will benefit your mental health too.