By Whitney Mah
Western society puts an emphasis on keeping in shape and staying active by lifting weights and spending hours doing cardio but there is a lack of interest in the benefits of stretching. Finding a balance between stretching, building muscle and strength, and increasing flexibility and mobility means practising not only one discipline but exploring perhaps a couple.
Before engaging in any strength or muscle building (including indoor/outdoor cycling) you do not want to do too much stretching. This will cause the muscles to lengthen and make it harder for them to contract and work hard for you. However, here is one very helpful yoga exercise to get your core “turning on”.
1) Elbow to knee “Ana Forrest” abs.
How to: Lie on your back bringing your legs into a chair position with your knees directly above your hips and your ankles a little lower than the height of your knees. Interlace your fingers bringing them behind your head. Bring your elbows together so they are about 8” apart. Take a deep inhalation and lift your head and shoulders off of the floor, exhale bringing your left elbow to your right knee and extend your left leg. Inhale, come back to centre, hold your breath and curl your tailbone up off of the floor. Repeat this to the second side and then 5 more times on each side for a total of 6 rounds (for beginners to this ab sequence). Remember to keep your belly pulling in towards your spine for the duration of the exercise, some times it wants to pouch out!
Benefits: Having a strong core is very important for cyclists. Not only does it mean that you are able to keep your frame strong, supporting your back as you lean forward and down to the lowered handle bars, it also means that you have a strong energy centre from which you can appoint power to the more distal ends of the body.
Now for some post-ride stretches; here are a few postures to target those large muscles groups used in cycling.
How to: Once again, lie down on your back this time with your feet placed flat on the floor. Cross your right leg over your left keeping your legs squeezing together. Bring your knees close in towards your chest and flex your feet to protect your knees. Hold the outside edge or baby toe side of your feet and pull your elbows out wide and down towards the floor. Keep breathing deeply to allow your muscles to open up gently over a couple of minutes. Unfold and repeat this on the second side. This is a wonderful stretch for those tight glutes!
3) Quad stretch against the wall.
How to: Standing fairly close with your gaze away from the wall, bend your right knee bringing your heel close to your buttocks. Place the top of your right foot against the wall and lower yourself down into a lunge with your left foot forward at a 90º angle. Try to keep your back knee as close to the wall as possible. You will probably want to place a blanket or towel underneath your knee for comfort’s sake. Rest your forearms on the top of your left thigh, pushing your buttocks back towards the wall and pushing your right hip flexor forward. Keep that deep breathing going, hold for a couple of minutes before switching to the other side.
4) Supported fish pose.
How to: For this posture you will need to use a yoga block or maybe even a folded up towel. First, set the block or towel on the floor so that when you lie down it will be directly in the centre of your back. Sitting, place your legs and feet together and stretch them out in front of you. Using your hands help yourself to lie down, resting your middle and upper back on your prop. You will know that the position of your prop is correct if your head is touching the floor and your prop is not digging into your low back and kidneys! Simply relax your arms to your sides with your palms facing up. Allow your shoulders to roll back and the front of your chest to open. In this posture your upper body is quite passive while your lower body remains active. To come out of supported fish pose, interlace your fingers behind your head, engage your core and lift your head and shoulders up off of the floor. Then you can use your hands to help you back up to a seated position.
Benefits: I love this posture for post-cycling. After rounding the body forward for an extended period of time, it acts as a counter position by supporting you in a gentle back bend. Also, it is very relaxing and a wonderful pose to finish with!
Remember, deep breathing can really have an effect on your ability to let go and go a little further in your stretches. And as a general rule, you need hold your postures for more than one minute, not only to stretch but to increase your flexibility.
Originally from Calgary Alberta, Whitney Mah studied contemporary dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, where she later performed with the company for one year. After moving to Ottawa, Ontario, a renewed interest in hatha yoga inspired her to complete a 200-hour hatha yoga teacher training course at Rama Lotus. Whitney currently teaches yoga and cycle-yoga at Live360 in London, Ontario where she lives with her husband and their little cat Daisy.
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