There are as many excuses for not practicing yoga, as there are benefits to receive from a regular practice. The number one excuse I hear time after time is simple: “I’m not flexible enough.” Or the more comedic version: “I don’t bend that way.”
Somehow over the years yoga has become synonymous with flexibility, but what often surprises people is how much strength is required to practice yoga. Even well-conditioned athletes can find themselves puzzled by their shaking limbs, and achy muscles a few days later. The humble pie is served up equally to cyclists and non-athletes alike when class content focuses on core strength and stability.
Forget flexibility. Are you strong enough?
Unlike many other yoga teachers, I tend to focus more on stabilization and strength exercises early on. Many people who have done some basic yoga have learned the gross actions and shapes of the poses without actually learning to properly engage their core. They rely on superficial muscular strength to do the movements. The sooner you can learn to connect the movements of your arms and legs to your core, while actively stabilizing your spine, the sooner you’ll start to feel less ache in your joints from improper form.
I teach this through a series of plank poses and variations and weight bearing movements. For cyclists this is valuable as we’re able to cover quite a few bases all at once: Core, shoulder, wrist and gluteal strengthening, abdominal toning, shoulder stability, hip and leg stretching.
This particular plank exercise is great for cyclists who are lacking a bit of core strength, and also suffer from achy hips, glutes and lower backs. It looks deceptively simple, but takes great awareness to do correctly without “cheating” by compensating in the weak areas.
HERE’S HOW YOU DO IT:
Begin on all fours, hands shoulder width apart and the knees under the hips. Spread the fingers wide to broaden the base of support at the hands. Maintain a neutral spine. To locate your abdominal stabilizers, take a breath in, and as you exhale, lift your knees just an inch off the ground. You should feel the transverse abdominus in the lowest part of the abdomen engage—between the navel and the pubic bone—toward the outer edges of the abdomen. Keep this area engaged as you slowly set the knees back down.
Extend the left leg behind you, toes on the ground and sweep the toes out to your right so your left leg crosses over your right foot. Allow your upper body to sway toward the right, looking over your right shoulder toward your left foot. Tuck the toes of your left foot and fully extend through the back of the knee down through your calf into your heel.
On an exhale, lift your left leg and—keeping your knee straight—lift your left hip slightly up as you swing your left out to the left, bringing your foot in line the your hip. Rotate your leg so the toes point forward. Keep both arms straight at the elbow.
As you inhale bring your left leg back across to the right again, looking over your shoulder back at your toes. Exhale and lift your leg, left hip and swing the leg to the side again.
Repeat 10-20 times or until you start to feel a bit of fatigue in the hips and glutes. On the last repetition, hold your leg straight out to the side, fully extending through the knee, and then lift your foot just a tiny bit higher for a few breaths and feel the awesome strengthening and stabilization for the lower back and pelvis (aka “the burn”)!
This is a a fantastic warm up for the glutes before moving into pigeon pose or any other external hip rotator stretch. It should take about 5 minutes total to do the plank variations; add pigeon pose for a few minutes on each side and you’ve got yourself an incredible hip and low back therapeutic exercise for everyday practice in under 10 minutes.
Try it for a few weeks and see if you don’t have less knee, hip and low back pain and stiffness. If your wrists bother you from weakness or inflexibility you can also do this work on your forearms, with the elbows positioned directly beneath your shoulders.