Selected from The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga. In The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, yoga instructor, endurance athlete, and coach Sage Rountree explains the benefits that yoga can bring to every training program. With hundreds of color photographs featuring more than 100 poses, this book treats common problem areas to make athletes stronger in their sport. Rountree helps athletes see progress from just 10 minutes of yoga each day.
Cyclists are known for chiseled calves and powerful quads, but a strong core is critical to maintain good form and an efficient pedal stroke. Core strength provides a stable platform for smooth pedaling and without it, weaknesses in the spine and pelvis affect every pedal stroke, which over time often leads to injury.
Yoga can help by strengthening core musculature—those muscles not in the arms or legs—encouraging a greater range of motion through the spine and pelvis, and helping you balance from your center.
While many yoga poses engage the core muscles, try this simple three-pose sequence to really isolate core muscle groups and get to the nitty-gritty of core building.
Core Sequence: Plank/Side Plank/Reverse Table
Each of these three poses strengthens the core. Side plank targets the hip stabilizers. Reverse table strengthens the back while stretching the chest. To make the poses harder, try carefully lifting and then lowering each leg, one at a time.
Start from your hands and knees. Check that your hands are directly beneath your shoulders, with your fingers spread wide. Reach your legs back and turn your toes under to assume a push-up position. (Your arms will, of course, be closer together than in a push-up.) The spine should maintain its curves, the shoulder blades should remain in a neutral position, and the legs should be active and long with the knees pointing straight toward the floor. You shouldn’t feel tension in your lower back; if you do, check that your hips aren’t sagging. Make sure your hips aren’t too high, either, which would add a stretch down the backs of the legs, strain the upper back, and create more pressure on the wrists.
Side plank is simply that: plank pose rotated to the side. If you press your right hand firmly down while rotating to the left and raising the left arm, you’ll come to the outside of the right foot—keep your ankles flexed and your legs active— and the inside of the left foot (Figure 11.7). This is an intermediate place to be. If you want to make the work less intense, bring your right knee to the floor (Figure 11.8). If you’re looking for more of a challenge, stack the left foot over the right (Figure 11.9). Coming to the forearm is a variation here, and it’s safer if your shoulders have been injured or your elbows or wrists can’t support the added weight comfortably.
Sit with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and hands touching the mat on either side of you with fingers spread wide. The position of your hands here and in reverse plank will depend on your shoulders, chest, and wrists. Begin with your fingertips pointing toward your heels; if something feels pinched or overstressed, rotate your fingers to the outside or back. Inhale and press down into your hands and feet to lift your hips and belly (Figure 11.11).
Imagine your front side is creating a tabletop. Your knees should be lined up directly over your feet. Tight quads will pull the knees out to the sides; keep them in line, even if that means your hips don’t come up to knee and shoulder level. Imagine the thighs are strapped into mountain alignment—or actually do strap them. Position your neck for comfort, looking forward over your knees if leaning your head back is too much. Move back to sitting with an exhalation.