Over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to notice that I can no longer beat my body up and expect no consequences. Like it or not, it’s a part of getting older. After a hard ride, I really feel it the next day: my back hurts, my hips get tight, my shoulders get sore.

Luckily, I’ve also discovered that there’s a way to mitigate and even eliminate that pain and speed up the recovery process in between rides: do yoga.

I’ve found that stretching and practicing yoga for just 10-15 minutes a day does wonders for improving my flexibility and balance. Yoga also helps you become more focused, which can certainly be helpful for tackling tough rock gardens! It also helps build strength in muscles that may be underdeveloped, and helps balance out the body.

yoga tam

Here are just a few of the yoga poses that I’ve found to be helpful:

1. Child’s Pose

This pose is relaxing and helps calm the mind, and it’s a nice one to start out with to get into the mindset of stretching and winding down after a hard ride. It is a great stretch for the lower back, which tends to get tight after long hours in the saddle. I find that it’s also a nice position to ease into in between other stretches to “reset” the spine.

Begin in a kneeling position, butt on your heels, with your feet together and your knees slightly spread. Lean forward, resting your stomach on your thighs, stretching your arms in front of you, and placing your forehead on the floor.

childs pose

2. Downward Dog

Downward, or “Down” Dog, is probably one of the most well-known and iconic yoga poses, and for good reason. It is a great way to stretch nearly the entire body (back, shoulders, neck, hamstrings, calves, wrists, and feet), but it also does much more. This pose is naturally energizing, and has been proven to help restore energy after a hard workout. It also helps promote blood circulation, strengthen the core, and relieve stress. Yogis like using this posture as a “resting” pose, because it offers an opportunity to take stock of your body–what feels good, or what hurts and might need some work.

Begin on your hands and knees, aligning your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes, lift your knees off the floor, and press your pelvis upward, elongating your back, arms, and legs. Relax your head and neck without allowing them to dangle. Engage your entire body–arms, core, and legs–and hold for as long as feels comfortable. This is another good pose to keep coming back to in between other stretches, and it incorporates strength building into your stretching routine.

downward dog

3. Rag Doll 

Another pose that I’ve found is excellent for easing back pain is the Rag Doll. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and bend forward, letting your head, neck, and arms dangle. Relax and allow gravity to do the work. You can then ease into a forward bend and grab your feet with your hands for an even deeper stretch of the back and legs.

rag doll

4. Seated Twist

There are many variations of this pose, but regardless of how you choose to execute it, the benefits remain the same–stretching and strengthening the hips, spine, and shoulders. It reduces neck and back pain and helps build flexibility through the spine. There is a certain spot in my mid-back that always tends to hurt and get tight after a long ride, and I’m finding that this is the perfect stretch to ease that tightness and, over time, help reduce its occurrence.

seated twist front seated twist back

5. Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle opens up the shoulders and chest, and relieves tension that builds up in the upper back and neck.

Begin on your hands and knees, and bring your right arm across your body under your chest. Rest your hand on the floor with the palm facing up. Lower your upper body, resting your head and neck on the floor, keeping your left arm outstretched in line with your body. Keep your head facing to the left (towards the hand that is stretched beneath your torso). You can now either hold this pose as is, or lift your left arm off the ground and reach towards the sky, finding the position that offers the deepest stretch without being painful. Release and switch arms.

thread the needle thread the needle reverse

6. Hamstring Stretch

This one is currently my favorite. Lying down on the floor and stretching out the hamstrings and opening up the hips after a hard ride feels so good!

Lie flat on your back, legs outstretched towards the sky. Place your right ankle just above your left knee and grab the back of your left leg, pulling it towards your chest. You can keep your left leg straight, or you can bend it at the knee, letting your lower leg dangle. Allow your right hip to open up more and more as you draw the left leg towards you. Hold this pose for a minute or two, gradually deepening the stretch. Release and switch legs.

hamstring stretch

7. Pigeon

Pigeon is a good follow-up to the Hamstring Stretch, as it further loosens the hips, thighs, hamstrings, and lower back. Over time, it will increase the range of motion in the hips and lengthen the hip flexors.

Begin on all fours. Slide your right knee towards your right hand, folding your right leg beneath you while extending your left leg straight behind as far as you can. Keep your hips square to the floor. You can keep your torso upright if you’d like, or you can bend forward and rest your forehead and arms on the floor in front of you, which will offer a deeper stretch. Keep your left thigh rotated slightly inward to avoid putting pressure on the kneecap. Hold for as long as you’d like, then switch legs and repeat.

pigeon pigeon other side

8. Garland Pose

This yoga pose opens up the hips and stretches the groin, ankles, thighs, and torso. It also helps with balance, concentration, and focus, which is always useful on the bike.

To begin, squat with your feet as close together as possible, then spread your thighs and lean forward, fitting your body between your legs with your elbows forward. Press your elbows against your inner knees, pushing outward as you bring your palms together. Hold as long as you can.


This is by no means a complete list of yoga poses that are beneficial to cyclists–it’s only the beginning!

Special thanks to my yoga teacher friend Carissa Milliman for her input on this article, and for agreeing to be my model.

Your turn: Do you practice yoga to help with cycling? What are some of your favorite or most beneficial postures or stretches? 

# Comments

  • mongwolf

    #6 (what you called the hamstring stretch) I have also found is extremely helpful. I find it is less helpful in stretching the hamstring, but It is super helpful in stretching the gluteus maximus, g. medius, and g. minimus, the internal obturator and the lower back. It all depends on where you put your hands and pull from and how you angle your hips as you pull. I often pull with one hand on the foot which is crossed over the knee and the other hand just below the knee on the upper shin. For this second hand, the arm goes through the triangular opening made between your legs as shown in your pic, but you grasp the shin not the hamstring. I get A LOT more leverage with my hands in these two positions than the position you show in the picture. There are several good videos on line about this stretch. One should be cautious initially pulling with your hands in the two positions I describe. You can easily over pull a muscle. It is also very effective to exhale as you do these stretches to get your torso out of the way.

    • Helena Kotala

      Thanks for the tips! 🙂

    • crisco64

      Great article. Your poses help with the lower back pain that creeps up on my MTBing.

  • Chris Daniels

    All these yoga peeps kept telling me how yoga was so good for mountain bikers. I guess I’ll listen now that it’s coming from an actual mountain biker! thanks Helena!

  • asasailor1

    You don’t need to know all the underlying terms, muscles etc. If you do these you’ll be injury free….
    Been doing utube videos twice a week for this.
    And golf swing.
    and guitar fixes
    and plank variations

  • BrianCinAz

    Good timing on these articles about yoga. I just started watching yoga on youtube a couple of days ago.
    I’ve been trying to do the Boho Beautiful yoga videos. I never realized how far out of shape I had become until about 90 seconds into the first beginner’s video. The best part about these videos is you can do them at your own pace in the privacy of your home, the second best part is they are free (unless you want to donate). At 59, there are so many support muscles that are out of shape that it will probably be a few months before I reach my goals, but there are enough different workouts to keep my interest and the instructor is fantastic and she doesn’t waste any time with chanting or any of the religious aspects of it. Mixing yoga into your current fitness plan is a great match.

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