Yoga for Cyclists? YES!
Yoga is everywhere, but is it for cyclists? YES! Hunter Allen was one of the first coaches to bring yoga to his clients to help them be more resilient, recover faster, and get stronger on the bike.
Using yoga to recover faster and get stronger on a bike…. with Coach Hunter Allen
Hello, and welcome back to the Wise Athletes podcast with Joe Lavelle and Dr. Glen Winkel. On today’s episode, number 43, we are joined by the legendary cycling coach Hunter Allen.
Hunter was co-author of the book “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” (with Dr. Andy Coggan) which has been translated into 8 languages and sold over 120,000 copies. He also co-wrote “Cutting-Edge Cycling” with Dr. Stephen Cheung, was the co-developer of TrainingPeaks WKO software, and was the founder of Peaks Coaching Group.
Episode 40 with Hunter Allen: https://www.wiseathletes.com/podcast/40-power-meter-find-your-superpower-with-hunter-allen/
What Hunter is less well known for is his work in bringing yoga to cyclists with his Yoga for Cyclists video.
When Hunter was a professional cyclist, he was looking for ways to help him recover and become more supple without adding to his exercise regime. He found yoga, and over the years was able to curate a set of yoga poses that work best to help cyclists recover and, over time, develop supple, resilient muscles.
Widely known as one of the top experts in the world in coaching endurance athletes using power meters, Hunter Allen has been instrumental in developing and spreading the power training principles. Hunter is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach, was the 2008 BMX technical coach for the Beijing Olympics and has taught the USA Cycling Power Certification Course since 2005. A former professional cyclist for 17 years on the Navigators Team with over 40 road victories to his credit, Hunter has been coaching endurance athletes since 1995, and his athletes have achieved more than 2000 victories and numerous national, world championship titles and Olympic Medals.
Hunter Allen — Yoga for Cycling Pioneer
Hunter was one of the first to bring the benefits of yoga to the cycling world. He started when he was a professional cyclist….he was looking for ways to recover better.
How did you bring yoga into cycling? When you start to understand the idea of muscles and how bound up we become as cyclists because of the awkward position we are in for so many hours. Bent over, arms out in front, never extend legs fully, craned neck. Because of the 1000s of hours we are in that position we develop muscles very specific to that.
I can always tell who is a cyclist because they have stand with knees slightly bent. Never straighten legs. Hamstrings are tight. Never extend through heels. Tight hip flexors. Needed to create suppleness in those muscles to become a better cyclist. Prevent muscle cramps. Create more relaxation in those muscles to relax more, and ride faster, and avoid becoming that hunched over old man.
Yoga helps us to open our chest, get more in alignment with gravity to let gravity go through you.
Help on the bike and off the bike.
Looking for a solution to undo some of that tension I had put into my body by riding so much for so long.
Stand upright. Muscles that were more supple…not just chiseled and ripped but also flexible and resilient.
I went to a lot of yoga classes… to try a lot of different types to find what would work best in my situation as a cyclist who was exercising a ton every day. I didn’t want to go to a yoga class that was a workout because I was already getting a ton of work. I wanted a recovery tool. Relaxation place, to bring awareness to my breathing. To create suppleness. That’s why I wanted an “easier” class.
Why yoga per se? It was a class I could take…someone would instruct me….there was a system: poses, stretches to warmup, then progressively move through the body. I like a step by step method. Yoga provided that.
It makes sense to want something you can follow without mental stress either to facilitate the entire relaxation goal.
What other benefits?
(1) Super efficient post ride recovery tool.. most of us have limited amount of time. We tend to use up our available time for training, and then we don’t have a lot of time for recovery. Yoga is very efficient time-wise.
(2) Helps identify areas of your body that needs additional help. Yoga is relaxing but it touches on the entire body so you can be in touch with where it hurts and needs some attention, whether as a part of recovery or to explore whether there is something wrong on the bike.
(3) The breath awareness. Most endurance athletes have incredible breath awareness because breathing hard is a part of our everyday workouts. But cyclists on the flats do not move in harmony with our inhales and exhales, unlike runners and cycling going up a mountain. The breathing becomes a rhythmic part of the exertion. Yoga can bring that back to cycling. If cyclists become aware of their breathing, it can become a subtle way to get the brain and the body to get into synch.
The benefits of breathing with intention makes sense since breathing is a gateway into the nervous system. You can use breathing to calm or to excite. If you are stressed and breathing shallow while riding, you will breath faster (wearing out your breathing muscles) and still not get maximal oxygen / CO2 exchange (as you would with slower, deeper, belly breathing).
908 yoga poses. How did you select the few you use, Hunter?
The video Hunter made was the culmination of 5 years of taking yoga classes, yoga retreats, and then 5 years of teaching yoga…then boiled it down to the poses that seemed to provide the most help for the needs of cyclists.
Not a Yogi. Hunter is level 5 of 100…just enough to know what helps the cyclist.
Legs: hamstrings, calf muscles, quads, supports knees / not strains knees. Have to avoid straining knees. If you feel pain you are doing it wrong. Keep the knee in alignment, even when you are sitting in lotus position. It took hunter 3 years to get the full flexibility in the hips to be able to get full extension. Don’t push it, let it come. If you get competitive in yoga, you’ll get hurt.
Chest: think of lungs as a balloon. If you put the balloon in a cardboard box and then blow it up, the ballon can only expand to the limit of the box. If you expand the chest, you can expand the lungs more fully. So open the chest, make the spine long…get 30% more area to expand into. So instead of rounding my back keep a flat back (roll pelvis forward) to keep chest big and lungs expanding fully.
A key point: Don’t hurt yourself. Don’t push it too fast. Consistent effort will pay off far better than hard effort when it comes to recovery. Remember that you’re never going to undo 5 hours of sitting on a bike working hard by doing 30 minutes of yoga afterwords.
Now is a perfect time.
The season is drawing down. Go take a yoga class on your recovery day. You’ll have more time. That’s how Hunter started….just once a week for 2 years. Then he expanded to more days per week. Your intention is key: (1) to recover, (2) make your muscles more supple…be more at ease in your body, and (3) increase longevity…don’t become the hunched over person who can’t standup straight. Keep the body in harmony with gravity.
Say out loud, “I’m doing this for recovery”…avoid competing with other people on flexibility. This will be hard for competitive people but it is critical. And for the guys, don’t even think about being more flexible than the women. Not going to happen.
In particular, if you have never done work to get mobile in your hips, such that you could squat all the way down, then when you try it you will find out how dysfunctional you are. And, correcting that inflexibility will take time. But you will be a better athlete.
Any advice about a psoas muscle stretch?
The psoas muscle is really two muscles (the tenderloin) that are behind your organs but in front of your spine. You cannot touch the psoas muscle to massage it. It supports the inside of the spine. It doesn’t contract like most other muscles but it can cause pain. The best pose for psoas is also the king of poses for cyclists is the Pigeon Pose.
if you have sciatic pain or numbness going down your leg, you should work on your periformis muscle.
Rolfing is the only technique that actually touches the psoas muscle….which will feel very strange the first time it happens to you.
Yoga for cyclists is not about becoming as flexible as possible. It’s a tool to become a better cyclists, not the best yoga practitioner possible. You want to recover and develop suppleness in your muscles. Give yourself some space in the joints. As cyclists, we get stressed in the knees and hips. They get pulled tighter and tighter together. So we want to create space to give the knees and hips more room to move freely.
One of the issues for athletes who don’t use their balance and proprioception of their body in space is that they lose those skills. Yoga is a important way to reconnect with your body. Yoga helps with another cyclist issue: where you push with your foot. A lot of cyclists push on ball of foot, pronate or supinate, but we really want to push on the center of the foot….about ½ inch further back than you think. Between the arch and the ball of the foot. During yoga, when you are balancing, you want to stand evenly on the the full foot. The same amount of weight on the toes, ball, arch and heel. This is good practice for pushing on the center of the foot on the bike pedal. You produce more wattage, and reduce injury potential. Foot pain is not a normal part of cycling. If you have pain you are doing it wrong somehow.
How to recommend anyone get started with yoga?
Could try my video: https://shoppeaks.com/product/yoga-for-cyclists/
Or signup for a yoga class to get instruction. Be sure it is going to work for recovery. No hot yoga. Not a ashtanga or vinyasa class which are too aggressive for recovery purposes. Slow vinyasa maybe. Slower more relaxed class is what you are looking for. Moving through poses at a slower pace. More time in each pose. Iyengar Yoga was a favorite.
(1) yoga is something you should think about adding to training to be a better athlete
(2) it doesn’t take a lot….one time a week will be enough for a long time
(3) don’t have to be a hunched over person because you ride your bike a lot. With a small amount of the right work, including yoga
New book coming out in Fall 2021. Triathlon training with power. Co-authored with Chris Meyers.
Hunter Allen – Contact & bio
Legendary cycling coach, co-author of:
Training and Racing with a Power Meter
Co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO+ software, and founder of Peaks Coaching Group.
Widely known as one of the top experts in the world in coaching endurance athletes using power meters, Hunter Allen’s goal has always been to teach athletes how to maximize their training and racing potential through professional analysis of their power data. This goes hand in hand with his philosophy that a power meter helps athletes discover their true strengths and weaknesses, quantitatively assess their training improvements, and refine and maximize the focus of their training.