Strengthen, Stretch, Restore: Yoga for Hikers, Cyclists, and Paddlers

August 29, 2016
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Every time I climb a hill on my bike, I think about yoga. It’s not that I’m an avid yogi by any means: I don’t bend like a pretzel; my practice schedule is irregular at best; and I’m not sure where (or what) my chakras are. Still, I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned from the occasional class to my performance on my bike. I firm my lower belly and use my core to push forward on my pedals. I align my breath with my movements, clear my mind, and release all of the tension in my shoulders and jaw. With these simple adjustments, the hills become smaller, and I pedal with greater ease.

“Yoga makes us better movers,” says Jenna Palm, owner and instructor at The Corner Studio in Medford, Mass. By being more aware of our movements, she says we learn when to push our bodies and when to hold back, which can help prevent injury.

Yoga is also a great tool for cross training: building strength, improving flexibility, and helping balance our training regimen. “Yoga makes our muscles more pliable, which can help prepare for strenuous activity,” Palm says. “Athletes are typically very strong, with certain overdeveloped muscles from repetitive motion and weak opposing muscles. With yoga, we can balance the strength and flexibility in our bodies.”

Strength, flexibility, balance: It all sounds great, right? With those goals in mind, we asked Palm to recommend yoga for hikers, cyclists, and paddlers—three sets of  poses designed to strengthen, stretch, and restore muscles used in some of our favorite outdoor activities. These poses are appropriate for all ability levels, and don’t worry. There’s no bending like a pretzel involved.

HIKING

Strengthen: High Lunge

Exercising your quadriceps and glutes helps you prepare to climb mountains while also improving flexibility in your quads and hip flexors.

  1. From a standing position, take a generous-sized step back with your left foot and tuck the toes behind you. Bend your right knee, forming a right angle, with your knee stacked directly over your ankle.
  2. Using your core, hold your torso upright and reach your arms up overhead.
  3. Fix your gaze on a spot in front of you and hold your left thigh firmly as you push through the left heel.
  4. Hold for five to ten breaths, then return your left foot to standing and repeat on the other side.

Stretch: Sphinx

Opening your chest helps offset a long day of carrying a heavy pack.

  1. Lie on your belly with your legs extended side by side behind you. Protect your lower back by internally rotating your thighs and pinning your pubic bone to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels.
  2. Lift your torso and head off of the floor. Slide your elbows forward until they are directly beneath your shoulders and place your forearms parallel with each other on the floor in front of you.
  3. Drag your forearms back against the mat while stretching your chest forward. Keep your legs and pelvis active but do not clench your buttocks. Hold for five to ten breaths.

Restore: Supported Fish

This pose doubles as a chest and shoulder opener while also improving posture.

  1. Sit on the floor. Place a rolled-up blanket behind you and a folded blanket behind that.
  2. Plant your feet on the floor, then slowly roll down to your back, with the rolled blanket beneath your shoulder blades and the folded blanket beneath your head.
  3. Stretch your arms open to the sides, palms facing up. Let your shoulder heads feel heavy as you relax.
  4. Stay in this pose for one to three minutes. To come out of it, bend your knees, roll to your right side, and slowly sit up.

CYCLING

Strengthen: Bridge

Prep your glutes and hamstrings for that next big hill.

  1. Lie on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor, with your heels below your knees.
  2. Lift your pelvis towards the ceiling to engage your core, then lift your buttocks off the floor.
  3. Keep your thighs parallel with each other and imagine pulling your heels back towards your head to engage your glutes.
  4. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute then release by rolling back down, one vertebra at a time.

Stretch: Pigeon

Open your hips and stretch out your tired glutes and psoas after a long ride.

  1. Start in downward dog. Lift your right leg straight behind you, then bend your right knee and pull the leg under your body toward your hands on the mat. Bring your right knee to the ground just behind your right hand and rotate the right thigh outward, so that the shin is resting on the floor. Position your right heel so it is in front of your left hip. Keep the knee bent to protect the joint.
  2. Slide your left leg behind you until it extends straight back, with the front of your left thigh on the floor. Rotate your left thigh inward, pressing your toes into the floor.
  3. Lift your low belly up and in, moving your front ribs back in space. Distribute your weight evenly between both hips, feeling a stretch in the right outer hip and the front of the left hip. If you’d like, you can rest your pelvis on a pillow or blanket.
  4. Place your hand on the floor on either side of your hips and lift up from your fingertips through your spine.
  5. Hold for four to give breaths then return to downward dog by pushing through your hands and left foot, bringing your right foot back in line with your left. Repeat on the other side.

Restore: Reclined Butterfly

This pose opens the inner thighs and groin, and calms the central nervous system.

  1. Lie on your back. Bend your knees, dropping them outward toward the floor. Bring the bottoms of your feet together.
  2. Place your hands on your upper thighs, externally rotating the thighs. Do not force your knees toward the ground; instead, let gravity pull your knees down gradually, allowing the groin muscles to stretch and relax and your hips to open. Support your knees and upper thighs with pillows or folded blankets.
  3. Relax into the pose and hold for one minute, gradually increasing over time to five minutes.
  4. Return to a seated position by using your hands to bring your knees together and rolling to one side to get up.

PADDLING

Strengthen: Boat

Get more power out of your paddle stroke by strengthening your core, psoas, and hip flexors.

  1. Sit on the floor with your bent and your feet planted. Place your hands on the floor slightly behind you and, while keeping your back straight, lean backwards slightly.
  2. With a firm lower belly, lift your feet off of the floor, balancing on your sit bones. Hold here or extend into more advanced variations by bringing your shins parallel to the floor then straightening your legs so that your toes are slightly above eye level.
  3. Stretch your arms along the sides of your legs, parallel to the floor.
  4. Stay in the pose for ten to 20 seconds, gradually increasing to one minute over time.

Stretch: Cobra

This pose draws on your upper back, lats, and triceps to help release the front of your body.

  1. Lie on your belly with your legs stretched behind you and the tops of your feet on the floor. Plant your hands into the floor by your low ribs.
  2. Pushing the tops of your feet and lower belly into the floor, press into your hands to lift your chest off of the floor. Go only as high as you can while maintaining a strong core.
  3. Lifting through the top of your sternum, roll your shoulder heads back and push your ribs forward.
  4. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then return to the floor.

Restore: Rotator Cuff Stretch

Relieve tension in your shoulders postpaddle.

  1. Lie on your belly with your right arm stretched out to the right, forming a T-shape.
  2. Roll slowly to your right side, keeping your right hand in line with your right shoulder.
  3. For support, you could bend your left knee and plant your foot behind your right leg, knee pointing upward. Breathe deeply, releasing tension in the front of your right shoulder.
  4. Hold for five to ten breaths before returning to your belly and repeating on the other side.

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Sarah Galbraith

Sarah Galbraith is a backpacker and cyclist who recently started putting the two together on bikepacking trips with her young daughter. She lives in northeastern Vermont.