*In photo: Ting Joson, Saddle Row Indoor Cycling Instructor and Yoga Practicioner
The rise in popularity of Indoor Cycling has been exponential over the last few years with boutique studios sprouting in key cities all over the globe. The Philippines finally got on board with the first indoor cycling studio debuting in Manila in early 2015, and two other cycling studios opening shortly thereafter.
For a physical activity that has been around since the 1980’s, one may ask, “why the sudden craze?” Well, indoor cycling of the here and now has completely revamped its traditional predecessor. The session is still performed on a stationary bike, but a lot of elements have been added into it that leave the rider with, not just a workout, but an experience. Today’s indoor cycling classes are held in a dimly lit room – some using candles and mini spot lights – to create a more intimate ambience. The “ride” involves pedaling in sync with the beat of the music, as the music reciprocally gets the heart pumping and the happy hormones flowing. Upper body movements are also performed in class through choreography and using resistance bands or free weights to tone the core, back, shoulders, and arms. Apart from the class structure, the instructors play a big role in creating this experience for the riders. The instructors show a lot of personality from their highly curated list of songs to the way they conduct the class, with most giving off motivational and inspirational coaching techniques that make the class feel like more than just a sweat sesh. One might even say it feels like a yoga class, on a bike! The riders leave the class stronger and with a positive, fulfilled vibe. No wonder indoor cycling has easily taken the spotlight for fitness enthusiasts.
Indoor cycling is a fun, effective, and low-impact workout that builds your cardiovascular health and strengthens your muscles. It is a good way to burn all-over body fat and tone the legs and the core. However, it does tighten up and strain some areas of the body. Let’s go over some of the more obvious areas of concern. In order to push the pedals down, the quadriceps and glute muscles (i.e. front of the thigh and buttocks muscles) need to contract so that the leg works toward extending. The psoas muscles (i.e. hip flexors or the muscles in front of your hips) shorten as the torso is kept in a forward-leaning position, and the body stays in flexion at the hip joints. The front deltoids and pectoralis muscles (i.e. front of your shoulders and chest muscles), together with the side waist, also shorten from the crouching-forward position as your hands reach forward to hold on to the handlebars. Last but not the least, is the strain placed on the low back from sustaining the torso in a diagonal position and also from some choreography which involves the activation and support of the lower back muscles (i.e. quadratus lumborum and the spinal extensors). With these in mind, it is essential that indoor cyclists balance out their yang, heart-pumping, fiery cycling sessions with a yoga practice that allows for more yin, heart-calming, and opening postures. If time does not allow for an entire yoga class to fit into the day, indoor cyclists may do the following poses to open up, prevent, and relieve tightness and strain in their bodies.
To loosen up tight hips and bum
Pigeon (Eka Pada Kapotasana)
Start on all fours. Bring your right knee forward behind your right wrist and a little off to the right side; the right foot moves in line with the left wrist. Inch your left leg backward until the leg straightens out
Low lunge with arms raised (Anjeneyasana)
Start on all fours. Step your right foot in between the hands and place both hands on your right thigh. Adjust your front foot so that the ankle is directly underneath the knee. Make sure there is enough space in between your inner thighs to keep your hips square. Firm the belly in and lengthen your tailbone down toward the ground. Arms can be by your sides but for a more effective stretch for the hip flexors, raise the arms up. Keeping the lower back long, deepen the lunge by sinking the hips forward as you keep reaching the arms up.
Low lunge with quad stretch
Come into a low lunge with the right foot forward. Place both hands on the ground for support. Bend your left knee so that the foot can lift off of the ground and come closer to your bum. Reach behind you with your right hand and hold on to the back foot (same as Pigeon with quad stretch). If it is alright for your knee, try these options to include opening of the chest and shoulders: a) hold on to the left foot with the left hand (same side) and place your right hand on your right thigh and b) hold on to the back foot with both hands.
Standing quad stretch (Flamingo pose)
Start standing with your feet hip width apart and feet facing forward. Keep both hands on the hips for balance. Firm up your right leg and bend the left knee, keeping the knees in line. Grab a hold of your left ankle with your left hand and pull your heel toward your left bum. Keep the torso upright and the chest wide. Reach the right arm in front of you or up towards the sky.
To lengthen and soothe low back muscles
Seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana)
Start seated on the ground with your legs straight and together in front of you. Keep the upper body upright with the hands on the ground on either side of your hips. Flex through both ankles and press your thighs down. Lift both arms straight up with a big breath, then fold the torso over your legs by bending at the creases of your hips. The hands can either hold on to the outsides of the feet or shins. Keep the chest reaching forward to avoid excessive rounding of the upper back.
Seated Twist (Ardha Matseyandrasana)
Start seated with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your right heel close to your right sit bone, and a little off to the right, resting the outer edges of your right leg on the ground. Step the left foot outside your right thigh, with the sole of the foot flat on the ground and the toes pointing relatively forward. Wrap your right arm around your left shin and hug the knee close to your chest as you begin to twist to the left. Bring your right hand on the ground behind your lower back and use this to keep your torso upright. Keep both sitting bones in contact with the ground. For a deeper twist, try bringing the right arm outside the left thigh.
To expand chest and shoulders
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Start on your knees, with the knees, shins, and feet hip width apart. Press your palms near your lower back, right above the buttocks. Squeeze the elbows toward each other. Keep the lower back long by reaching the tailbone towards the ground and manually sliding the flesh of your bum down with your hands. Press the hips forward and take a big breath as your reach the chest up to the sky and then bend backwards. Hands can stay as is or can reach down to hold on to the heels for a deeper opening of the front body.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Start on your belly, with the legs close together. Bend both knees and reach behind you with both hands to hold on to the feet or ankles. Keep the feet either flexed or pointed. Press your feet and shins back and lift your head and chest of the floor. Lift the thighs off of the ground and lift the chest higher. Keep the knees from widening apart.
Seated chest and shoulder stretch
Start in an easy, cross-legged seated position. Keep the torso upright and reach both hands behind your lower back. Interlace the fingers and press the palms together. Straighten the arms out any amount as you press your knuckles into the ground and away from your low back.
To elongate side body
Standing side bend (Urdhva Hastasana Ardha Chandrasana)
Start standing with your feet together or hip width apart, and toes facing forward. Lift both arms to the sky and interlace the fingers above the head. Press the palms up and away from the head. Relax the shoulders down and away from the ears and hug your belly and front ribs in. Slowly bend over to the right side. Keep the chest from caving in by pulling your left ribs back.
Seated side bend (Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana)
Start seated with your legs straight and wide apart. Bend the right knee and bring your right heel in toward your groin. Place the left elbow on the ground by the inside of your left leg, and rest the back of the hand on the floor, or hold on to the inside of the left foot. Reach the right arm straight up, and then side bend over your straight leg. Keep the top palm facing the floor and both sitting bones in contact with the ground. Turn the chest toward the sky and keep the shoulders relaxed. Another option with the bottom arm is to wrap it in front of you, around your right hip.
Carla Paredes teaches yoga at Urban Ashram Yoga, indoor cycling instructor and has been practicing Capoeira for more about 7 years. Throughout the years,Carla has always been active in team sports such as football, softball, flag football and ultimate frisbee. She is currently a pole dancing enthusiast.