Yoga, Cycling and the Importance of Breath Control

Going at 100% effort, here is Boulder Cycle Sport/YogaGlo team rider, Brandon Dwight en route to a 2nd place finish at the Boulder Cup. Brandon focuses on his line and uses big controlled breaths to help navigate upcoming hairpins turns and a sandpit. Image Courtesy of Taro Smith, 2013.

One of the hardest things to master on a bike is breathing during extreme effort.

One particular cycling discipline that demands masterful control of breath is Cyclocross. Extremely popular in Europe and one of the fastest growing bicycle sports in the U.S., Cyclocross is a mix of cycling and steeplechase that is big during the Fall and Winter months and is considered one of the most intense of cycling sports.

Cyclocross racers compete at ‘all out’ efforts over a period of 45-60 minutes and must also somehow maintain coordination over technically demanding terrain.

Many Road and Mountain Bike racers use Cyclocross as an off-season discipline to keep in shape between seasons. Competition is not in short supply.

A common complaint that I’ve heard over the years from Cyclocross riders (as well as in other athletic disciplines) is the inability to take full breaths, suffering from side cramps/stitches and flat out hyperventilating during big efforts.

This ‘Cross’ season we are equipping riders on the Boulder Cycle Sport/YogaGlo Cycling team with yoga classes specifically designed to help with on the bike performance as well as to enhance their off the bike recovery. And breathwork is a large part of how yoga can help.

So far the results have been encouraging and the podium has been filled with many of our riders! Of course, we are working with high-level athletes but this is a sport where every little bit counts and something like yoga practice can make the difference between a decent versus great race.

Yoga, Cycling and Breath ControlFour Boulder Cycle Sport/YogaGlo team riders calm and collected at the front of the field of the Boulder Cup. Image Courtesy of Taro Smith, 2013.

It’s no secret that pranayama (breathing exercises) in yoga helps with breath control; however, we also wanted our Yoga for Cycling section on the website to address the mechanical deficiencies that could inhibit breathing during cycling. Therefore, we designed classes that would help expand the rib cage allowing more room for the lungs, extend and lengthen the side body, and elongate the spine. Darren Rhodes created this easy to follow Lung Expansion for Cyclists class to address these issues and prepare the body to maximize the respiratory system. Darren has a great analogy at the start of the class where he likens the rib cage to an accordion and how an accordion needs to move. 

Here is a quick 5-minute home yoga practice to help with lung expansion:

  • Sit comfortably on a cushion or block. Take a deep breath to a count of 10, hold for a count of 10 and exhale for a count of 10…repeat for 5 set total breaths.
  • Cat/Cow pose flow for a total of ten breaths.
  • Tadasana with side stretch 3 breaths on each side. Repeat 3 times.
  • Low lunge with side stretch 5 breaths on each side. Repeat 3 times. 

Yoga, Cycling and the Importance of Breath ControlPete Webber finishing in 1st place with a big gap over the rest of the field. The yoga must be helping! Image courtesy of Taro Smith, 2013. 

The great thing about yoga is that there are infinite possibilities and benefits to explore. Those cyclists that practice yoga find they are able to take deeper breaths than ever before, have more control over their breathing even under extreme efforts, more lung capacity, and find calmness in their respirations. Even if one is not a Cyclocross racer, this level of control can benefit those that may want to ride at higher altitudes, set a personal record, ride longer, or just keep up with their friends on a weekend ride. Give it a try and let us know what you discover by leaving a comment below!

About Taro Smith, Ph.D

Taro is a physiologist, yoga teacher, and former bike racer. He designs specialty content for YogaGlo to benefit a broad range of yoga practitioners. He is the co-founder of Boulder Cycle Sport, a nationally renowned cycling retailer and 90 Monkeys, a professional yoga school. Connect with Taro on the bike via Strava TSmith and on LinkedIn Taro Smith – See more here.

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