Hot Yoga and Cycling: How developing a consistent practice of hot yoga can make you a better indoor and outdoor cyclist both physically and mentally.
The best cross-training effects of hot yoga for indoor and outdoor cycling
What is hot yoga? It's an hour-long sequence of poses ranging from gentle warm-up stretches to isometric leg and core work using warrior and triangle poses leading to a series of balance poses that strengthen the entire body through the dichotomous practice of relaxation and powerful engagement of all of the skeletal muscles. This all happens in a 108 degree fahrenheit room.
Cycling can make your hips feel tight and inflexible because it causes your pelvis to tilt forward, pulling your glutes out of alignment and causing excessive reliance on your quadriceps, hamstrings, and lower back. Since your hips act as a brace for your lower back, the back compensates by flexing, extending, and rotating. This can lead to lower back pain and can limit your time in the saddle.
The release of tight hip flexors can be achieved especially from the following poses: Warrior Series, Bridge Series and Pigeon Series.
Ujjayi breathing is an essential foundation of yoga practice.
“Ujjayi is also referred to as the psychic breath as the mechanism of breathing has subtle effects on the brain processes. Due to the partial constriction of the throat, the lobes of the lungs are required to be expanded to the maximum extent for completing the puraka (inhalation), and the chest and abdomen are required to be contracted to the maximum extent for completing the rechaka (exhalation). Hence the unused capacity of the lungs is brought to use resulting in higher oxygen transfer. The extended movement of the lungs increases the movement of blood, fluid and nervous energy through the body in a way they would not normally be, unless we were running. When we exercise or run, the muscles contract but the same effect is achieved in Ujjayi keeping the muscles of the body in a relaxed state. This is very beneficial. The smaller opening due to constriction lets less air through, which makes the breath last longer. Breathing slowly induces calm, due to its connection with the parasympathetic nervous system.”
(Gregor Maehle - “Science behind Ujjayi - The Breath of Victory”)
It is easy to see how this breathing translates to enhanced performance on the bike. When the primary muscles used in cycling are the largest muscles in the body, namely the hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes, it is essential that the upper body remains relaxed to conserve energy. The result is improved endurance and a smooth pedal stroke, not to mention the psychological damage your relaxed demeanor under extreme stress inflicts upon your adversaries.
A consistent regimen of stretching while simultaneously activating the muscle groups being stretched promotes flexibility and core strength. It provides a foundation that allows you to ride stronger for longer by developing a bomb-proof core and healthy muscles to help you ride injury free. With a smart training plan, the more you ride in a physically optimum condition, the better, fitter and faster you will be.
Furthermore, the extreme heat of the Hot Yoga room has a few transferable benefits. The study below highlights the athletic benefits of heat shock proteins generated through sauna use (substitute Hot Yoga practice).
“A small intervention study investigated the effects of repeat sauna use on endurance and other physiological effects in 6 male distance runners. The findings showed that one 30-minute sauna session twice a week for 3 weeks post-workout increased the time that it took for the study participants to run until exhaustion by 32% compared to their baseline (Scoon et al., 2007). These endurance improvements were accompanied by a 7.1% increase in plasma volume and a 3.5% increase in erythrocytes (Scoon et al., 2007). During exercise, erythrocytes transport oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and deliver carbon dioxide to the lungs for expiration. Increases in erythrocyte levels may facilitate these processes and improve endurance.”
“Heat stress robustly activates heat shock proteins (HSP), resulting in higher intracellular concentrations of HSPs. This activation occurs within 30 min of heat exposure and is sustained over time.”
(Experimental Gerontology Volume 154, 15 October 2021, 111509 Review Sauna use as a lifestyle practice to extend health span Rhonda P., Patrick A. Teresa L., B. Johnson)
Those looking to improve their speed when the road tilts up can benefit from the increased caloric burn of a hot yoga session. It is not just water weight that is lost. Total caloric burn is at a higher rate under higher heat conditions. High W/KG is one of the hallmarks of a strong cyclist. To get a higher number you either get stronger or lighter, or ideally both.
Finally, learning to stay focused and relaxed under extreme stress (high heat stress in the case of Hot Yoga) makes you a more resilient and mentally more formidable cyclist.