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Marginal Gains and Yoga

Ever since Dave Brailsford used the term, “Marginal Gains” for cycling, it has been the buzzword everyone seems to gravitate towards.  And with good reason – Team Sky has seen great success because of it.  Minute changes in behavior result in a positive outcome.

Maybe I’m late to the game, Yoga can be considered as a marginal gain – or maybe not so because its benefits are much greater than that!  Roughly for the past three years, I’ve been practicing yoga as a sort of training and maintenance program to improve my cycling.  My initial intent, however, was to relieve myself of some post-concussion syndrome symptoms as well as to heal my fractured vertebrae in a horrific crash I had during a race.  Little did I know it was to transform my life, not just in the cycling world.

What’s interesting is that men still have apprehensions about the practice, thinking it’s too feminine.  But if you look towards its history, the practice has been around for thousands of years in Hinduism, before the bicycle was even invented.  NFL players embrace it.  Prisoners found solace in it.  It’s also being taught in grade school and among the elderly.  So of course, why not for athletes?  Why not for cyclists?

First off, there are different kinds of yoga, and depending on what you want to achieve, certain types will benefit you in different ways.  I’ll summarize briefly what I practice and then write about it in more detail in later blog posts.

Vinyasa Yoga – This is one many many different types of yoga where it works your muscles, also known as yang tissues.  It’s the same muscles you use in cycling, but by posing in different postures, it builds strength, most notably, core strength.  By doing this asana, you recruit muscles that hold your body into position so you can put the power down to the pedals.  You’ll also find how you move on the bicycle either out of saddle or on generally is less fatiguing.  Since my overall fitness improved because of it, I was able to go faster.  (Practice this at least once a week to see benefits in 3 months or sooner.)

Yin Yoga – This practice strengthens the connective tissues and lubricates the joints.  The objective is to reduce the amount of fixation caused by poor posture or repetitive yang movement such as cycling.  By doing Yin Yoga, you increase flexibility and support for yang activities.  This increase in flexibility means you can get lower and more aerodynamic in your body position on the bicycle.  I also found that certain poses alleviate chronic muscle problems such as lower back pain.  (Practice this 1 to 2 times a week, especially after a hard race or intense training.)

Yoga Nidra – Also known as “yogic sleep”, is still quite new to me.  The objective of this practice is to reduce tension in the body and anxiety.  It is held in a prone state (Savasana) where you surrender yourself completely to the ground, and you are instructed to become aware in each part of your body in a sequence.  It’s is known that 1 hour of this practice is equivalent to having 3 to 4 hours of sleep.  It completes the suite of yoga practices.  (Practice this 1 to 2 times a month.)

When you practice any version of yoga, you are exploring yourself and getting to knowing yourself in your physical, mental and spiritual states.  I am always asked,

“What do you get out of it?”

If you do it only once in a while, not much.  But if you dedicate yourself to the practice at least once a week, you will see changes within yourself.  If you do it a few times a week, you will see an awakening and a transformation in your entire self.  Over the course of the first six months, you’ll see big changes in all facets of your being.  Your mind will become more clear, and you will be more aware of your body.  You will also find that your breathing patterns are enhanced – all of which are extremely important in cycling.

Here are a few steps to get started:

  1. Ease yourself into yoga by finding a few local yoga studios to try.  Start with community classes as they are inexpensive.  It’s a good way to test out if yoga is for you and get a sense of what it’s like to do certain poses and find out how your body responds to them;

  2. Once you know you want to do more yoga, start finding an instructor or two to follow to get a sense of what they’re teaching and how.  Their level of difficulty, pace and flow are great indicators of how well they match your style.

  3. Dedicate yourself to the practice weekly.  You’ll get to know the different poses intimately and feel like you need it every day.  Don’t limit your practice to just going to the studio.  You can start doing it every day in the morning for 5 to 10 minutes.  This will wake you up and get the blood flowing.

I’ve written this article for the sole purpose of educating my Tall Sock Racing teammates and my friends in the cycling community.  Hopefully, you too will start getting curious about yoga and what it can do for you in your cycling adventures.

Feel free to ask me questions and comment here to discuss what you have tried.

But for now, Namaste and ride on!

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