June
13

Is Yoga Good for Mountain Biking?

Before I get too far into this let me say that I am a general fan of yoga. I have done yoga in the past and I encourage my clients to use it as a tool for gaining extra mobility and body awareness. However, just like any other workout method it does have some disadvantages.

Another thing to keep in mind is that mobility and strength are not the same thing.

yoga

The main problem that I have is not with yoga per say but with yoga practitioners who do not understand basic training principles and terms. For example, the term “Power Yoga” is an oxymoron – power refers specifically to quick development of tension in a muscle and is best trained through fast movements like plyometrics or Olympic lifts. Seeing as how all forms of yoga are done in a relatively slow and controlled manner there is no way that it can develop “power” according to the true definition of the word.

Another term that gets used too loosely by yoga folk is “strength”. This term refers to an intense effort, or something that you can only sustain for a very short period of time. Doing a 3 rep max deadlift requires strength, doing 15 reps requires strength endurance. Holding a yoga pose that is impossible for you to maintain for more than 10-15 seconds requires strength, much longer than that and you are working on strength endurance.

Another thing to keep in mind is that mobility and strength are not the same thing. Just because you have increased your mobility does not necessarily mean that you have increased your strength. The yogi that can wrap themselves up into an awkward position is not “stronger” than the person that can do a double bodyweight deadlift.

Another problem is that yoga does a good job of teaching you how to control your own bodyweight but does not teach you how to control and handle an external object. It is called the SAID Principle – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. If you want to get better at handling an external object, like your mountain bike, you have to practice handling an external object. Bodyweight training will only take you so far.

Why is this important? Because the trick to creating a good training program is to understand the pluses and minuses of a given method so you know how to better apply it. With all of this in mind let’s take a look at what yoga really has to offer us…

Pluses:

– It teaches good body awareness

– It develops mobility in key areas like the hips and upper back

– It develops core strength in those with poor core strength

– It is a low impact exercise for those that have to do something every day but rightfully don’t want to pound on their bodies too much

Minuses:

– It can develop hyper mobility in bad areas like the low back and shoulders

– It will stop offering a true strength challenge after the initial adaptation to it

– It does not teach us how to effectively apply our strength in real life movements or situation like having to bend down to pick up a heavy box or a child

So, as you can see this is not an “either – or” type argument. I use a lot of yoga inspired movements in my mobility programs and think that is has a lot to offer us, just not at the expense of real strength training.

The yoga fanatic that can achieve any position but is so weak that they can not get out of a wet paper bag is no better than the meathead who can squat 600 pounds but can not touch his own toes. Another one of my favorite Chinese proverbs is “beware the man of one way”…extremes on either end of the spectrum are not the best so don’t get too caught up in one way of doing things. If all you do is yoga pick up a dumbbell some time and if all you do is lift try taking a yoga class – balance is what we should strive for.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Tiffany says:

    Hi James,

    I have a preference for Pilates. My instructor is wonderful which factors in, but I am really impressed with how it has helped my posture, strength, body awareness with movement.

    Your advice and the Pilates classes compliment each other very well. I was just reviewing your video on proper posture and it parallels what I am learning in Pilates.
    I love your advice/ topics and site.Keep it up! I am definetly a fan!
    Regards,
    Tiffany

    Reply • June 13 at 11:49 am
  2. Julie says:

    Thanks for putting up such a balanced (haha) posting about the topic of Yoga. I have heard certain strength training coaches completely discourage any and all people from practicing Yoga ever, which is a bit harsh. I have done primarily Bikram yoga and other types of yoga on and off since 1999. (I really dislike “Power Yoga”, by the way) I have been mountain biking since 2005. Yoga is older than Christ and certainly was not developed for the purposes that we physically/body-biased westerners have in mind. And it is certainly was never meant to be a strength training program for mountain biking! Using it as such would be unwise. However, I have noticed that where cycling requires certain repetitive movements that can make you stiff and tight in certain areas, Yoga can help stretch those same areas out and restore them. It helps with balance and body awareness. It helps you recover from stresses, not just hairy mtb trails, but work and life stresses. It aids in your body’s natural process of detoxification and is a good overall health practice. It has many non-physical benefits. I feel that it’s a great recovery from mountain biking or any intense sport, and some of the balancing poses have helped my snowboarding, but obviously you need to train in ways that are more specific to your needs as a mountain biker, which includes all the great stuff you teach, James.

    Reply • June 13 at 12:16 pm
  3. robert legg says:

    Since incurring two traumaatic events in the last 5 years(a blown ACL resulting in an allograft followed by a MTB accident resulting in a Slap Lesion accompanied by 6 broken ribs with a punctured lung) For the last three years I have been practicing Hatha as well as Anusara yogas as well as a “power flow” class. My insurance ran out for therapy but I had a good premise to follow from past history as well as my therapy exercizes but I feel that through my yoga practice I have benefitted far beyond what I would have with the approach I was using based on weights and the various exercises I was doing. If you are to advance in your yoga practice you have to build strength as well as mobility. Yoga is balance. You have to build shoulder and core strength to practice poses such as arm stands like scorpion or achieving a controlled hand or headstand,as well as the benefits that these poses have for your physiology such as shoulder stand and plow for your thyroid and blood flow.Try practicing cobra or bow and hip raises for your lower back and hamstrings and glutes and upward dog for your shoulders as well as a good vinyasa flow to stimulate your cardio. The warrior sequence as well as the lunges and squats works all of your leg muscles as well as core,chadaranga for triceps(yoga push ups) If practiced as sets and reps with sustained holds done properly, yes you will build strength and endurance strength as well as having the benefit of stetching those muscle groups during your workout.And, like Tara O’reilly says it teaches you to BREATH. My body has not felt better on the bike or off since my twenties(I’m 53 now)and I have to give the most credit to my yoga. In fact I get bored with my “conventional” routine with the exception of push ups, pullups and dips I seldom do anything but yoga any more. And the youngsters try to keep up on the trail. My bike handling skills have improved along with my body…

    Reply • June 13 at 2:38 pm
  4. Jon says:

    I was introduced to Bikrim Yoga by a coworker who swore by it – she has a gymnastics background. I’m a powerlifter and enjoy time on the trail. Anyway I tried it for a short time, and while I liked the overall “looseness” that I felt after a session, I found that heavy deadlifts and squats seemed to suffer a bit, e.g., I had difficulty staying tight enough to rebound out of the hole on a heavy squat. Was it the Yoga’s fault? Who knows. I will say I have found that I can maintain my mobility for the trail and my deadlifts by regularly cycling KB work and leave the yoga to the more flexible crowd. Not knocking it, but just found it wasn’t for me.

    Reply • June 13 at 10:08 pm
  5. Linda says:

    Hi James,
    I love your MTB workouts and posts and you are right on key with the SAID principle. The exercises you post are some of the best for mountain bike training that I’ve seen. Having said that, while yoga does not develop explosive power, it does wonders for flexibility, core strength and shoulder strenght. I belive that the balancing positions in yoga have helped me ride skinny singles better and have improved my track stand. While I don’t fall often, my falls since starting yoga have been better. the flexibility I’ve gained help me roll better, and somehow I’m less sore all over afterwards. The older you get, the more important maintaining overall fitness and flexibility are. yoga plays an important complementary role to mountain bike training.

    Reply • June 14 at 5:56 am
  6. Bike Ninja says:

    Huge fan of ashtanga yoga.
    Check out David Swenson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UcIn2W6ghw

    Strong enough for you?

    I’m not sure it helps to talk in general about ‘yoga’, seems a bit like talking about all kinds of bike riding as being cycling….

    Agreed though, it is worth being aware of the pluses and minuses of what yoga can and cannot do for you.

    Also, not come across a yoga fanatic who can’t get out of a wet paper bag, that’s a stereotype, but plenty of us riders are limited by our poor flexibility and lack of understanding of the connection between the inner and the outer.

    Reply • June 14 at 7:28 am
  7. Dan says:

    We have a large group of riders who through the riding season meet every Wednesday for a ride and a pint afterwards. One of the members is a local yoga instuctor who owns a hot yoga studio in town. As winter approached she suggested that we all continue to stay together as a group and do yoga on Wednesdays. It would be a night of 30 degrees celcius heat to beat the cold and that we could call it yoga and pint. I laughed as I have been practicing yoga on and off for 20 years and had never heard of a yoga and pint group.
    Well we did it and was it ever fun. There was lots of laughter as 30 of my best friends sweated trying out poses that most of them had never seen. All the guys loved it as most were tighter than drums. It was also the first time in my life where I have seen more men than women in a yoga class. We kept it up all winter and true to form we did go for a pint afterwards although the beer consumption was way down compared to ride nights. It was a great way to stay in touch over the winter and we all went into the spring riding season feeling great. I highly recommend it.

    Reply • June 14 at 9:29 am
    • Dan says:

      I forgot to mention in the above post that both my biking and yoga improved when I introduced weight training to the mix. They definately compliment each other.

      Reply • June 14 at 9:43 am
  8. mike says:

    Hi James – interesting post. Could you expand on the hyper mobility of the lower back? I did a lot of martial arts when I was a kid and yoga in my 20’s, and at 42 I’m still more flexible than most people I meet, particularly around the lower back and hips. I also put my back out about twice a year, sometimes from something as trivial as bending over to put shoes on. Often wondered if I’m just too flexible for my weakened core to effectively control.

    Reply • June 15 at 11:31 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Funny you should ask…

      http://www.bikejames.com/strength/yoga-for-mountain-biking-part-2/

      The joint-by-joint approach to training I talk about in that article changed my entire understanding of what we want out of the human body and really brings some of the stuff that you see from some yoga practitioners into question.

      Reply • June 18 at 7:04 am
      • Mike says:

        Thanks James. The post that you linked to showed a picure of someone doing a bridge and you commented that it made your back hurt just looking at it. But in the ‘no gym’ course the bridge is one of your exercises. Has your thinking changed since the original post, or is there a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of bridging?

        Thanks – Mike

        Reply • July 7 at 7:35 pm

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