Yoga for Cyclists: Thoracic Extension

Athletes of all kinds can benefit from cross training, doing exercise or participating in more than one kind of sport to increase overall performance.  One of the main reasons is that when we participate in an athletic activity, we often engage in repeated movements and rest in particular postures that distribute strain unequally in the body.  On the whole, being active is healthy, but just as a worker in a factory can develop problems from repeated motions, so too can a baseball pitcher develop problems in the rotator cuff from throwing fastballs.

The same thing applies to cyclists, who can develop a variety of postural and physiological issues from being in a cycling position if they don’t work to expand the body’s range of motion, use good posture, and otherwise develop healthy habits to counteract some of the wear that happens when we spend a lot of our time on a bike.  Having talked about this with Tim and Ambrose Ingram of Momentum Bikes, we decided to look at how yoga could help with some of the common injuries, strains, and compensation patterns that cyclists develop as a part of their activity.  In particular, we began by focusing on the “cyclist’s hunch.”

Cyclist’s Hunch

The cyclist’s hunch is that posture we assume whenever we’re on a bike where our shoulders are ahead of our hips.  To be able to see the road, we need to incline the head upward, and this typically leads to a hunch just above the shoulders that can cause strain and leave us handing on our shoulder joints. When we ran our first “Yoga for Cyclists” last Sunday (2/26/17) we focused on the way that cyclists can benefit from extending the upper spine to counteract the cyclist’s hunch, take some of the strain out of the neck, and activate the upper back muscles to protect our shoulder joints.  Going into the class, pretty much everyone defaulted to a cyclist’s hunch when we had them on the stationary bikes (I do too!).  Here’s what that looks like:

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Spine hunched forward, the bend is all happening right above my shoulders

Thoracic Extension

To correct this, we learned how to create extension in the thoracic spine to make the curve in the neck more gradual, engaging the back muscles to hold the head up rather than sagging the shoulders.  This not only places the head closer to the support structure of the body, causing less overall strain, it also distributes the weight of the skull more evenly along the spine so that the vertebrae right above my shoulders no longer bear the majority of the load.

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Thoracic spine extended, the bend is gradual, beginning in the middle of my upper back

While it certainly requires more muscular effort to use the spine this way — I personally couldn’t maintain this extension for the duration of a long bike ride — making the effort for short periods of time will be rewarded by a toning of the muscles that help maintain good posture off of the bike.  A cyclist can maintain this extension throughout the course of a short bike ride, for example, or use it as a way to relieve neck tension every 20 minutes on a longer bike ride.  Either way, working with thoracic extension benefits us while cycling and improves our posture in everyday life.  Given these benefits, Tim, Ambrose, and I are going to continue working together to bring you more classes that synergize yoga with cycling to help yogis and cyclists to be their best selves.

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Working with Thoracic Extension in Projected Lunge

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