This piece originally appeared on the Nita Lake Lodge blog.
Whistler in the summer means swapping out ski goggles for sunglasses, and snowboards for mountain bikes; but that’s not all. Most years, mid-summer in Whistler means this renowned mountain town will be flooded by Wanderlust Festival attendees—yogis with a desire to move, adventure, play and be immersed amidst Whistler’s wild landscapes.
Apart from both attracting nature-lovers, yoga and mountain biking seem like two distinct activities that wouldn’t dare cross paths. Though if you think mountain bikers wouldn’t benefit from time spent in Downward Facing Dog, think again. Yoga happens to be a superb way for handlebar-gripping athletes to avoid injury, while also increasing performance and enhancing overall experience.
The Happy Marriage of Biking and Yoga
Regardless of a rider’s chosen route, mountain biking requires strength, stamina, balance and mobility, all of which yoga can provide. Even without a consistent yoga practice, sport-specific stretches and thoughtful movement patterns are an invaluable way to prevent injury. Yoga aptly addresses the three pillars of injury prevention—functional musculoskeletal strength, healthy bone density, and joint and fascial mobility—meaning the more minutes you clock on your mat, the more stoke you can find on the trail.
Below are a series of yoga-based movements to help you tear it up on the hill, without wearing on your body. They are broken down into stretching exercises and strengthening exercises. Stretching is performed first, with the goal of mobilizing tissue prior to strengthening; this way we don’t reinforce a dysfunctional or restricted movement pattern.
So grab your mat, limber up and enjoy one of the most scenic rides down.
Because mountain biking is a dynamic sport, the following stretching exercises are also dynamic in nature, to emulate the required movement patterns.
Poses: Prone shoulder opener with added twist
Purpose: Your upper body constantly absorbs force from the trail’s uneven terrain. Use this mini-sequence to find space in the chest and shoulders.
How-to: Start on your belly. Bend your right elbow out to the side, palm down, so your upper arm creates a ninety-degree angle. Keep your head facing left. Roll onto your right hip and raise your left arm to the sky. Return to your belly and lower your left arm to the floor. Move slowly back and forth to stretch the right shoulder. Switch sides and repeat.
Poses: Anjaneyasana (low lunge) to Ardha Hanumanasana (half-splits)
Purpose: Your hip flexors have been working overtime in the saddle. Use this mini-sequence to mobilize the hip joint and stretch those tight hamstrings.
How-to: Start in a lunge with your back knee down and arms to the sky (Anjaneyasana). Lower your hands to the ground and straighten your front leg, flexing your front foot (Ardha Hanumanasana). Continue to move slowly back and forth, pausing in each pose for 1–3 full breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Poses: Figure-4 to Spinal Twist
Purpose: Your glutes and spine deserve some TLC after a long ride. This mini-sequence includes a sustained outer hip stretch, with an added twist for your back.
How-to: Start on your back with knees bent and feet flat to the floor. Place your right outer ankle on top of the left thigh (Figure-4). Keep this figure-4 shape and slowly lower your legs to the left; your upper body will stay on the mat (Spinal Twist). Continue to move back and forth, pausing in each pose for 1-3 full breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Use the following shapes to increase mountain biking strength and stamina.
Pose: Salabhasana (locust pose) holds
Purpose: Strengthen your back-body to help build steadiness on the track.
How-to: Lay on your belly with your feet hip-distance apart and arms down by your sides. Lift your head, chest and legs, and reach your arms toward the back of the room. Activate your back muscles to sustain this lift. Hold for 5 breaths, and then lower to the floor for 5 breaths. Repeat.
Pose: Modified Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Purpose: This functionally-specific exercise emulates the body’s shape when riding.
How-to: Stand with feet hips-distance apart. Rise onto the balls of the feet and bring your arms parallel to floor. Bend the knees like you’re sitting into a chair (Utkatasana). Continue to bend the knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then lift back into chair pose. Repeat lowering and lifting until fatigue. (Advanced riders: Option to add a jump. Land on balls of feet with knees bent.)
Poses: Down Dog to Plank
Purpose: Build shoulder and core strength to increase handlebar stabilization.
How-to: Come into plank pose (top of a pushup). Hold for 30 seconds. Keep hands and feet in place, and lift hips up and back (Down Dog). Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat to fatigue. (Advanced option: keep one leg lifted throughout plank and down dog before switching legs.)
Optional: Breath-Centered Meditation
Sit in silence for 3–5 minutes and focus on your breath. When your attention travels to your thoughts, return it back to your breath. This single-pointed focus will be helpful in instances such as charging down a single downhill track, when there is marginal room for error.
Kacey Janeen Waxler is a California-based yoga instructor and writer on the hunt for adventure and good stories. Her words can be located amongst noteworthy brands including Corona Extra, Athleta and Darling Magazine, and in the flesh she can be found reading unapologetically from the glow of a headlamp, geeking out over sequencing, or neck deep in a deliciously hot bath. Follow her adventures at @kaceyjaneen or grab her vinyasa sequences that take you on a journey at theflowfix.com.