Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unexpected Benefits

This year I’ve taken a different, and I think more successful, approach to my “training”. I say “training” in inverted comma’s because training is about competing better and what I do on my bike isn’t really competing, it’s more about participating as fast as I can. Last year I rode my bike lots and lots and lots and went to the gym quite a bit. I didn’t really think about the sort of riding I was doing and after early strength improvements from the gym I didn’t really get that much benefit on my bike from the gym work.

This year my training was different almost out of necessity. I had to rehab my arm for about six months when I got back to riding again and this meant that a lot of the strength stuff I did at the gym last year I’m doing in my office this year. What! I hear you say. Well as all those of you who are tied to a desk throughout the working day will know, you are supposed to take regular mini breaks to prevent RSI, OOS, or whatever the current buzz acronym is. I’ve turned my breaks into mini workouts, where I lift weights, do push-ups and do weighted Swiss Ball crunches. It takes under 5 minutes to do one of these workouts, but I usually manage to get 3-5 of them in a day so my core and my arms are stronger than they’ve ever been.

Also I’ve been much more strategic about my riding. I’ve focussed on getting long base rides in and also been using my roadie to up my cadence. Now I’m starting to focus on getting faster and I see plenty of hills and pain in my future.

The other thing I’ve done this year is started doing yoga twice a week. I started off doing it through work and loved it so much that I’ve picked up another class. I’ve often read that yoga is great for cyclists, it loosens up all the bits that tighten up from lots of riding. I’ve also heard that a lot of the top female downhill riders swear by yoga and if it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me. So I went into yoga hoping to get more flexible and maybe a bit stronger. And I have got much more flexible and am slowly getting stronger. But the best thing is all the unexpected benefits yoga has given my cycling.

The yoga I do is called Anusara yoga and is a new form of yoga that is based on tantric principles. All the poses in Anusara focus on opening the heart, or, in layman’s terms, softening between the shoulders and opening up the chest. So what’s this got to do with riding? Well those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while will know that I’ve always hated hills. It’s only relatively recently that my hatred softened in to acceptance and only in the last month or so that I’ve actually started enjoying hills. And the thing that’s really helped me with that is all the things I’ve been learning in yoga. The softening between the shoulders, opening the chest up poses that I’ve learnt in yoga are transferrable to the bike! I’ve discovered that when I’m riding up a hill and its hurting and I’m gasping for air, if I remember this basic yoga softening everything becomes easier. Breathing is easier and my legs seem to work better, probably from the additional oxygen available to them, but I’m not a physiologist. It’s not only this physical change that helps, when I do remember to open up my chest so I can breath, I’m accepting that I’m riding up a hill and it does hurt, but I can do it and I don’t have to fight it to get it over with. In fact the less I fight and the more I relax the easier it is to go up. I’m not saying that I just lean back and slowly cruise up the hill. I’m still working as hard as I can, I’m just not wasting any energy on struggling with the hill. This has been the greatest benefit I’ve gotten from my yoga practise and it was completely unexpected. In fact the more I learn in yoga the more I see how it can help me be a better rider, so I’ll just warn you, every now and then I might pass on some of the things I’m learning that help me on my bike. Hopefully they’ll be interesting.

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