Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Lying around to get fitter, stronger and faster on and off the bike. Why didn’t Lance Armstrong think of that?
All day long we are bent forward in flexion, whether you sit at a desk, slouch on the couch, pick up children or spend your day in the car. We keep stooping forward. Then along comes the weekend and we jump on our bikes. More flexion, more rounded shoulders, more tightening in our hip flexors. We are totally out of balance. Our poor backs are flexed, our shoulders keep falling forwards, our hips are tight and in turn we crank our necks trying to lift our heads. Our diaphragms are also compressed and you may not be breathing efficiently, slowing you down on tough climbs and sprints.
How often do you backbend? Take your back from flexion, to neutral and then into extension? Did you even know your back can extend? You don’t need to join an acrobatics team to get your spine moving. You just need to be aware that your back does in fact like to back bend.
So where do you start? How do you get a tight, round back to extend?
Lie on the floor!
Let’s make life easy and cheat! Why not? If you angle the tv correctly you can enjoy your favorite show while re aligning your spine!
You will need:
- A yoga mat
- A thick bath towel
- Your favorite pillow or cushions.
- Make a log for your spine. I use a yoga mat to start with and then wrap it in a good thick towel. Ensure you have a pilow for your head too. If you don’t have a yoga mat a draught excluder is good too, or more towels. Just ensure it is firm enough to hold your body weight. (Play around with the thickness of your log, too much too soon is not ideal. Bulk it up over time)
- Lie your entire spine along the log, ensure your head is supported and is the same level as your spine. If, unlike me, you are tall you may need two yoga mats. Make sure you do this on the floor and not your bed, it’s too soft.
- Bend your knees up to support your spine and take the arms out to 180 degrees/ like wings on an aeroplane. Gravity will pull your shoulders down towards the floor. Undoing rounded shoulder posture and opening out your chest. If your log is too thick this may be too much of a stretch for your chest and shoulders. Start tentatively.
- Stay here and breath!
Deep abdominal breaths. Focus on getting your tummy to dome upwards. Fill your body like a bucket, from the bottom to the top, belly rises and then chest rises. Exhale and squeeze your tummy like a tube of toothpaste. Pushing from the bottom upwards. Your lungs can fill to capacity in this position, no more shallow breathing. More oxygen gives you more energy, more power, encourages healing and vitality. So not just better bike performance, but complete wellbeing.
- After a little while (the longer you can stay here and relax the better) move your arms upwards. Imagine your arms are hands on a clock, try and be ten to two, or ten past ten! Once again stay here for as long as you have time for. Continue with your deep breathing. If you find your arms are not comfortable, back off to a point that is comfortable.
- Finally, aim to move your arms overhead, like twelve o’clock. If you find you don’t have the mobility in your shoulders or your back is too stiff build up to this position.
Your back is now in a back bend, EXTENSION. Your spine has gone from flexion into a lovely, gentle, controlled back bend with very little effort. Gravity is your friend in this instance! Your diaphragm is lifted, your chest is completly open and you will be able to take deeper breaths. Energising your body, boosting repair and regenerations, accelerating healing and giving you more energy. You will feel calmer, relaxed and may find you sleep better.
If you can, aim to spend a few minutes a day in this position. The longer the better. If you can spend a good half hour here all the better. Think about how long you are flexed over your handlebars? You need to undo all that for starters.
Try and relax into this position, gravity will do all the work for you. This is a great exercise , it’s simple, highly effective and can be done almost anywhere! If you have teenagers/ students get them involved too. Hours spent studying at desks / computer games are building poor posture patterns for the future. Young people complaining about back and neck pain is too common these days.
Other ways to improve your athletic performance lying on the floor.
Leg drains. Lie on your back with your legs up the wall or put them up on the back of the couch. Aids venous return, helps to diminish fatigue and swelling in your legs. If you also have varicose veins this is a must. Veins collapse as they work against gravity. By inverting the legs you are using gravity to your advantage, taking pressure off sore collapsed veins. Also great for runners and pregnancy.
Foam rollers and/ or Massage balls. Tease out sore tired body parts. Give yourself a good old roll around. Most often I hear “it’s too sore.”
You may be going a bit too hard. Also your body is being pulled down onto the foam roller, you may find it easier to use massage balls up against the wall where you have more control of the pressure.
Backbends from Yoga / Pilates
Do you go to Yoga or Pilates? Do you ever do any of your exercises at home? You should! One hour a week in class is great but it’s not enough. Give yourself a mini class at home to keep you supple and strong.
are just some of the amazing poses you can do once your spine is fully warmed up and mobile.
These are all just simple ways to improve your posture. If you have spine issues or unexplained back pain you should seek medical attention. Please consult with your Physician before trying any new exercise program.
About the Author:
Sinéad Kennedy is a Physical Therapist, Yoga Siromani and Pilates Instructor, based in South County Dublin. She treats and teaches people from all walks of life, including many athletes, especially cyclists, runners and golfers. Recently featured in the Irish Independant, FIT Magazine, her Yoga 4 Cyclists class has gained notoriety.
A keen cyclist and proud member of Orwell Wheelers she has completed numerous cycling events including La Marmotte Sportive. Sinéad has also completed three Dublin City Marathons, numerous Adventure Races and Half Marathons.