Make Sure Your First Ride Back Isn't Your Last With These Yoga Poses

Jun 16, 2021 at 9:33
by Abi Carver  
Downward Dog. Photo credit Andrew Campbell.

Words & Photos: Abi Carver

At some point, there is a first ride back for every rider.

Injuries, holidays, work commitments or waiting on that vital part for your bike that has been on backorder longer than you thought humanly possible. There is always a break in the routine and the subsequent return to the field. And for most of you, I’m guessing that your enthusiasm for being back in the saddle far outstrips any regard to caution that would be sensible after a significant period of time off.

Which would be fine, except that this first ride back can be disproportionately strenuous on your body, putting you at an increased likelihood of injury. It's just an inescapable fact there there are movements, postures and pressures required of you in mountain biking that you do not replicate or prepare for in other areas of your training or day-to-day activities.

Just take a look at Pinkbike's 'Huck to Flat' test from a few months ago to appreciate the intensity of the stretch to your calves as your ankles flex to absorb impact and the immense pressure that goes through your wrists and forearms. And consider how many repetitions of these movements you perform over the course of a couple of hours on the trail, absorbing the twist, turns and undulations that the terrain presents.

We don't ask this of our joints and muscles at any other time in our lives, so it shouldn't come as a complete surprise when they have a few complaints to make the next morning! So to stop you walking around like an old person for the first few days after your first ride back and to make sure that once you start riding again, you stay riding, I recommend that you give yourself a fighting chance by practicing these 5 simple stretches/mobilisations.

Preparing For Your First Ride Back

Obviously, it would be great if you had a regular yoga practice so that your risk of injury from lack of preparedness was significantly reduced but these 5 exercises are the next best thing. As always, I have tried to give you the minimum possible as opposed to the “in a perfect world” scenario. For that, you need to sign up to my website and get on the MTB program!

Here are your 5 poses—3 are pre-first ride back to reduce your risk of injury and 2 are post-ride to reduce the build up of pain.

The main muscles that we need to prepare, as the way that you use them is so specific to mountain biking, even over other cycling sports, are the ankles, calves, wrists, forearms, thoracic spine and neck. Ideally, you need to start practicing these pre-ride mobilisations a few weeks before your first ride back but they're also great to include in your warm up. And the muscles that we primarily need to stretch post-ride to release tension are the lower back and glutes. This will help to reduce the build up of lower back pain from the outset.

As I said, there is so much more that you can do, but please do at least this!

1. Downward Dog

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Get into the habit of doing this pose a few weeks before you start riding again to loosen up and prepare your calves and ankles. If you do this pose right, it’s also great for opening up and building strength in the shoulders. Ask somebody to take a picture of you in the pose to see if it looks anything like mine! The aim is to make a straight line from your wrists all the way up to the base of your spine. You do this by bending your knees a lot and dropping your chest back towards your thighs. Walk our your feet for 5-10 breaths.

2. Seated Cat-Cow

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This movement is great for improving mobility in the thoracic spine—an area that can get stuck when you spend a lot of time on the bike and especially if you also work at a desk. You can sit any way that feels comfortable for this mobilisation. If you can’t sit cross-legged with your back straight, you can sit in a chair and standing also works. Move with your breath—inhaling to open up the front of your body and exhaling to stretch the back of your body. Repeat for 4-6 reps.

3. Wrist and Forearm Stretches

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If you don’t want to have to battle arm pump, you need to prepare your wrists and forearms for riding. Again, you can do these stretches in any position that you feel comfortable—seated on the floor, in a chair or standing. Try not to do these stretches unconsciously. Take them slowly, breathe in and out through your nose, deep into your diaphragm and tune into the sensations of the stretch. You should find that you can release a little more tension on every exhalation.

4. Dead Pigeon

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This pose is a great way to stretch the glutes and piriformis and is accessible to most people. When you are set up in the pose, relax your neck and shoulders and draw your attention to the place where you feel the stretch. The idea is to breathe into that spot, releasing deeper into the stretch on every exhalation. Hold the pose for at least 3-5 breaths but 10-15 would be even better.

5. Reclining Spinal Twist

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Your final pose is unbeatable for releasing tension at the lower back. It also stretches the hips, abs, obliques, chest, shoulders and neck. The key is to try to keep both shoulders flat on the mat and turn your neck as far as you can in the opposite direction of your top knee, to get the most out of the stretch. Again, you can hold this pose for 10-15 breaths on each side—breathing deep into your abdomen and aiming to relax deeper into the pose on every exhalation.

Let me know how you find the poses, which you find the most effective and if there is any area of flexibility or mobility that you feel that yoga might be able to help you with. And check out my website for more info and videos: www.yoga15.com.


76 Comments

  • 25 0
 For me yoga has just become a daily routine to keep me on the bike. 10-15 minutes of post ride yoga keeps me limber for tomorrow’s ride. Many times I have felt like I was having back problems, hip problem ans it’s just tight muscles pulling every which direction. Never been a problem until I reached 35, now you gotta step up with the preventative maintenance.
  • 2 0
 Same. between 36-38 years old, all corners of my body started aching the next day, whenever I skipped post ride stretching. Also core muscles seem to be the key to avoid the simmering back pain after the first rides of the season.
  • 1 0
 Sounds like you have a routine that keeps you out of trouble! Which poses do you find to be the most effective post-ride?
  • 1 0
 @xice: I find that it doesn't take a lot if you are in the habit of stretching regularly and working on your core but if you're not, you can be in a while world of pain!
  • 2 0
 Heck, even just a damn hamstring stretch before the ride and my back can last twice as long
  • 1 0
 @hi-dr-nick:After the ride, I pretty much stretch the legs all way round plus hip flexor. Like this: tinyurl.com/5cc5s2kb
Back pain gone.
  • 1 0
 @hi-dr-nick: Sounds like a damn effective hamstring stretch!
  • 1 0
 @xice: Yeah. That hip flexor stretch is hard to beat for riders. Adding a sidebend can make it even more effective: yoga15.com/pose/low-lunge
  • 2 0
 And this one: tinyurl.com/a6ks2ppe
Works well with busted knee
  • 2 0
 @yoga15app: Thanks. Ill give it a try.
  • 1 0
 @xice: Yh great for piriformis and glutes
  • 3 0
 exactly, so many of my younger friends give me a hard time and downplay yoga but I'm always like "just wait 10 years, you'll see"
  • 1 1
 Duplicate post
  • 1 1
 Duplicate post
  • 2 0
 Same here, 10 minutes of back stretches twice a day and I haven’t had a back spasm in a year. Variations of 4 of the 5 above are in my routine.
  • 12 0
 Abis "not so esoteric" approach really got me into it. Never felt that good in my body since i'm not a child anymore.
My health insurance definitely saves a lot of money because of her
  • 4 0
 So true. I am quite receptive to a bit of meditation but I am so glad that she exists. By far the best online yoga classes imo.
  • 3 0
 That's awesome! Looking after yourself is definitely the smart play.
  • 2 0
 @TransforDerek: Thank you. I try to keep it simple and accessible.
  • 11 0
 Best series/contributor on PB. Thanks for another usable and easily understood article.
  • 8 0
 Was just thinking the same - the videos are helpful but the copy on these pieces is some of the clearest and best written on this website.
  • 2 0
 Thank you so much. I love writing for you guys so anything you want help with, let me know.
  • 3 0
 @twozerosix: Thank you. That means a lot.
  • 2 0
 Agreed! She has some great 15 min workouts on Youtube which I used during lockdown instead of my usual yoga classes. Seriously considering signing up to her course package. I especially love the fact it is tailored for sports excluding some of the more "mindful" parts certain classes tend to overdo a bit. Thanks for all your clips out there!
  • 1 0
 @yoga15app: semi-off topic but did you ever make a specific post or series on injury recovery, e.g. yoga as part of a PT regimen? I just cracked a few ribs and collarbone, breathing is thrown off too, but I'm hoping to bounce back and salvage some summer. Thank you Abi.
  • 2 0
 @twozerosix: I can definitely look into that for you. Drop me an email at abi@yoga15.com.
  • 7 0
 Yoga is the way forward and Abi a great teacher; thanks for your series & routines, much appreciated!
  • 1 0
 It's a total pleasure!
  • 4 0
 One approach I try to keep consistent with is with any activity is to leave that activity feeling how you want to feel when you start the it again tomorrow.

As a professional trumpet player for the past 25 years, I have learned that if I end a day feeling like crap, tomorrow is going to start out like crap. So I always made a point to do some form of mobility to feel the best "good" as possible at the end of the days so that tomorrow has the best chance to be the best "good" at the start of the day.

My $.02
  • 4 0
 There is no denying the amazing benefits of yoga, and Abi is the Good Queen of Pink Bike for taking the time to share with everyone. As an almost 46yr old, I will add this. Dont overlook good old fashioned pull ups for sore backs. Even just doing dead hangs takes the pressure off your vertebrae . And by pull ups, i do not mean those shitty Cross Fit Kipplings. Those will just f*ck your shoulders up. A $20 acupuncture mat has worked wonders for me also. I tell you this from experience. The older you get, the harder all those drops and jumps get on you. Trust me, you will need to look beyond just weights.
  • 1 0
 It's my pleasure Jason!
  • 3 0
 It would be great to get set of after-ride stretches/poses that could be done standing. Maybe using a car or bike as a prop. Sitting or laying on the ground in a gravel parking lot isn’t ideal, especially in the rain. Thanks!
  • 2 0
 For sure. I will see what I can do.
  • 4 0
 Not sure if Abi is sponsored by PB, but it would be great if they could do a round up of online yoga instructors that are mountain bike focused.
  • 6 0
 I have a Pink Bike t-shirt from Crankworx a couple of years back but I haven't yet talked them into a full sponsorship!
  • 3 0
 Hey #Brian.
Get this lady some more swag!
She needs to be part of the team...$?
  • 3 0
 I need this. I'm also super stuff at judo since coming back from lockdowns. I'll be doing these moves, thanks Abi. I think in particular the dead pigeon will help me as I'm very stiff in the hip /glute area.
  • 1 0
 That pose is a lifesaver. Check out my Instagram also as I have some other super effective poses on there that you can save for reference: www.instagram.com/yoga15abi
  • 2 0
 I have been using Abi's Motion is Lotion: Joint Mobility from her PB article back in 2018 almost every morning since it first came out. As an over 40 year old dude this has helped tremendously with riding as well as all the random-for-no-reason-at-all aches and pains of being old. Plus I had broken my hip in my 20s and my mobility is shot to hell so I am looking forward to adding the "Dead Pigeon" to the mix.
Thanks Abi, as others have stated your simple approach and explanations truly extend my life on the bike as well as maintain a healthy life.
  • 1 0
 Thank you! That is so awesome to hear. You should be ache and pain-free for many years to come. You just gotta put back what you take out! I plan to post lots more articles this summer so hopefully there will be lots more stretches to add to your regimen.
  • 4 0
 Is she directing this workout toward Gee? Looks like it... www.pinkbike.com/photo/20821084
  • 3 1
 i love it that everyone is getting back to riding but im slowing down. gee i love California. i went for a ride at 7 am and i came back soaked in sweat
  • 4 0
 I didn't do yoga, and that was my last MTB ride.
  • 2 0
 Abi is the #1 teacher..i follow her and her routines since her first time here in pb..and thanks Abi my life’s literally changed..
Can’t thank enough Abi..
  • 6 4
 i did ashtanga yoga in thailand, 35deg heat, every day for a month. its hard work. and it will change you.
  • 6 0
 To add to this I started doing 5-30 mins of basic yoga and stretches every night whilst watching Netflix before bed.

It’s dramatically improved my riding, I can actually sink into my hips and be one with my bike rather than standing up on top of it, it’s helped my strength as well since I’m not fighting as much tension from stretching into those positions
  • 1 0
 That's intense! Good work.
  • 1 0
 @toad321: Nicely put. It sounds like you have really improved your flexibility and body awareness.
  • 2 0
 I just turn my heated seat on during the drive in to loosen the old back up
  • 2 0
 Haha I am not alone!!!!!!
  • 1 0
 Hi Abi, any tips to help with collapsed vertebrae?
Smile
  • 1 0
 *stiff not stuff
  • 1 0
 My spine thanks you
  • 1 1
 Can I just stretch, or does it have to be yoga?
  • 1 0
 You can for sure just stretch. Just make sure that you are using stretches that don't do more harm than good and that you focus on your breath.
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