Sage Advice: How Much Is Too Much?

Scott, a cyclist in Brooklyn, asked me a very interesting technical question about proper back position for snap accelerations and sprints on the bike. I deferred the specifics to my friend Victor Jimenez of the Bicycle Lab, a fitter, bike-builder (his line is called Karma, which I love; he built my husband’s Guru bike, too!), and all around great guy. Victor was able to help and might take up the issue over on his site.

Scott’s question boiled down to one line, which he put beautifully:

Are there particular yoga practices or postures that can negatively affect performance on the bicycle?

The answer is, “Sure.” It’s a question of stability and mobility (in yoga parlance, sthira and sukha). We need a certain amount of stiffness to transfer power. This could be a cyclist pushing power to the pedals, or a runner driving a leg into the ground (and using the recoiling force for forward motion), or a swimmer anchoring a shoulder from which to generate force against the water. We also need mobility so we have full range of motion for our sports and to prevent overuse injuries. The key is to find the right balance between the two. Too much stiffness, you get brittle and hurt; too much laxness, you get loosey-goosey and hurt. Either way, you won’t reach your full potential.

Part of the beauty of a sport-specific yoga practice, either in classes geared toward athletes and taught by athletes or in home practice, where you can customize everything, is this recognition that extreme flexibility is not the goal. Instead, you need to strike a balance between the hard and the soft. Happily, I find that concerted training is a good antidote to any limp-noodle feeling we’d get from doing too much yoga asana practice. Your body will naturally move toward equilibrium if you push some, back off some, and listen.

Here are some steps toward finding the right combination of stability and mobility.

Consider your intention. What is your goal in sport? What is your goal in yoga? What, for that matter, is your goal in life? If you are trying to be competitive, you might have one set of needs; if you are trying to have a fun time and feel good in your body, you might have another. Having a clear vision of WHY you are doing anything makes the task, and any connected decisions, simpler.

Recognize your limits, and determine whether you can change them or not. If you are playing basketball and can’t dunk because your muscles are too tight to swing your arm over your head, you’ll have one course of action to follow. If you can’t dunk because you’re under five feet tall, you’ll have another: practicing acceptance. These limits can be muscular, skeletal, or mental. The limits might be in your schedule. Some limits are changeable; some aren’t. Again, having a clear vision of what you can do to change things makes tasks and decisions easier.

Identify the actions and postures needed to perform relative to your intention and your limits. If your limits involve stability, work on strength. If your limits involve mobility, work on flexibility. Depending on your sport, you might need to target very specific actions.

Finally, remember that you can receive yoga’s benefits—as an athlete and a human—without any asana practice at all! If your limits are limits of perception, belief, or attitude, try meditation.

Well, this became a highly philosophical answer! To recap, and to rephrase, “Are there particular yoga practices or postures that can negatively affect performance on the bicycle?” “Yes.”