Saturday, November 3, 2012

Things I've Learned from Yoga Helpful for Bike Posture

To assume that anyone has as bad posture as me when doing anything would probably stretch the truth too far, but after an accident a year ago last September I had to relearn how to walk (apparently I've been walking with the wrong part of my foot, giving me duck walk generally), and as a result I wanted to share a few thoughts that might help other people understand better how to arrange one's body while on a bike, particularly in the conscious ways that yoga activates components of your body.

1) Abdominals and core are the seat of balance and weight:

If you're like me, you ride, or have rode, your bike putting equal weight on your ass (into your seat) and on your arms (particularly, your shoulders) making contact with the handlebars. You may be like me, in the panicky way I ride sometimes, and grip the handlebars too hard because of a secret fear that something will happen to yank them from your hands and you will go tumbling into some dangerous scenario.

Spending so much energy and strength on arm stability and load-bearing is counterproductive and sets you up for some nice carpal-tunnel/tennis elbow action that I currently have going on with my body. 

Try and hold your handlebars as lightly as possible and get padded gloves--they reduce the amount of impact your hand and wrists take. If your bike is tuned up, most likely the way you balance on your seat can help determine the direction of your ride almost as much as the steering, so focus on pulling your core into your center (when you can pop up and off the seat easily without thinking about it means that you've effectively pulled your core toward center) for better overall balance and control of your bike. 

Use your abs by to pull your weight over your pedals as you pedal standing up while climbing hills--again to get more pressure off of your arms. The added weight will make pedaling up hills easier too. The same applies when going downhill where you are most prone to brake hard. Use your abdominals to push your weight backwards over your seat so you don't need to bear weight and brake with the same part of your body.

Riding where the road is relatively flat, push your chest foward when pedaling to help keep your abs activated and to pull strain out of your lower and midback. Flatten your abdominals against your spine as you do this to reinforce the "puffed chest." Your upper torso can get a little fucked up from bicycling and needing to stabilize the bike and learning how to do the downward dog posture correctly can help you build an awareness of how working your abdominals, chest, and legs appropriately can help keep you balanced and reduce the wear and tear on your joints.

2) Some decent hardware can help

In an effort to reduce the load bearing role of your arms I prefer using bullhorn bars or short handlebars. Drop bars are not ideal in this regard. Moreover, with drop bars, if I want to sit upright in my bicycle seat, I tend to find the placement of brakes on drop bars to fairly awkward.

Making sure your brake cables are sufficiently tightened (this can often be done manually without tools, with a small tightening mechanism on the brakes themselves), that the pads are not thoroughly worn out, and the rubber isn't too old or stiff similarly produces reduced wrist crunching, which can prevent the later suck if you have any job that requires manual hand activities such as typing.

Using toe clip pedals or clipless pedals emphasize the correct part of your foot with which to pedal--the ball of your foot. One thing that long time bicycle commuters, bike messengers and the like will complain of is their knees are shot. To reduce strain on your knees it's crucial that you pedal through the ball of your foot. Getting the right kind of pedal can help you accomplish this.

Even you're pedaling with the correct half of your foot its easy to neglect using the ball. This is why I try to emphasize a loose flex of the foot as you pedal (from yoga)
It's also worth making sure you check your tires regularly and clean your chain regularly both will reduce the shock of impact your body will take from riding and reduce the force required from pedaling, making it easier on your knees. 

3) And since we're discussing knees so much...

It's worth noticing where your knees go as you ride. It's much better that when you pedal your knees are running parallel rather than splayed out in opposite directions. Again this can wear out parts of your legs and knees in a corrosive way.

4) Hips...

Can also get really fucked from riding. I have some of the tightest, and therefore least flexible hips from years or riding. It's a good idea to learn how to do some stretches for these as they can really ache as you get older. 

I recommend doing a modified pigeon pose while sitting at your desk after a commute. Here is what half-pigeon looks like:

Here is a video of a German woman telling you how to do pigeon pose:

Doing this at your desk operates on the same principle where you stack one ankle on the knee of the other leg (which is perpundicular to the floor). All the while flexing your foot you should press the knee of the raise leg toward the floor in order to begin opening your hips. Don't force your knee down but gradually increase the pressure you use in a gentle manner.

(Concluding caveat: And yes, I am appropriating a highly commodified version of an ancient practice while stripping it of its deeper religious significance such that I expend stress, knock out various knots and aches in my body, and then cry quietly to myself while I lay in corpse pose the end)