Benefits Of Yoga For Mountain Bikers & Cyclists With Rebecca Bell

Are you already incorporating a yoga practice into your schedule? If not, you should be!

Yoga has tons of benefits for mountain bikers and cyclists including flexibility, injury prevention, present moment awareness, and better breathing.

In this podcast episode, Rebecca Bell, a professional mountain bike skills coach and yoga instructor, shares why we should be doing yoga and how we can incorporate it into our already busy lives.

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Key Takeaways From This Episode

  • Yoga helps mountain bikers counteract forward flexion and deepen breathing for improved nervous system regulation. It also releases tension in the body and calm the nervous system, making it an essential component of recovery.
  • Yoga and strength training help prevent injuries by improving flexibility and adductor/hamstring extension.
  • Repetitive motion in cycling can lead to tightness in external rotators. Yoga can help release that tension.
  • The correct time to practice yoga is AFTER a ride. Practicing yoga after a ride can bring equanimity back to the body and undo the effects of repetitive motion.
  • Practice yoga 2-3 times per week.
  • Prioritize consistency over frequency. It’s better to fit in small training sessions throughout the week (5-20 minutes) rather than one longer session.
  • Look for a yoga instructor that specializes in working with cyclists.

Connect With Rebecca

👉 Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/rebeccabell.flows/
👉Website: https://www.rebeccabell.yoga/

About The Host

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @femme_cyclist

Full Interview Transcript

Transcript has been edited for clarity.

Kristen
Rebecca Bell, thank you so much for being here. I’m excited to chat with you about yoga, a topic we haven’t really delved into on the podcast. Before we get into that, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Rebecca Bell
Thanks for having me. I’m thrilled to meet you and have this conversation. I’m passionate about yoga and mountain biking. I’ve taught yoga for 27 years and been mountain biking since the mid-90s. I started in Utah, living in Alta, in Little Canyon, and traveled to Moab, riding slick rock with hardtails. I’ve also been studying yoga and living in Bend, Oregon, for the last 15 years. I coach mountain biking to women’s groups and kids at Bend Endurance Academy and run Ruby Rides, a women’s mountain biking and yoga retreat based in Bend. I love merging mountain biking and yoga to foster community and connection. We also enjoy seasonal farm-to-table meals, hot springs, meditation, and nourishing yoga practices to help women reconnect with themselves.

Kristen
Awesome, we’ll delve into your retreats soon. But first, why yoga for female mountain bikers?

Rebecca Bell
There are many reasons, but the top three are injury prevention, mindfulness, and flexibility, which is part of injury prevention. These are why I love cycling and leading women in yoga practices to support their biking experiences.

Kristen
Let’s discuss each benefit, starting with flexibility. Cyclists often get tight; how does yoga help with that?

Rebecca Bell
Cycling puts us in a forward flexed position, causing our shoulders to roll forward, shortening the pecs, and creating a concave chest. The yoga I teach, especially for mountain bikers, focuses on opening the T11 band, widening the chest, lengthening the side body, and releasing the front of the throat and shoulders to counteract this. This opens up our breathing, calms the nervous system, and enhances our riding experience, especially during challenging climbs.

Kristen
That’s an interesting point about flexibility aiding in breathing more effectively.

Rebecca Bell
Yes, breathing is crucial. Many of us breathe through our mouths, but learning to breathe through our nose can be transformative. My first 100-mile mountain bike race taught me the importance of breath regulation. Yoga encompasses various practices, including the asana and pranayama, which focus on the physical and the breath, respectively. These practices can help open the mid-back and deepen the breath, allowing us to become present, especially during long rides or technical sections.

Kristen
Biking and yoga both offer ways to stay present. They seem very complementary.

Rebecca Bell
Absolutely, they both continually bring us back to the moment. Mountain biking gives immediate feedback—if you’re not present, you risk falling. When my mind wanders, it’s the breath that re-centers me. Flexibility also leads to injury prevention. A personal experience I had with a fall while riding showed me that my yoga practice had given me the flexibility to avoid serious injury. Strength training also plays a key role in my routine to ensure resilience.

Kristen
Falls are inevitable in mountain biking, but it sounds like yoga can provide a protective benefit.

Rebecca Bell
Definitely. The flexibility we develop through yoga can prevent injuries when we fall. For instance, I had a fall where my flexibility allowed me to land safely without injury. Strength training complements this by building the necessary muscle to support those flexible movements.

Kristen
Beyond improving crash resilience, what other benefits does yoga provide for injury prevention?

Rebecca Bell
Repetitive motion in mountain biking, and even more so in road or gravel riding, tightens certain muscles like the external rotators or the TFLs. Yoga, especially hip-opening practices that I focus on for athletic recovery, can balance the pelvis and release tightness from pedaling, preventing repetitive strain injuries.

Kristen
That’s particularly relevant for our road and gravel cycling listeners.

Rebecca Bell
When you’re constantly flexed forward, your external rotators can become tight. Many cyclists are quad-dominant, neglecting the posterior chain, leading to shorter, tighter muscles. Yoga sequences designed to lengthen and soften these muscles can reset the body to a state of balance and help maintain homeostasis, complemented by meditation for mental equilibrium.

Kristen
Let’s talk about meditation. Some cyclists are very driven and might find yoga not challenging enough. Can you speak on the benefits for those who are competitive and always on the go?

Rebecca Bell
Absolutely, there are immense benefits to a softer practice like yoga for cyclists. It’s a crucial recovery tool that allows for rest and restoration. Yoga specifically tailored for cyclists can release tension from repetitive movements and calm the nervous system. Although cycling can be a moving meditation, combining yoga postures with breathwork and meditation enhances the overall cycling experience.

Kristen
Regarding yoga for recovery, how should one find the right instructor, and is there a specific type of yoga that is most beneficial for cyclists?

Rebecca Bell
Finding a yoga instructor who also cycles can be beneficial because they’ll understand which areas to target. For instance, I wouldn’t lead athletes through forward fold sequences that could tighten the hip flexors or internal rotation of the shoulder. Ashtanga Yoga, with its many forward folds, isn’t recommended for cyclists. Instead, a Hatha style practice or a gentle flow class would be better, focusing on alignment and warming up the body properly for cycling-specific sequences.

Kristen
When is the best time to practice yoga in relation to cycling?

Rebecca Bell
Mobility work is beneficial before a ride, but for yoga, practicing after is recommended to bring balance back to the body and undo the effects of repetitive motion from cycling. Any practice is better than none, whether it’s a few minutes daily or longer sessions a few times a week.

Kristen
Does the timing in relation to the ride matter, and how often should we practice yoga?

Rebecca Bell
The timing isn’t as crucial as the frequency of practice. Consistency is key. Two sessions a week maintain your level, while three can deepen the benefits, improving flexibility in areas like the side body, upper back, hips, and especially the lower legs and feet. Sessions can range from 5 to 20 minutes, but it’s the regular practice that’s most important, more so than longer, less frequent sessions.

Kristen
As a mom and businesswoman juggling multiple activities, how do you manage to incorporate riding, strength training, and yoga into your routine?

Rebecca Bell
The key is to be kind to oneself. I have a general weekly template and fit in activities when I can. For instance, I may do a few yoga poses after a ride, wherever I am. Integrating yoga into daily life is my approach. I practice at a studio a couple of times a week and sometimes during my private yoga sessions. Strength training is non-negotiable for me, especially at 55 and during menopause. It’s essential for maintaining muscle mass, which I consider our “401(k) plan.” I go directly to the gym after dropping my child at school. Meditation is also non-negotiable and can be done anytime, anywhere, making it accessible.

Kristen
If we have a limited time like nine minutes, where can we find resources to do yoga on our own?

Rebecca Bell
For short yoga sessions, online platforms like YogaGlo offer classes of various lengths. I also have my own online yoga program with classes tailored for athletes, focusing on specific body parts. There are also books available, but for those new to yoga, especially athletes, I would recommend checking out my program through my Instagram links.

Kristen
Tell us about your retreats.

Rebecca Bell
I founded Ruby Rides Bikes after being bought out of my yoga studio. The retreats combine women’s mountain biking with yoga, aiming to build skills and confidence in a supportive environment. The retreats include yoga practices, meditation, and farm-to-table meals, often held in locations with hot springs. They offer a chance for women to connect with nature, community, and themselves, creating a space where they can feel vulnerable and grow. Ruby stands for “Ride Your Bike and Yoga,” reflecting the retreat’s essence.

Giuliana has expressed interest in collaborating, which is exciting. Hydroflask has been supporting my retreats, and Lululemon has been very supportive during my five years as an ambassador. Ruby Rides Bikes is growing, and we’ve sold out five retreats. We’re also offering Signature Day Series events, which give a taste of mindful yoga and mountain biking, including farm-to-table meals.

Kristen
Are these events only in Bend or other locations too?

Rebecca Bell
So far, they’ve been only in Bend, but we’re planning to expand the Signature Day Series events beyond Bend in 2024. The retreats are primarily based at Horse Creek Lodge, in collaboration with Cog Wild.

Kristen
There seems to be a high demand for women’s retreats and events.

Rebecca Bell
Yes, the feedback is that women feel safe and can ask questions without fear, which fosters vulnerability, trust, and community. After recent years of disconnect, mountain biking and yoga provide a space to reconnect with the earth, with spirit, and with each other. We’re seeking experiences and community, and Ruby Rides Bikes offers that, along with empowerment and skills learning.

Kristen
How can people connect with you and learn more about your online yoga and retreats?

Rebecca Bell
They can check out my Instagram, @RebeccaBell.flows, and join my email list through the link in my Instagram to receive updates on retreats and other offerings.

Kristen
We’ll include that in the show notes too. Thanks. So, the first of the final three questions: What bike or bikes do you ride?

Rebecca Bell
I’m on a Specialized Stumpjumper with a 27.5-inch rear wheel and 160mm of travel up front. I’ve had a blast on it for two seasons. However, after participating in a cancer fundraiser ride, I demoed a Pivot Switchblade and, given that I have a good stand over height at 5’1″, I was quite impressed. I’m considering making it my next bike.

Kristen
Pivot does well with bikes for smaller riders.

Rebecca Bell
Yes, they’re great for that.

Kristen
What is your favorite place you’ve ever ridden?

Rebecca Bell
I love the backcountry in Grand Targhee, with its single tracks and fields of wildflowers. Moab is another favorite with classic rides like High Mesa and Captain Ahab. I also cherish riding in Central Oregon, right from my house to Phil’s trail complex, and up to Mount Bachelor. Southfork in Bend is one of my favorite downhills.

Kristen
What is your favorite thing about riding your bike?

Rebecca Bell
Riding my bike makes me feel like a kid again, clears my head, and brings me joy and connection—whether I’m alone or with others. It’s a constant reminder of how blessed we are to be able to ride bikes, breathe fresh air, and be in good health. It’s gratitude that I feel the most when I’m riding my bike.

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