Below are 7 of my favourite yoga poses to target common areas of muscle tightness from my running and cycling.  Both running and cycling are repetitive actions done in a limited range of motion which tightens up your hips, lower back, legs and ankles. 

These postures are ideal to do after a training session and I find they help to stretch and lengthen my muscles improving flexibility, aiding recovery and helping to prevent injury.

Perform them on a mat or carpet, in bare feet and hold each pose for 5 to 10 long deep breaths.  Try to relax into the posture and direct your breath into the area that is stretching. 

1. DOWNWARD FACING DOG - Adho mukha śvānāsana

Target area: Hamstrings & calves.

Benefits: Stretches the whole posterior chain (back of the body) from your Achilles to your shoulders.  Lengthens your hamstrings, calves, and shoulders. Strengthens the arms and legs and helps relieve headaches, fatigue, and insomnia.

How to do it: Come onto your hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Spread your fingers wide and tuck your toes under. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor, pressing your hips up toward the ceiling coming into an upside down V shape. Draw your heels down to the floor or keep a slight bend in your knees if the back of the legs are tight. Press your hands firmly into the mat to activate the arms and open the armpits towards the mat. Gaze at your toes or navel and hold for 5-10 breaths.

Variations: Pedal through the feet bending one knee at a time whilst straightening out through the other leg. Repeat a few times on each side.

2. LOW LUNGE - Anjaneyasana

Target area:  Hip flexors.

Benefits: Stretches all the hip flexors, psoas, TFL, rectus femoras, quads and ankle. Strengthens the front thigh. Improves balance, concentration and core awareness.

How to do it: Perform a lunge, stepping your right foot forward between your hands, making sure your knee is directly above your heel and your left leg is straight behind you. Then drop your left knee to the ground underneath your hip so that you have a 90 angle between both knees.  Place your hands on your lower back. Tuck your tailbone under whilst engaging the left glute, press the hips forward.  You want to feel a burning stretching sensation in the front of the right hip. Keep the front foot pressed firmly into the floor. Inhale and sweep your arms up and to the side, lifting your torso so it's perpendicular to the floor. Gaze slightly upwards. Keep pressing the hips forward and the torso away from the front thigh.  Breathe for 5-10 breaths before repeating on the other side.

Variations: To get a quad stretch bend the back knee bringing the heel towards your hips with your hand or a strap.

3. BOUND ANKLE POSE - Baddha Konsana

Target area: Inner thighs.

Benefits: Opens the hips and groin area; improves digestive circulation.

How to do it: Sit up tall, perhaps against a wall. Bend both knees tightly into the chest then open the knees out to the side.  Bring the soles of the feet together as close into the groin as you can. Press the feet together. Bring the shoulder blades down the back and elbows close into the side of the body.  Use the elbows to press the thighs down and knees away from each other.  You can perform a PNF stretch here to accelerate the improvement in flexibility by pressing the thighs down with your hands whilst pressing up against your hands with your thighs. Hold for 10 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times. 

Variations: If the knees are on the floor fold forward aiming the chin towards the floor. Alternatively for a more relaxing version recline back to lie on the floor or on a cushion.

4. RECLINED HALF HERO – Supta Ardha Virasana

Target area: Quads.

Benefits: Stretches the quads, hip flexors and front of the ankles. 

How to do it: Sit with your legs out straight in front of you. Bend your right knee and tuck the top (toenail side) of your foot next to your right hip so that your in a half kneeling position. Keep your knees in line with hips and close together. If you can’t sit on both "sitting bones" (the bottom of your buttocks) place a block or cushion under your left glute to square the hips. Stay here and breathe for 5-10 breaths before repeating on the other side.  If you can sit on both sit bones, exhale and recline back on to your elbows. Keep the tailbone tucked under and the lower belly engaged to protect your lower back. If you want to increase the stretch recline right back onto the mat and try to flatten your lower back onto the mat.  Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Variations: The full posture is with both knees bent, knees together and feet hip distance apart. If you can sit the hips down on the floor in-between the feet the next step is to recline back onto your elbows or right down on to the floor.  Clasp opposite elbows above the head and hold for 5-10 breaths.  Try to bring the lower back onto the floor reducing the arch in the spine. 

5. RECLINED PIGEON – Supta Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

Target area: Glutes & hips.

Benefits: Stretches the hip flexors, gluteals, piriformis, IT band, lower back and outer hips and improves mobility. Variations will allow for chest, shoulder and quad stretching.

How to do it: Start on hands and knees. Bring the left knee toward the outside of the left wrist and set the shin on the floor with the ankle toward the right wrist. The left shin is working toward being parallel to the top edge of the yoga mat. Slide the right leg back until you feel a good stretch. Square the hips, and if they are not touching the floor, place a yoga block, blanket or pillow underneath the hips for support. Inhale and extend the spine. Exhale and walk the hands forward so the chest is moving toward the floor. Hold and breathe for 5-10 breaths and then switch sides.

Variations: To add more chest and shoulder opening, keep the hands close to the body and the torso upright. Lift the chest and roll the shoulders down and back, away from the ears. To add a quad stretch, bend the left knee and reach back to grab the left foot with the left hand or strap.

6. RECLINED HAND TO BIG TOE - Supta padgandusanasana

Target area: Hamstrings & IT band.

Benefit:  Stretches the hips, glutes, hamstrings, groin and calves. Also can relieve backache and sciatic pain.

How to do it: Lie with your back on the floor and legs along the ground. Exhale, bend your left knee into the chest and use your arms to pull your thigh to your chest. From here, either hold your big toe (shown above) or loop a strap around your mid-foot and slowly straighten your knee to extend your leg upward. Keep your opposite heel and both shoulders pressed firmly into the ground and press upward through your right heel. Hold for 5-10 breaths then on an exhale lower your leg and repeat on the other side.

Variations:  On an exhale take the leg out to the side away from the body to stretch the inner thighs, and hold for 5-10 breaths. Inhale, bring it back to centre and exhale take the leg across the body to stretch the glutes and IT band, and hold for 5-10 breaths.  Inhale the leg back to centre, bend the knee into the chest and release the toe or strap.

7. BRIDGE – Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Target area: The spine & front of the body.

Benefits: Opens the front of the body stretching the chest, back, shoulders and neck.  The opposite to the time trial bike position! Strengthens the core, back, glutes and hamstrings. Improves mobility in the spine. Calms the brain and central nervous system and stimulates the lungs and thyroid glands.

How to do it: Lie on your back and bend your knees, feet flat on the floor hip distance apart.  Place your heels as close to your "sit bones" (the bottom of your buttocks) as possible. Exhale and tuck your tailbone under lifting your hips, lower back, middle back and upper back off the mat. Press your arms and feet into the floor to raise your pelvis off the ground. Clasp your hands on the ground underneath your lower back and keep your thighs and feet parallel. Hold for 5-10 breaths. To improve mobility in the back gentle peel the vertebrate down on the mat one at a time. Focus on moving through the whole of the spine rather than allowing chunks of the back to release.

Variations: For a more relaxing pose place a block underneath your lower back and allow the block to take your weight.  To strengthen the hamstrings and glutes, straighten one leg up to the sky pressing the heel up and hold for 5-10 breaths.