Yoga and the Luna Chix Pro Team
How yoga helps train the minds and bodies of the world’s top mountain bikers.
With another year… and another world championship, under their belts, the LUNA Chix Pro Cycling Team members explain how yoga is a key part of their hectic training regimes as they travel the globe …
Racing down a gnarly ribbon of singletrack isn’t everyone’s idea of a zen moment. But for world champion mountain bikers and XTERRA triathletes, those high-speed thrills and skills are all about focus, flexibility, and being right in the moment. Before it’s time to crank up the velocity, the women of LUNA Chix Pro Team get ready by stretching out, breathing in and working to unwind. PrAna is proud to support them on the yoga mat as they work to get faster by slowing down.
The team is made up of women from the United States and Canada. It’s the longest-running team in professional mountain biking and XTERRA racing’s history, and also the most successful. For the LUNA Chix Pro Team, yoga plays an important role. Each member’s practice is personal and it means something different to everyone. So we talked with LUNA riders to find out what it means to them.
“I spend most of my season trying to propel my body straight forward as fast as possible — whether running, cycling, or swimming. When the off-season rolls around, I challenge my body to move in different ways,” said Danelle Kabush, three-time XTERRA World Championship medalist. “I find yoga is a great break for the competitive mind and body. If you go to a yoga class with the intention of ‘winning’ the class, you will end up frustrated, and likely injure yourself. Yoga is an opportunity to simply tune in to where your body is at in that particular moment.”
Four time — and current — U.S. National XTERRA Champion Shonny Vanlandingham looks to her practice to provide the flexibility and strength training she needs to stay at her best. “In order to get a true gain in flexibility, you’ve got to continuously contract the target muscle group while elongating it,” she explains. “A muscle is only truly flexible to the point where it can continue to maximally resist while being lengthened. Stretching without continuously contracting a muscle produces a false range of motion and that can result in over-stretching and injury.”
And for Olympic Bronze Medalist Georgia Gould, it’s all about balance. “I spend hours in the same position on the bike which can result in soreness, tightness, and a reliance on cycling-specific muscles,” she said. “Daily yoga has helped me balance out some of those inequalities, improved my core strength, and greatly improved my flexibility. As a result, I experience way less low back pain, and I am less prone to injury. I think yoga makes me a stronger and more well-rounded athlete.”
Catharine Pendrel, two-time World Cup Champion and newly crowned Canadian Cyclo-Cross Champion takes the balance yoga provides one step further, using it as a way to center her thoughts and stay positive. “Discovering yoga has been a welcomed addition to my training regime,” said Pendrel. “It is amazing how taking time to slow down and breathe deeply can alter an entire day. Around competitions yoga helps me calm my mind and focus only on what is important: The Now. You tune out the distractions around you and listen to what your body has to say. Even just a couple of poses grounds me, focuses me and improves my energy. It requires you to slow down your brain and body, at least for a few minutes, enabling the necessary physical and mental recovery to perform at your best.”
While yoga is a great tool to help mountain bikers — and all athletes — prepare for competition and prevent injury, it’s also a tool for healing. When Teal Stetson Lee, 2013 U.S. National Super D Champion, hurt her lower back, she was forced to take time off the bike. “Yoga has become an integral part of my preparation and recovery,” she said. “Injury can sometimes be inevitable and I’ve found that my yoga has become an important part of my rehabilitation process. My back injury is due in part to the repetitive motion of pedaling. Yoga has allowed me to work with my body’s natural inclinations and correct imbalances. For example, I have incredibly tight hamstrings, hips, and psoas muscles. So I have incorporated yoga stretches and breathing techniques that specifically target these areas and I have noticed results.”
For Katerina Nash, four time Olympian and World Cup mountain bike and Cyclo-Cross race winner, yoga practice is personal and a bit ad lib – even when it comes to wardrobe (though she says prAna’s support has helped her there too: “Thanks to prAna I no longer wear surf shorts to yoga classes. Who would have thought that yoga pants are so practical and comfortable!”) She pulls elements of yoga into each stretch and workout, focusing on her breathing. “I was introduced to yoga long before I knew what yoga was,” said Nash. “One dark afternoon in Sweden while training for the upcoming ski season, I managed to get my ski tip stuck in a tree and broke my ankle. I had couple of weeks in Sweden and nothing to do before I could get home. I ended up joining our team doctor for a morning exercise routine. We started with deep breathing and moved from our heads to toes, waking up and stretching every part of the body. Yoga has stayed with me in multiple ways — I enjoy everything from attending classes to good old stretching after workouts. And I always travel with my yoga mat and a roller.”
And finally, the first pro rider LUNA ever signed, Marla Streb – two-time U.S. National Downhill Champion and World Cup and X-Games winner – brings it all together, with her thoughts on mind, body and balance. “Riding a bike requires some speed and racing bikes requires incredible exertion and aggression. But in order to achieve this state of high exertion (and adrenaline) you have to balance the day with a time of relaxation and healing. And the secret to finding that balance is yoga,” said Streb. “After riding my bike daily over the past 20-some years for training, racing and commuting, my body looks forward to regenerating through stretching and oxygenating. Even well into my forties, I am still able to out-ride, out-climb, and out-run my friends in their twenties. Heck, I can even out-run my own kids (although they are only four and seven). After all these broken bones, 24 and counting, my body is always in a state of healing and recovery. The process of holding poses and allowing my muscles to stretch also quiets and lengthens my mind and helps me to mentally and physically grow taller!” She went on to say that she can see the benefits of yoga in each of her teammates. They recover from training faster so they can train more often. They sleep better, eat voraciously and smile wider. At races or group rides, they are rested and their legs and core muscles are pliant. Plus, they seem more calm and centered at the start line.
And to make yoga part of your routine, here’s some advice from LUNA Pro rider, Catharine Pendrel:
20-Minute Flow To Start Your Day
It doesn’t matter if you’re a world champion or you just got off the couch yesterday, Catharine Pendrel has a yoga workout that you can do. Fun Fact: Catharine Pendrel can do yoga with her cat balanced on her back. If you’re a beginner, the cat is optional. “Take 10 minutes first thing in the morning to gently wake the body up with some sun salutations. Start the day breathing deeply and becoming aware of how your body is feeling. It takes only a few minutes to increase your range of motion and bring some heat into tight muscles. This is also an ideal time to add in a core workout! Spend another 10 minutes doing some crunches, planks, core rotations and hip-strengthening exercises. Voila! You have just done something good for your body and it only took 20 minutes of your day!”
The LUNA Chix Pro Team is balanced in mind and body and it’s clear that even with the many different approaches to yoga, the benefits are universal.
Learn more about the LUNA Pro Team