Cycling and Low Back Pain

Whether you ride casually, do Century rides, or race; low back is arguably one of the most common areas of pain for cyclists. This blog will hopefully prepare you for hours of riding with minimal to no low back pain. What causes it? An overly aggressive bike fit? Sure! Perhaps riding in too hard a gear and for too long?  Of course! And these both point to one thing; your core’s ability to support the demand you put on it. Core instability/weakness leads to low back pain. Any one or combination of the above can take all the fun out of riding, limit your ride distance/s and even steal finish power.

First there’s bike fit. Having the handlebars too low (and/or your stem too long) forces excessive flexion in the lumbar region. Muscle fatigue will quickly set in and so will the ache. A fatigued rider may also place too much weight on their handlebars thus becoming the “unwanted unsteady” rider in the group/peloton. Bike fit is an evolutionary process. Find a shop that will evolve your fit to match your core strength. As your core becomes stronger you may gradually lower bars, and even replace that short stem you initially installed, without creating pain. Sure flexibility counts, but strength is demanded from any position flexibility allows you.

Next, let’s look at power output. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On the bike, the more effort put into pushing the pedals the more resistance is demanded from the core. In a gym setting one can do a leg press with their back against support. On a bike your core “IS” the support. Unfortunately, cycling’s position, in which the saddle, pedals and handlebar support your weight, relies on core strength but doesn’t build it. Certainly with time in the saddle and good coaching one can develop a circular pattern where the “lifting pedal” is actually contributing. But it’s the core that allows the transfer of power through stabilization.

That leads us to the importance of core stability and strength. As your core becomes more stable and strong you will become more able to handle an aggressive bike fit, get away with pushing the harder gears a bit more, ride longer distances, and even maintain finish power; all without pain. Here are a couple of core exercises great for cyclists and some of progressions to get you started.

Glute Bridge

Glute Bridge March with Progression

Plank Variations

Stir the Pot (Plank Progression)

Abdominal Crunch

Boxer Ball Crunch (Abdominal Progression)

There are many base core exercises and each has a progression to continue/maximize your core strength. Please do not do these exercises in the presence of pain. If you need help with exercise technique or progression, or if back pain continues, give us a call. Even a strong core in the presence of poor bio-mechanics may turn into a repetitive strain/sprain. Order of fitness is as follows: Correct joint and muscular bio-mechanics, Coordinate proper movement with symmetry and firing sequence through corrective stretches and exercises, then strengthen a healthy pattern with exercises such as those shown above. Our office is here to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.