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Webmaster, May 2006


Back Pain

If you experience back pains from riding there are several things that may be causing the pain.  Following are the main culprits:

Bike Fit
Have your bike fit for you.  Even if you had the bike fit at a reputable bike shop it is not unusual  to have to return to the shop for more adjustments.  Let the shop know exactly what type of pain you are experiencing.  Bike shops are not all the same and have differing expertise when it comes to bike fit.  If you feel that you are not getting the right fit at one shop ask around and find out which shops are known for their bike fits.  
For more info on bike fit go to the
Bike Fit page.

Bike Technique / Positioning
A good bike position is just like a good sitting or standing position - don't slouch!  When you are on your bike straighten that back; pull back those shoulders and straighten your neck. Also focus on tilting your pelvis forward (rather than bending at the waist) to reach the handlebars.

Pace your training
If you are a new rider you may be overdoing it in the early season.  Make note of what kind of time/distance are you riding before you have pain?  It takes your body takes time to settle into a training regimen.  If you've pushed yourself a little too far, too soon, you may start experiencing lower back pain.  Try to gradually increase your training regimen and listen to your body if it says you're pushing too hard 

Stretching
Are you stretching before and after riding?  Stretching should be a part of your training regimen.  Be sure to stretch all the hip muscles, front, back and sides, as well as quads - thigh and inner thigh thigh, calf muscles, chest and neck.  Get into the habit of doing added stretches at pit stops.   The Hamstrings (back of the legs) get really tight from riding and they have to be stretched out to their normal length.  If your Hamstrings tighten up they pull on the lower back causing back pain. Remember to hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds and DON'T bounce.

Abdominals & Back Strength
How is your back strength?  Your legs do perform most of the work when cycling but they are dependent on your trunk muscles for stabilization and transmission of power.  Add back strengthening exercises to your training program and don't forget abdominal work - your abs are essentially the front of your back.  As a cyclist, you don't need a “six pack”', but you do need strong abs.  Here are a few exercises that will strengthen your back and abs. These muscles should be developed throughout training.  2-3 sessions per week using these exercises will maintain trunk strength.

  • Crunch time
    The crunch works the abdominal muscles. While lying on your back on a carpeted floor or soft mat, hold your hands at the back of your head. Half of your hands should be on the base of your skull and the other half should be on the upper part of your neck but do not use your hands to help you perform the crunch. Your legs should be bent so that your feet are on the floor and approximately 10-12 inches away from your butt. 
    The range of motion for this exercise is very small. Crunch in an upward and forward manner until your shoulder blades are off the floor. A variation of this can be done with the feet off of the floor. 
    If the crunch is too difficult, or you have not worked your trunk muscles for a while, keep your hands on the floor at your sides as you perform your crunches. This reduces the resistance your trunk muscles are acting against. As your trunk gets stronger, start doing crunches with your hands on your neck. 
    Remember to keep the motion slow and controlled. Do not bend your neck as you crunch. To prevent over-flexing the neck, imagine softball under your chin. 
  • Superman!
    The lower back can be strengthened by the Superman exercise. While lying on the floor face down, extend your arms straight in front of you. Imagine your lower back is a pivot and raise your upper body slightly while keeping the lower body on the floor. The movement is continuous; there is no pause at the top. The range of motion for this exercise is extremely small. This motion is also slow and controlled so you recruit as many muscle fibers as possible in the lower back. 
  • Take sides
    The side bend is a useful exercise for strengthening the obliques. While standing with your feet shoulder width apart, grasp a light weight in one hand.  Keeping your upper body rigid, slowly bend toward the side holding the weight. You should feel the muscles on the opposite side of the body stretch and then contract as you return to the starting position. 
    This exercise is best done in front of a mirror so you can maintain good form. Be careful not to drop the shoulder down as you bend to the side with the weight.  

If you go to gym, have one of the staff members show you which machines and weight exercises can help strengthen your back and abs.  If you are not into weights try to get into a healthy back class or try Yoga as an alternative.  Yoga does a lot to increase back strength and flexibility.  Know the type of yoga the teacher is teaching and make sure you work at your level. 

Professional Advice
If all of this doesn't solve your problem, ask your physician for a referral to a physical therapist who specializes in musculoskeletal problems.  It shouldn't take more than one-two sessions for you to learn management strategies for your back.

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