What causes back pain on the bike?

March 05, 2019 4 min read

What causes back pain on the bike?

Cycling is a low impact activity that has comparatively fewer injuries than other sports (not including crashes and traffic issues, of course). Cycling, however, is far from a natural movement so there are some things you need to take into account to ensure you stay healthy and continue to enjoy the ride. 

Lower back pain is one of the trouble spots for cyclists, and is actually more of an issue than knee and ankle pain. Thankfully it can easily be avoided. 

If you are experiencing lower back pain from cycling the first thing to do is check you bike set up and make sure your bike is right for your height and body length. A bike shop representative will be able to assist you with this if you have any doubts. 

If everything is okay with your bike it could be that you are overexerting yourself. Our back muscles are not very strong compared to our legs, chest and arms, so when we put strain on them, we really notice. Overexertion occurs when we cycle too long or too hard and the regular cycling muscles in our legs get tired. Once those big strong muscles take a rest, our posture on the bike changes and we place strain on our lower back by leaning further forward than optimal and pointing our knees out. We literally become too tired to hold ourselves up. Even if this change is only slight, our lower backs don’t get much muscle support so small alterations can have a big impact. 

Another cause for lower back pain is spending too long in the drop down position, which keeps our back in a stressed position and impairs our movement. While good for aerodynamics, using the handlebar drops for long periods weakens the muscles that are responsible for back stability and posture and we start to take on poor posture as a result. The way we hold that forward bend position is all import for back health, too much bend creates lower back pain because the muscles for stability aren’t able to perform their job correctly. 

The best way to beat this is to have strong core muscles. Core muscles (the ones around our abdomen) are great stabilisers and flexors and they are a bigger muscle group than the lower back, so these muscles can bring welcome relief in times of muscle stress and help support our lower back stability on the bike. 

It’s important to mention that this isn’t just about bike health. We naturally engage our core muscles whenever we have good posture, (sit straight and stand straight). That means we need to be careful not to slouch and put strain on our lower back when we are sitting at home, in the car or at work. We do need to rest our core muscles, they can’t be at work all the time, but we can be sure that when we rest our backs are looked after by having quality seating for watching TV or reading and a good mattress for sleeping at night. 

To strengthen your core complete these exercises three times a week. It is best to perform them as a warm up before your ride so your muscles are engaged and ready for work. 

The Plank (also known as The Bridge) 

This is an amazing workout for your core muscles. You may not be able to hold this position for long to begin with, just be sure to increase the duration as you go, you’ll be able to work up to a minute (or more) with time.

Doing this exercise regularly is also a good way to get used to engaging your core muscles and recognising where they are and what it feels like when they are working. 

Lay on a foam mat on the floor face down with your elbows directly under your shoulders and palms flat.

Press up so you are balanced on your elbows and toes, keeping your back straight (bottom low, not sticking up in the air) and feet hip width apart. 

Your eyes should be fixed on the mat (this helps keep your head in a straight line with your shoulders and hips). You will be able to feel your core muscles tense but you can also suck your belly button in towards your spine to get them working. Hold for one minute then slowly relax to the floor. 

The Founder 

This stretch works the glutes, lower back and hamstrings so it will strengthen your ride muscles and help increase ability and endurance on an intense ride. 

Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, knees bent, weight in your heels, hips over ankles. Tilt forward keeping your chest high (so your bottom sticks out) and place your hands in front of you, fingertips touching. 

Keeping your back straight and tight, reach up and out, over your head and push your hips back. You should feel a nice burn through your muscles. Hold for ten second before slowly returning to the start position. Repeat two to five times. 

The Founder


The Woodpecker

This stretch really works your glutes. 

Stand with legs shoulder width apart, hips square and knees bent. Step forward on one leg, close enough that you can see your shin when you look down. 

Stretch your arms out in front and clasp your hands together. 

Keeping your body straight and your arms still, twist at the hips, pressing away from the forward leg.

Reach forward as far as you can with your hands, at the same time pull your hips back and push down into the heel of the forward leg. 

Hold for 10 seconds then relax. Repeat two to three times before switching to the other leg and repeating. 

Looking after your body means you can do more of what you love to do and move with freedom and energy. Cycling with no back pain? That’s freedom! 

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