Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on low back pain, the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work. Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States — behind only headaches.
As far as cyclists are concerned, the American Journal of Sports Medicine reported back pain as the most common overuse injury in professional cyclists. 58% of all cyclists in the study had experienced lower back pain in the previous 12 months, and 41% of all cyclists had sought medical attention for it.
A proper bike fit can go a long way towards preventing back pain. That said, cyclists spend many hours in one position. This can lead to tightness which can lead to imbalances which can ultimately lead to pain. As Gray Cook from Functional Movement Systems has pointed out, “Pain isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom.”
Let’s be proactive. Let’s address imbalances before they cause of pain, before it’s necessary to take time off from doing the things we love, like cycling, and before we’re prompted to seek medical attention.
A great way to combat all the flexion we do while cycling – and throughout our day whether we’re sitting at a desk, picking up kids or slouching on the couch – is to borrow the several poses from the practice of yoga.
Begin in table-top position, on all fours with wrists directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips, arms and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Your head should be in a relaxed, neutral position, eyes focusing on a spot on the floor just ahead of you. Take a deep breath. Then exhale, tightening your abdominals and rounding your spine towards the ceiling. (Cat.) Your pelvis will tuck and you’ll find yourself looking at your hips. Next inhale, relaxing your abdominals, while letting the center of your spine drop. (Cow.) Look up. The top of your head and your buttocks will be pointing towards the ceiling. Follow your breath, alternating between cat, on the exhale, and cow, on the inhale, to repeat this sequence ten times.
Begin by lying face down on the floor, your head in a comfortable position, looking to the side. With your hands on the floor, under your ribs, and elbows bent at your sides, use the strength in your low back to lift your upper body off the ground as you inhale. Focus on using the muscles in your low back to lift yourself up versus pushing up with your hands. (If you need to, lift your hands up off the floor to be sure.) At first you may only rise up a little bit off the ground. After getting stronger, work to lift more of your upper body off the floor while keeping your hip bones securely on the floor. Exhale as you return to the floor, again letting your head roll to one side. Repeat ten times, following your breath. Inhale as you rise, exhale as you relax.
Eagle Arm Pose
Stand tall. Extend your arms in front of you so they are parallel to the floor. Cross your right arm over your left with the right elbow snug into the crook of the left. Then bend your elbows, so that your forearms are perpendicular to the floor. Depending on what feels better for you, either touch the backs of your hands together or bring the palms together until they touch. Check to make sure your shoulders are relaxed, away from your years. If not, drop them now and be conscious to keep your shoulders relaxed. Inhale and raise your arms slightly; exhale and return. That’s one repetition. Do five reps, unwind and then repeat on the other side, with your left arm crossed over your right arm.
Remember, there’s a difference between pain and discomfort. These suggestions are not meant to offer a diagnosis. If you’re experiencing pain, please see a medical professional.
As with all physical exercise, a degree of common sense is required. It’s always recommended to talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. Because proper form is important as is understanding how to best implement strength training, those with training in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology should be consulted.
Special thanks to Precision Multisport for use of their beautiful training facility.
Our resident fitness guru, Joy Sherrick, shares with us the wisdom of her years of experience working with people to meet their fitness goals.
Want more tips for how to keep your body fit for cycling? Check out these links: