Achy Back With Biking! - Breakaway Physical Therapy
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Achy Back With Biking!

Back Pain Biking

This time of year, the temperatures are cooling, and I hope you are getting outside to be more active! My kids are asking every evening to be outside because it’s just a beautiful time of year.

The fall festivals, the fire pits, hot apple cider, pumpkin everything, the leaves changing colors and just taking in all the fall festivities.

Also, our kids are wanting to ride their bikes and go on family bike rides. Now my 4-year-old is still working on learning to ride her bike and our 2-year-old is not there yet either. But our big kids love to ride through the neighborhood with us or their friends!

This got me to thinking about a patient of mine that came in with back pain when she would ride her bike. It was driving her crazy because she loved to ride her bike, wanted to be able to exercise with friends and family, but her body was truly holding her back. And she could not figure out what piece she was missing.

So, we went down the investigation that we go through with all patients on what is really going on with her body. Meaning what muscles are weak, what muscles are tight, what isn’t coordinating well with movement and so on?!

Now we absolutely found weakness in her hips, especially her gluteal muscles. This is something that is overlooked with riding a bike because many people think they only need strong quads, hamstrings and calf muscles to effectively ride.

BUT you are missing a link with the gluteals needing to be strong and more particularly, gluteus medius. These are the glut muscles that don’t get a whole lot of attention but are super important for stabilizing your hips and pelvis.

They work when you do side to side movements, which are not commonly done in workouts or in real life. We walk forwards a lot, rarely walk backwards and certainly don’t walk sideways much.

So, in essence, these are a muscle group that gets ignored, but is really important to work on so that you are stable on your bike.

See below one of my favorite exercises for this group of muscles – Side Stepping

Side Stepping

Start with a theraband or theraloop tied around your ankles. Point your toes forwards, bend your knees so that you are in a mini-squat and start walking sideways.

Key points to pay attention to – make sure that your toes remain forwards while you are walking and stay in the squat, no bouncing up and down.

Walk down your hallway and then walk back to the beginning of where you started. Don’t turn around when you get to the end of the hallway because then you will be leading with the same leg each way.

Go down and back twice while you should start to feel some muscles “talking to you” on your bottom.

So, we started some strengthening to her gluteals for support while she rides.

Then we also looked at her abdominal strength.

If your back is hurting you while you are on your bike, commonly it’s because the muscles on the front of your body are not working well, aka the abdominals.

When your abdominals are weak, you will fatigue faster and start to strain your back muscles sooner rather than later during your bike ride. Your abdominals help to control your movements on your bike and generate power. The powerhouse of the body that needs real focus!

Now when strengthening the abdominals, you need to start with the basics, finding your deepest abdominal muscles. The transversus abdominals are the muscles on the inside of your hip bones and help to support your pelvis.

Try out this starting abdominal exercise

Abdominal Exercise

Lay on your back with your knees bent. Put your hands on your hips so that your fingers are on the soft, squishy, muscle part on the inside of your hip bones. Then say the words “ha, ha, ha”. You should feel your transversus abdominals muscles activate under your fingertips.

Can you breathe and hold these muscles tight at the same time? A great way to make sure that you are breathing while holding the muscles active is to count out loud to 10.

Can you hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times (all while breathing)?

Now you may say that this is really easy for you and that you are ready to move on the next phase.

Ok same starting position…

Abdominal Exercise

Now engage your abdominals, keep your breathing going and lift your leg off the table into a march. Slowly march one leg at a time while keeping your abdominals tight and breathing.

If you are hearing your feet hit the ground, then you are moving too fast through this exercise. If you are feeling your back arch off the table, then your abdominals are not staying tight the whole time and your body is not quite ready for this exercise.

If you are doing this all correctly as described, then repeat marching 10 times on each side and take a break.

Now I want to show you another exercise with the abdominals in a different position.

Flip over so that your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are directly under your hips.

Hip Exercise

Engage your abdominals just like we did in the other exercises and keep your breath going. When you are ready, slowly lift one arm and the opposite leg off the table. You don’t have to lift high, but you do have to move slow and controlled.

Make sure that your back remains flat as your abdominals are engaged the whole time. If you want to make sure that is happening, put a roll of wrapping paper on your back to make sure that it stays balanced and does not fall off while you complete this exercise (I have a wand on my back).

This is a good challenge when you complete this with slow and controlled movements. Try 10 reps on each side and then take a break. If you are ready to make this harder, grab some dumbbells for your hands and put some ankle weights on to bump this up a notch.

So, as you see from these exercises, this is just the start of abdominal strengthening that is essential for bike riding without an achy back!

And of course, there are always other things to consider when riding your bike.

Is your bike fit to you?

Meaning are you riding a bike that is YOUR size and not just a friend’s bike that you picked up?

What is the support on your bike seat? Are you getting support for your bottom while you ride each day?

Do you change your position when you ride meaning do you occasionally stand up while riding, sit down and so forth?

Do you use your gears and change them while riding?

It’s important to change your gears while you are riding UP and DOWN hills and when you fatigue. It’s common that people will ride and just power through the heavy gears to propel themselves up a hill. BUT when you change gears and spin your legs faster, you can keep going at the same pace with your legs continuing to spin at the same rate, expending less energy and allow you to keep your forward/ upward progress.

Are you getting up and down throughout your workday? OR are you sitting all day long and then feeling super stiff with riding your bike?

Moving more throughout your day will help ease the transition of sitting with work to riding your bike before or after work.

Do you do an active warm-up before getting on your bike?

Our body needs an active warm-up before any exercise including cycling. You can do a quick walk, jumping jacks, some squats, lunges, and shoulder circles (10 each) to get some blood flowing throughout your muscles.

And then do you stretch after your workouts?

Your muscles are going to be the warmest once you are done your workout and you can get some really effective stretching in at that point in time.

Stretching your quads, hamstring, calf muscles, lower back, inner thighs and more are all going to benefit your body AND lower back!

As you can see there are so many components that go into cycling for you to consider from start to finish. The most important thing is that you find out what is going on with your body that is causing your back pain during biking.

Is it strength needed in your abdominals, are your gluteals needing a bump in their stability, are your muscles too tight in your back? So many things to consider and your best decision when this is happening with your body is to come see the movement experts.

A FREE Breakthrough consultation is an amazing way to help understand what is going on with your body, what is holding you back and how we can help as physical therapists get you back to riding your bike without any muscles complaining to you.

If you are wondering if exercise really work, check out this blog for more information on the right exercises for your body https://www.breakawaypt.com/do-exercises-really-work/

Don’t let the beautiful weather pass you by this fall season not getting to enjoy being outside because your body is holding you back. Email us today to get started and for you to have a dedicated exercise program for what your body needs. Happy riding!

Shaina Clemons

Shaina Clemons

Shaina is the founder and owner of Breakaway Physical Therapy.  She received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland Baltimore, along with a Bachelor's degree from Towson University.   Shaina is an Ironman triathlete, with a love of all sports. Exercise is her passion, which plays an important role in both her personal and professional life.  In her free time, Shaina enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.  Shaina's love of snowboarding led her to her career choice many years ago. 
Shaina Clemons

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