Suffering from back pain while riding can be a demoralising experience. Suzie Bostock explains how to strengthen your core to help reduce the chance of back pain.
Back pain can turn a pleasurable ride into miles of misery for bikers, especially on long-distance journeys or while riding off-road. It’s something plenty of riders suffer from and, while it may be tempting to simply grin and bear it with the aid of painkillers, there are measures you can take to reduce your chance of suffering with pain.
Core strengthening exercises in particular can help prevent back pain. I have included a few core-based exercises to help get you started. If you are having an acute episode of back pain or have a long-term back problem, always get advice from a qualified physiotherapist or your GP before undertaking any new exercises.
Exercises should not hurt so stop if you experience any pain. Also remember, before any exercise make sure you do a good warm-up and start new exercises slowly and at the easiest/beginner level.
Beginner version: Lie down on the floor with your elbows bent, forearms on the floor, palms down, eyes looking towards the floor. Brace your shoulders and abdominals, lifting your hips off the floor so that all your body weight is supported by your shoulders, forearms and knees.
Keep your spine in line, do not twist, do not look up and do not dome or arch your back. Maintain the tension in your abdominals. Hold for 15-30 seconds if able (maintaining good spinal alignment) and repeat 5-10 times with 30 seconds rest between each plank. You can build up the holding time slowly as you improve.
Standard version: As above, however, straighten your legs once in the plank position so that you take your weight through your toes, not your knees. This is much harder! Repeat as above, but, if it’s too difficult, hold it for less time or revert to the beginner version.
Beginner version: Lie on your side resting on your elbow and forearm and knees bent. You can rest your other arm by your side. Your elbow should be directly underneath your shoulder. Brace your abdominals and lift your hips off the floor keeping your knees, hips and torso in line. Maintain the tension in your abdominals and hold the position for 10-20 seconds if able with good alignment. Repeat 5-10 times with a 30 second rest in between each side plank. You can build up the holding time slowly as you improve.
Standard version: As the beginner version, however with legs straight. Again, this is much harder so be careful. Your weight will be supported through your forearm, elbow and side of your lower-most foot. Do not allow sagging of your lower back. If you can’t maintain the right position decrease the hold time or revert back to the beginner version.
Lie on your back, knees bent up, feet flat on the floor with your arms by your side. Brace your abdominal muscles and slowly lift your hips up towards the ceiling, lifting your bottom and mid to lower back off the floor. Aim to get your hips in line with your thighs and torso, maintaining abdominal tension. Hold for 10-20 seconds and then lower. Repeat 8-12 times as able with good form.
Stand upright with your hips and spine in neutral. Transfer your weight onto one leg and lean forwards, keeping your spine in neutral and taking the other leg out straight behind you, and arms out in front of you. Try to keep good alignment between the straightened leg and upper body whilst keeping the supporting leg slightly bent. Brace your abdominals to maintain the alignment. Do not twist the pelvis or spine. Sometimes it helps to get someone to watch you.
Hold for a few seconds and then return to the start position. Repeat on the other leg. As this requires good balance, make sure you have something sturdy to hold onto if required or have someone else to help.
If you’re really keen you can take up a Pilates class, which includes a good deal of core strengthening, from lumbar stabilisation exercises through to more dynamic, functional exercises. Often classes are included in gym memberships, so if you go to a gym ask them. There are also many private classes, many run by physiotherapists. If you have problems with your back it’s often useful to consult a physiotherapist.