Cycling is known for being a low impact sport, generally having a lower injury rate than running. The overall benefits for both your physical and mental well-being are as endless as the roads you can explore on your bike. However, that doesn’t mean cycling is without its own set of strains on the body. Back stretches for cyclists are really important to reduce the risk of pain and injury.
The position of the body on a bike can cause imbalanced work. The abdominal muscles are relaxed and relatively compressed, while the back muscles are stretched and tensed as you hold yourself up. This is especially true for road and track cyclists who are in a lower, more aerodynamic position.
To ensure that this sustained stretching and tension in the spinal muscles doesn’t lead to injury, it’s important the muscles are strong enough to bear the work load. A combination of strength, flexibility, stretches for cyclists and proper posture on and off the bike is necessary to both treat and prevent back pain.
The Muscles Involved
Everything in the body is connected. When you’re looking to target a certain sore muscle, you also want to focus on the muscles surrounding it. Strain is often caused by a lack of support from weaker surrounding muscles.
The Lower Back
Lower back pain is common among cyclists, especially when combined with sitting at a computer for extended periods of time. The first thing to look into is bike fit, as it can arise from riding a bike that is too big for you. Next you’ll want to work on strengthening your core to counteract and support your lower back when you’re on the bike.
Finally, a lack of flexibility could be the cause of your lower back pain. If you have tightness in your hamstrings, hip flexors, or quads it can pull your pelvis out of alignment with each pedal stroke. The work that should be happening in your legs is then transferred to your lower back causing unnecessary strain.
The Upper Back
Upper back pain usually shows up as a burning in your shoulder blades and a tightness running into the neck. This can even lead to numbness travelling down your arm into your hands and fingers. This could be caused by an overly aggressive position on the bike, but most commonly it stems from your posture off the bike.
Sitting at a desk all day, particularly with poor posture, can cause tightness in the upper back, neck, and shoulders which can translate into pain on the bike. Stretching is the most effective way to ensure this doesn’t happen.
The Best Back Stretches for Cyclists
Hold each stretch for 25-30 seconds, repeating each one three times.
(Either sitting or standing) Straighten your back and neck while looking straight ahead. Cross your arms in front of your chest and place each hand on the opposite shoulder. Try to reach the center of your back between your shoulder blades with each hand, so your chest is compressed and the upper part of your back is slightly curved outward. You should feel the stretch in your shoulder blades. Be sure to alternate your arms, one over the other, as your hold this stretch.
Get down on all fours on your hands and knees (put a mat or cushion under your knees). Start with a straight back, then slowly lower your head and arch your back up towards the ceiling, like a cat. Try to to get the greatest amount of curvature as possible for you. This can be a hard stretch to feel your spinal muscles, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Seated Upper Body Bend
Start on the ground in a seated position, with your back straight, legs out, and hands resting beside you. Slowly slide both hands forward toward your feet, while bending your upper body as necessary. If you feel discomfort, just back the stretch up a little. If you need assistance holding the stretch, use a band to hook around the bottoms of your feet to anchor your arms.
*This is great for cyclists with poor flexibility in the glutes who spend a lot of time in a dropped position on the bike.
Downward Facing Dog
Start on your hands and knees, aligning your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Stretch your elbows and relax your upper back. Spread your fingers wide and distribute your weight evenly across your hands, pressing firmly onto your palms. Press your pelvis up and gently bein to straighten your legs. If you hamstrings are tight, step your feet wider apart. You should feel the stretch through the entire spinal column, opening the hips, and stretching the hamstrings.
Supine Upper Body Rotation
Lie down on your back and place your hands on the back of your neck, looking upward. Bend your hips and knees to a 90 degree angle, as if you were sitting on a chair. Slowly rotate your legs to the side so the top of your back remains on the floor. Your legs should remain together as your lower them to the floor. Bring them back up to center before slowing lowering them down to the other side.