LOWER BACK PAIN:
Road or mountain, one of the most common issues I see people get is lower back pain, this issue is so common it doesn't even have to be a bike based issue.
It's common for people who run, train regularly or are sedentary for them to feel lower back pain.
This blog will go into details with lower back pain and explain how you can overcome this.
But first, let's start with why we get lower back pain:
Lower back pain and modern day life are synonymous. It’s like the perfect marriage if you think of it. How many of us work sat down, with our shoulders forwards? How many of us work in manual jobs where we pick things up and put them down again all day? Even with recent times forcing us to work from home a lot more. This is all setting us up for lower back pain if we don’t manage things well.
I personally find lower back pain comes from two things:
1: The lower back is over worked:
When people spend a lot of time sitting down, or picking things up without proper technique our lower back takes the strain. This is usually due to the muscles in the top of our back, bum (glutes) and the back of our legs (hamstrings) being inactive. As mentioned above the way we live our working lives plays a huge role in this but also when you look at the sport of cycling itself, we spend a lot of time leaning forwards, almost hunched on our bikes. This is creating a huge potential for the muscles above to switch off as they aren’t really used in our sport. Your body will only use what it needs, so for example: If you build your muscles up to lift seriously heavy weight, and then stop you will lose this as your body no longer needs to be that strong.
To be strong, or athletic demands more energy. You body doesn’t like to be inefficient so if you don’t need to have that intake then your body will begin to return to a less fit/strong state.
This is why you feel like you have lost fitness after a few weeks off.
Essentially, your lower back is hurting you due to the named muscles above being inactive, this means the lower back is doing too much and is tired. Causing the pain, you feel when extra strain from cycling is placed on it.
2: The lower back is weak, and under worked:
The second potential reason here is that the lower back is underworked. As mentioned above with regards to inactivity switching off certain muscles. The same can happen with the lower back, it becomes underworked and loses strength. This then results in it not being able to cope with the amount of stress placed on it when training and riding. Just as sitting down and working all day can be a cause of the back being over worked. It can also be a cause of them switching off. As can injury, and not recovering from injury correctly. The classic case here being just rest it until it doesn’t hurt anymore (more on this later).
One other potential cause can be post-surgery too, so this may also be something to consider. However, I would recommend 1-1 coaching to solve this issue without hesitation.
How do we identify which one?
Identifying the cause of the issue is relatively simple. You can do this on your own if you have some idea of biomechanics, or you can work with a coach who will have a look at how you move. Watching someone perform movements like squats and even walking can tell you a lot about how their body works.
If the glutes are inactive, it is very likely that they will begin the squatting movement from their knees, failing to push their hips backwards. If their lower back is used to taking on the workload their upper body will almost look horizontal when squatting.
If you worry about this, feel free to film yourself performing a squat either bodyweight or under load and send it me on Instagram (@acopleypt or email firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will have a look and advise you.
Essentially, looking at how you move goes a long way towards identifying these issues.
How do you resolve these issues?
Oddly, these two contrasting issues can be solved by the exact same method. Training that isolates the affected areas.
Essentially. If your lower back is hurting due to inactive glutes then working on glute activation exercises like hip abductors, resistance band walks and squats (when coached properly) will help your glutes strengthen and essentially help your lower back pain go away.
If your glutes are inactive there is a good chance other areas are inactive too, so I would recommend getting assessed on how your body moves, and your posture.
If your lower back is hurting as a result of being weak, then again. Targeting this area with bodyweight exercises and gym work will also go a long way towards helping you eliminate this pain.
One of the best bodyweight exercises you can perform for this is known as the superman and is pictured below:
Essentially you lay straight, and curve your body upwards like in the photo, returning this back down and repeating it. However, the lower back is a big area of muscle and usually requires additional load to strengthen it up. So, start here and then move onto gym-based exercises.
When it comes to lower back pain, the advantage you have is that it’s common. With this being the case, it is also incredibly easy to fix. It just takes a little dedication and commitment to solving the issue.
However, lower back pain is a textbook example of why cyclists should train with weights and I can guarantee you that 90% of cyclists who suffer with lower back pain avoid strength training. I hope you have found this blog interesting and that it has shown you the importance of training away from the bike.
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