Over the last decade or so of working with mountain bikers at every level, I have heard one question more than any other one – how do I get rid of my low back pain from riding? Low back pain is at an epidemic level on the trails and it is robbing a lot of riders of time and fun on their bikes.
As I started to look at things more closely I realized that it was actually seated pedaling that was harder on the lower back and at the root of my low back problems.
Unfortunately most mountain bikers are going to have to deal with Low Back Pain at some point. I know this both because I’ve personally worked with hundreds of riders who have had it and, being a rider myself, I’ve dealt with it too.
In fact, it was my own journey into dealing with low back pain that led me to being able to help so many riders with their own low back pain.
Like most riders I was in the habit of sitting down to pedal as much as possible and only standing up when I needed to. Because of this I relied a lot on my “granny gear” and spent most climbs hunched over the bike spinning my feet as fast as possible. I was told this was the best way to climb and I followed this advice for years.
But one year I was forced to ride my 36 pound Freeride bike around as my trail bike and I was forced to stand up a lot more. Along with discovering that standing up wasn’t nearly as bad as I was told, I also found something very strange…
My low back was actually feeling much better.
At first this made no sense – obviously standing up is harder on your low back, right?
But as I started to look at things more closely, I realized that it was actually seated pedaling that was harder on the lower back and at the root of my low back problems.
You see, the human body isn’t made to sit down and flail its legs. We are bipedal creatures who are made to stand up and move, so when we sit down all sorts of things go wrong.
First, your core works differently when you sit down… and not in a good way. The same muscles that are designed to protect your lower back don’t function properly when you are sitting down and letting the seat support your weight.
Second, you are bent over in the Adult Fetal Position. While you have to sit down while riding your bike – no one can stand up forever – there is no getting around that being bent over like that is bad position for your body. And no, a bike fit doesn’t fix this issue. It may help you polish that turd up but seated pedaling is still a turd from a functional movement point of view.
When you stand up your core engages properly and you can get a tall, straight spine. This puts the low back in a better position and makes it easier for the core muscles to protect it better than the most expensive bike fit on earth.
I also realized that even when you are sitting down, if you have good hip mobility and core strength you can still take a lot of stress off the lower back by leaning over at the hips and not the lower back. This means that you need to be able to lean forward from the hips and not the low back to take as much stress off the low back as possible when you do sit down.
So, working backwards I realized that the key to getting rid of low back pain from mountain biking was to improve my hip mobility and core strength and then apply that to the bike by standing up more to pedal and using better posture when I was seated.
Taken together I devised my 3 Step Solution….
1 – Improve your hip mobility. If your hips are tight then your body will be forced to bend from the lower back no matter how strong your core is. Besides general hip mobility you also want to work on the specific hip mobility you need to lean over properly when seated and the shoulder mobility you need to get a tall spine when standing up.
2 – Improve core strength specific to the movement patterns you use on the bike. Once you have improved you hip mobility you need to teach the body how to use it to create more efficient movement. On the bike you need the Squat pattern for standing pedaling and the Hip Hinge pattern for seated pedaling and standing up for descents. If you don’t own both of these movement patterns then you will struggle to use both the seated and standing position effectively on the bike.
3 – Learn how to stand up to pedal more. Instead of leaning on your seat post like a crutch use it to rest for your next standing effort. Standing up as much as you can for you hard efforts on the trail may take some getting used to but once you train yourself on the basic postures and strategies for standing pedaling you’ll never go back to sitting down all the time again. You’ll find that you will not only have less low back pain but you’ll also be faster on the trail.
Check out this video I shot explaining more about addressing the things that can improve the real cause of low back pain on your mountain bike.
Once you combine these three elements together – Mobility, Movement and Skill – you’ll change how you move and ride, getting rid of the underlying issues causing your low back pain once and for all. With this approach you’ll…
Experience less low back pain both on and off the trail. You’ll finally be able to enjoy your rides from start to finish and not have to worry about how sore your low back is going to be the next day.
Move with more efficiency on the bike. The same movement that causes low back pain also wastes a lot of energy as well. When you move more efficiently you place less wear and tear on the low back and improve your endurance since you use less energy to create the same amount of power.
Improve your pedaling power. Along with wasting energy the faulty movement patterns behind your low back pain are also robbing you of pedaling power. When you are able to keep your core engaged and use your hips more efficiently you will be able to create more power when you pedal.
While I’ve got a lot of great free resources on this site to help you do this I have also put together a 30 day program designed to take the guesswork out of it for you. This new MTB 30 Day Low Back Pain Program is only $29 and shows you exactly how to put this 3 step plan into action.
If you have low back pain caused by too much time spent bet over while mountain biking then click on the link below to learn more about this new program and how it can help you decrease your pain while increasing your speed, endurance and fun on the trail.
Click here to learn more about the MTB 30 Day Low Back Pain Program and get your copy for only $19.
That’s it for now, if you have any questions about this post or video please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems