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How to Strengthen Your Lower Back for Cycling

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Cycling requires muscle strength across the body, especially in the legs, glutes, and lower back. Without proper strength training, you can injure your neck, back, or other muscles. 

To strengthen your lower back for cycling, you have to perform exercises best suited for the purpose. These include:

  • Superman pose
  • Bridges
  • Deadlifts
  • Lying leg lifts
  • Draw-in maneuvers
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Partial curls
  • Hyperextensions

Read on to learn more about the best exercises for strengthening your lower back and why that’s important for cycling. You’ll also learn about flexibility, bike fit, and other ways to reduce the chance of back injury or pain while biking.

Best Exercises To Strengthen Your Lower Back for Cycling

Cycling requires a strong lower back. It’s good to exercise your back in preparation for cycling, rather than relying on cycling alone to strengthen it. That way, you’ll go into the exercise with good posture, well-prepared, and unlikely to injure yourself.

Early and frequent pain while cycling is a sign of a weak lower back. To confirm that weak muscles cause the pain, check to see if you can stand still for twenty minutes without shifting your weight or experiencing pain. If you can’t, then the chances are that you need to do more exercise for your lower back stabilizing muscles.

Some of the best exercises that can help include the following: 

Superman Pose

The superman pose strengthens your back extensors, which run alongside either side of the spine. To do this exercise, simply lie on the ground on your stomach and raise and lengthen your arms and legs, balancing on your abdomen and thighs. While you do this, pull in your belly button to engage the abdominal muscles. 

This pose is one of the best exercises that you can do to strengthen both the lower back and the muscles that support the lower back. You should be able to do a high number of repetitions of this exercise, which is great for building endurance.

Bridges

Bridges work the glutes and hamstrings, muscles that support the lower back. To perform a bridge, follow these steps:

  1. Lie on the ground with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms by your sides.
  2. Raise your buttocks from the ground to form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  3. Squeeze the buttocks and hold.
  4. Lower the buttocks back to the ground.
  5. Repeat 15 times.
  6. Rest one minute.
  7. Repeat, doing three sets of 15 in total.

You can also put your feet up on top of a box or weight bench before doing your bridges for an added challenge. Just make sure that you keep your knees and hips at 90-degree angles if you choose this approach.

Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a great exercise for the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, and they do good work for the lower back at the same time. You must keep a straight back throughout this entire movement if you want to keep your back strong and healthy.

To do a deadlift, follow these steps:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and weights in hand (if you’re using free weights) or a bar in front of you. 
  2. Bend your knees, and grab the bar or weights with an overhand grip.
  3. Straighten your legs first, then pull the bar or weights straight up until your entire body is upright. 
  4. Lower the bar or weights back down, keeping your back straight.

Just make sure that you don’t lift with your back. You should be using your back to stabilize, but your legs and buttocks should do most of the work.

Lying Leg Lifts

Lying leg lifts, also called lateral leg lifts, are a simple and effective way to strengthen and support your lower back.

To perform a lying leg lift, follow these steps:

  1. Lie on your side.
  2. Bend your lower leg.
  3. Draw your belly button into your spine.
  4. Raise your top leg, keeping it extended.
  5. Hold for two seconds.
  6. Repeat ten times. 
  7. Repeat with the other leg.
  8. Do three repetitions on each side in total.

These will strengthen not just your back but also your hips, which stabilize your lower back. You must maintain this overall strength and stability to reduce the chances of injury.

Draw-In Maneuvers

To perform a draw-in maneuver, simply lie on your back with your knees bent and pull your belly button toward the spine. You can hold this position for about five seconds, then repeat it five times. 

This maneuver also strengthens the abdomen, which supports the lower back and prevents injury. 

See the following example of a draw-in maneuver in action:

Kettlebell Swings

If you have the equipment, kettlebell swings can be a great way to strengthen your entire body and work your stabilizing muscles, including your lower back.

To do a kettlebell swing, follow these steps:

  1. Stand with your feet set apart wide and the kettlebell just behind you on the floor.
  2. Bend your knees and grab the kettlebell, hinging at the hips with your buttocks pushed backward, chest up, and back straight.
  3. Thrust with your hips while your knees straighten, swinging the kettlebell up to the height of your shoulders.

Although this exercise will work your back if done correctly, you should still ensure that your hips do the bulk of the work. Otherwise, you could injure yourself.

Partial Curls

Partial curls are a great way to strengthen your abdominal muscles, which support the lower back, preventing injury.

To perform a partial curl, follow these steps:

  1. Lie on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bend your arms and put your hands behind your head, or cross your forearms over your chest.
  3. Bring your belly button in toward your spine and lift your shoulders off the ground, just a few inches.
  4. Make sure that your neck is in line with your spine.
  5. Return to the start.
  6. Repeat 10 times a set for three sets.

Hyperextensions

Hyperextensions are a great exercise for the whole back if you have access to the necessary gym equipment. You can do this exercise by standing on the given platform, hinging at the hips, and facing the floor, then extending your back to return to a neutral standing position. This exercise is effective on its own or with added weights. 

You can perform a less aggressive version of this exercise at home by lying on the floor and pulling your chest up from the floor using only your back muscles, with your hands behind your head or interlaced behind you.

To avoid hurting your back while doing hyperextensions, keep from extending your back beyond a neutral position, as this adds stress.

Why You Need a Strong Lower Back for Cycling

Cycling requires good posture. Otherwise, you can damage your spine and develop back pain and pain in other areas of the body, like the neck.

If you have a strong back, you’ll be able to cycle for longer periods. Without a strong back, you’ll more easily become fatigued, even if your legs are very strong.

Muscles You Work While Cycling

The primary muscles you use to ride a bike are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and soleus. This includes the front and back of the legs, from the buttocks to the calves. However, you also use all the muscles necessary to hold good posture while cycling, including the back and the abdomen. 

Common Lower Back Injuries

The most common lower back injuries include strains of the muscles and ligaments. Strains occur when the muscle or ligament stretches too far and tears, resulting in severe pain. Thankfully, strains are usually short-term injuries that heal on their own.

Long-term injuries to the back, meaning those that last three months or longer, typically have to do with joint problems, irritated nerves, or a problem with the spinal discs. If you have chronic low back pain, you should consult a physician; it may be due to a serious underlying condition or injury. 

How To Reduce Back Pain While Cycling

In addition to strengthening your back, you can reduce back pain while cycling by improving your flexibility and the fit of your bike. 

Flexibility

The lower back can sometimes become tense and painful, even if it’s strong. To reduce rigidity in the lower back muscles, you can try these flexibility exercises.

Knee-to-Chests

You can stretch out your lower back by performing a knee-to-chest stretch, lying on the floor, and bending one knee while keeping the other straight. Pull the bent knee up to the chest and hold for five seconds, keeping your spine on the floor. Repeat with the other leg, doing two to three sets twice a day.

Trunk Rotations

The best way to do a trunk rotation is to lie on the floor with arms stretched out in a T formation, bend your knees, and let the knees fall to one side. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, return to neutral, and repeat on the other side. Try repeating this routine two to three times per side twice a day.

Seated Spinal Twist

Another great way to stretch your trunk is to do a seated twist.

Just follow these steps:

  1. Sit on the floor with your feet out in front of you.
  2. Bend your knee and place the foot outside your other thigh.
  3. Place your arm outside your bent leg. 
  4. Place your other arm behind you.
  5. Twist, starting at the bottom of your spine. 
  6. Hold the post for up to one minute.
  7. Repeat on the other side.

Cat-Cow

To perform a cat-cow stretch, follow these steps:

  1. Get onto your hands and knees.
  2. Arch your back.
  3. Relax your abdominal muscles and pull your stomach downward.
  4. Return to the neutral starting position.
  5. Repeat three to five times per day.

This stretch lengthens the lower back and reduces tension.

Pelvic Tilt

To perform a pelvic tilt exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Lie on the floor with your feet flat and your knees bent, with your arms by your sides.
  2. Arch your back, pushing out the stomach.
  3. Hold for five seconds.
  4. Flatten the back against the floor.
  5. Hold for five seconds.
  6. Repeat up to thirty times a day.

Child’s Pose

Child’s pose is a relaxing stretch that you can use to relieve tension on your lower back.

To do a child’s pose, follow these steps:

  1. Sit with your hands and knees on the ground.
  2. Hinge at the hips and fold forward, walking the hands out as you extend your arms.
  3. Rest with your stomach on or in between your thighs. 
  4. Breathe deeply and hold the pose for up to a minute.

Bike Fit

If your bike doesn’t fit you properly, you’ll experience more back pain while cycling. Make sure that your pedal position, seat and handlebar height, and handle position are all situated to be comfortable.

Take note of these tips for fitting your bike:

  • Make sure the ball of your foot rests in front of the space where the pedal connects to the bike, not behind it.
  • Make sure your heels can remain on the spindles for an entire pedal stroke.
  • Raise your handlebars so that you can reach them in an upright position.
  • Set your handlebars so that you can lean forward slightly.

You can also add shock absorbers to your bike to reduce the impact on your spine as you’re biking.

Associated Muscles

If your back hurts during or after cycling, it could have as much to do with your supporting muscles as it has to do with your back itself. Make sure that your glutes and hip flexors are strong and flexible enough to support your back, as well as your abdominal muscles.

Glutes

Notice whether you can hold your torso up on a ham-glute machine for a full two minutes without cramping. If you can’t, your glutes may be the culprit of your lower back pain. 

Good exercises to improve your glute strength include hip thrusts. Hip thrusts are like bridges but involve resting weights on top of your hips while you do it to increase the difficulty. You can also try this with one leg instead of with weights; you shouldn’t do both, as you may hurt yourself by losing your balance.

Hip Flexors

Also, notice whether you can pull one knee into the chest while lying on your back and keeping the other leg straight. If you can’t, your tight hip flexors may be the culprit.

Lunges are a great way to stretch your hip flexors. Do so by placing one knee on the ground behind your buttocks, then stretching your other leg out front so that your knee is bent at a 90-degree angle.

Core

The abdominals and obliques are key to improving posture and stability. You can work these muscles by lying on your back with your knees bent and back to the floor and tightening your abdominals. Increase the challenge of the exercise by putting your hands behind your head and curling upward.

Lats

Your lats comprise the upper part of your back. They connect to the fascial band, which runs across the back and connects to the lower back. When the lats contract, they pull on this band and provide tension that supports the lower back, reducing strain. 

Rows are a great way to work your lats. Just bend over with one leg extended and the other bent on a weight bench, and one hand supporting yourself on the weight bench. Hold a weight in your other hand and pull the weight toward your chest, using your upper back.

Final Thoughts

To strengthen your lower back for cycling, perform regular exercises that work the low back, like bridges, leg lifts, and the superman pose. It’s also important to practice flexibility and strengthen the muscles that support the low back, like your glutes and abdomen. If you practice these exercises and still have pain, you might need a better bike fit or shock absorbers.

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