Given the amount of hours a triathlete in general spends cycling, it comes as no surprise that every now and again it can cause some lower back pain. It can be very uncomfortable, especially when you experience it during a race. There are a few things you can do to help avoid it:
1. Flexibility and mobility
Stiff hamstrings and limited mobility in the upper back are a common cause of lower back pain. When you feel stiff you might unconsciously change your posture in order to compensate. Stretching your hamstrings and doing rotational exercises for your back can help you improve mobility and help you prevent – or even cure – some cases of lower back pain.
- Examples of exercises you can do:
Lie on your back with your legs pulled up into an angle of approximately 90 degrees. Let your legs gently “fall” to the right and left, while keeping your legs at a 90 degrees angle, and without moving your upper body.
2. Again curl up your legs in an angle of 90 degrees, while putting your hands in front of your face with your elbows touching. Now you open up like a book. Your legs remain in the same position. If you do this well, you will feel the stretch in your back. After repeating the opening and closing of the “book” a few times, change sides.
2. Core stability and posture
A weak core and bad posture are often the cause of back problems. For example your hips could start moving on the bike, or you could slouch when you start to feel tired. A strong core can help prevent this. Therefore it’s important to train your core on a regular basis. There are many exercises that will do the job, but it is a good idea to include some (side) planks in your program. This won’t only preventing back pain when cycling, but also helps improve running and swimming technique.
Besides a strong core, strong glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps also help you maintain good posture when cycling. It’s important to target these muscles regularly when doing strength training. Squats, deadlifts or lunges are examples of great exercises that target these areas.
4. Cycling posture
While maintaining a long, low position might be very aerodynamic, it won’t help you much in triathlon if you are unable to run after the bike because of back pain. Find out what your “break even point” is when it comes to aerodynamics versus comfort.
Over the last few years many triathletes have started to use higher aerobars in order to gain more stability and feel more comfortable while riding – it actually won’t affect aerodynamics too much.
You can always try for yourself what feels best and what benefits you the most, but to get the best results it’s recommended to consult a bike fit expert.
For women there is a fifth pointer: menstruation. Many women experience lower back pain during their periods. If the pain bothers you too much, you can always try and shuffle your training program a bit and postpone the longer rides or hard sessions to another day. Never force it, because that will likely only make it worse.