Video: 3 Exercises to Relieve Low Back Tightness

Mar 27, 2019 at 14:28
by Liz Koch  
Intro to LBP

Low back tightness and pain can and has plagued so many of us riders. There are many different types of low back pain. This article is going to go over a type of back pain that comes on slowly during or after riding. It is centrally in your back not extending down into your buttock or legs. This type is typically from tighter larger muscles in your low back and lack of use of stability muscles in your back and in your abdomen. A study performed on cyclists, with low back pain, showed an altered motor control of the lower lumbar spine.(1) These altered motor control patterns begin to restrict all lumbar (low back) movement including bending over and bending backward by an over activation of larger muscles not designed for a stability job.

The exercises below are going to show you how to use the stability muscles and how to re-learn the motor control that you need. These are base exercises and you will need to increase them as you get better and back to feeling great.

Your back has several muscles that support the spine, your stability muscles. Some are located in the back and some surround your body, these muscles are otherwise known as your "core". These muscles include but are not limited to:

Your Multifidus – Your Obliques and Transverse Abdominus – Your Pelvic Floor – Your Diaphragm

Picture of the Core and Trunk Cylinder

Your Trunk Cylinder

All of these muscles come together to form a cylinder, your trunk. If we do not use all of these muscles, then your body will use mostly all larger back muscles. This can lead to that over activation mentioned above.

Another thing that can lead to over activation is pain coming from your spine joints. This will cause your muscles around it to guard, or aka activate in a no-functional manor. This guarding also limits movement and can make the tightness that you feel.

This leads us into the main exercises that I would recommend for muscle tightness pain in the low back. These exercises relax your back muscles and activate your other muscles in the cylinder, listed above.

***Another aspect to low back tightness/pain can be the type, size, and geometry of your bike***

Exercise #1: Base Core Exercise

Views: 12,280    Faves: 30    Comments: 0

- To understand how to use your core and to relax your low back muscles

- Directly before performing the following exercises
- When you feel tightness in your low back during the day
- To understand how to move your pelvis separate from your upper trunk

Things to Note:
- Do not use your butt during this exercise or draw your knees inward

Exercise #2: Hands and knees Arm lifts
Views: 8,272    Faves: 26    Comments: 0

- To stabilize against rotational forces for trunk control and to activate obliques and multifidus

- 2 times a day
- 2 sets 20 reps
- As needed to reduce low back tightness

Things to Note:
- To make harder move more into a plank, but make sure that you don't raise your feet or use your butt

Exercise #3: Bent Knee Fall Out
Views: 7,164    Faves: 26    Comments: 0

- Trunk Control with Hip Mobility

- 2-4 times a day
- 2 sets 10-30 reps each side

Things to Note:
- When this becomes easy, you can add a band around your knees and perform the exercise the same. It will then activate the butt muscles once the band is added.

About the Author:

Liz Koch, PT, DPT is a physical therapist that knows exactly what it is like to have pain. She has been to many PTs over her life, which directed her to becoming one. She has been a mountain biker since she was a kid and has recently opened up her own clinic in Western North Carolina, Blue Ridge BioMechanics. She wants to share the knowledge that you don’t have to be in pain when riding and you don’t have to stop riding to get out of pain. She has focused this mission to Rad Mountain Biking Ladies on Facebook and through her online business, The Ride Life.

Let me know if you have questions in the comments.

*If you have pain please consult with a doctor or physical therapist for further evaluation, Liz Koch and companies are without liability if you injure yourself while performing these exercises*

1. Burnett AF, Cornelius MW, Dankaerts W. O’Sullivan PB. Spinal kinematics and trunk muscle activity in cyclists: a comparison between healthy controls and non-specific chronic low back pain subjects-a pilot investigation. Man Ther. 2004;9:211-9.

MENTIONS: @theridelife


  • 22 0
 Just what I needed! Thanx for this post, I’ve been dealing with lower back pain and unsure of how to get started in getting some relief. Gonna definitely give these a go!
  • 2 0
 Glad it was good timing ????
  • 7 0
 Apparently PB doesn't know my emojis that I use from my phone haha.. hence the ????
  • 1 0
 Yep, perfect timing for me as well. Thanks!
  • 20 12
 Where’s Abi???
  • 9 0
 I think Abi did a great job covering pretty much everything she needed to cover and her articles are still here for everyone to read. But I also appreciate the slightly different approach Liz takes here. Ryan Leech is different too and I expect Timo Pritzel to be great and very different as well. Sometimes it is good to see a different instruction to help you understand an earlier/different instruction even better. It would be great to see another article from Abi but it would be equally great to have another article from Liz on here.
  • 13 4
 “Where’s Abi?”
In all our hearts. And some of our dreams.
  • 6 6
 Yoga is a sport, lifestyle, or physical way to express spirituality. Its not the same thing as physical therapy.
  • 7 1
 @hamncheez: I disagree and think you don't understand yoga. It may be those things you mentioned, but really it is a great form of exercise that encourages flexibility. I can't think of a better addition to physical therapy.
  • 6 1
 @hamncheez: I think you are missing a couple of the main reasons people do yoga: to increase flexibility and core strength. Yes it's not the same thing as physical therapy which is usually specifically targeted exercises to deal with an injury or ailment. I use elements of both in my daily routine to keep my 47 year old body able to work hard and ride hard.
  • 3 0
 @shami: so true PT and Yoga can work together in different but great ways.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: thank you and yes we all come from different backgrounds and trainings and a lot of the information can be melded together to hell you individually
  • 1 0
 I'm heartbroken and will no longer practice any Yoga as a sign of respect...
(P.S. Great vid Liz - my lower back certainly tightens after a few rides)
  • 8 1
 Need this badly, but someone needs to force me to do it at gun point.
  • 1 0
 haha... these should make you feel better... motivation?
  • 1 0
 @theridelife: yep, motivation. It's usually only not being able to bend over that spurs me into action...
  • 1 0
 A consistent routine (once in morning and once at evening, repeat every day) of daily yoga activity!
  • 3 0
 I’ve been doing a lot of these types of exercises under the guidance of a trainer who is also a physiotherapist. It has helped immensely and I should have started 20 years ago. I’m 61 now with a wonky knee but even that joint is doing better. I’d recommend all people start doing gym workouts like this. Not to get big but to become and remain functional.
  • 1 0
 So true... staying moving. These exercises always looks too easy, but if you have back pain they are great
  • 3 1
 Glad to realize that I don't ever suffer from lower back pain Smile . I do notice my neck getting a bit stiff if my helmet hit a tree when going a tad bit tight around a corner though. Or when I crash on the side of my head. So yeah, for instance after my ride this morning my right muscle in my neck feels a bit stiff. Not worryingly but now I'm curious if your exercises would help there as well. The helmet protects the head but the neck takes a beating too. Are these exercises meant to reinforce the neck too, or would it be best to do more side planks etc?

I really do like your format of short instructions paired with explanations of how the body works, when to do the exercises and all that. Really practical and still enough background to put it in context. Thanks!
  • 5 0
 I’m glad you don’t get low back pain as well. I have another blog that posted about a month ago that went over some upper back exercises to help the neck. I think it released March 1st if my memory is correct. If you slightly hit your head/helmet on a tree or when you crash your neck will get stiff to protect against movement.

These exercises won’t be your help but just keeping moving will, but don’t force the stretch... nice a easy.

And I’m glad you like my format Smile I try to keep it practical cause it is hard for m to do my exercises as well ????
  • 2 1
 Apparently PB doesn't know my emojis that I use from my phone haha.. hence the ????
  • 2 0
 Neck curls (all 4 sides) and youre good to go.
Or neck bridges (more probe for injuries)
  • 1 0
 @theridelife: Thanks! Yeah I have seen the earlier article as well, good stuff. I'm not sure how much control you have over these articles (maybe PB does some final editing) but just like this particular article, the yoga articles from Abi as well as the strenght/mobility articles from James and Dee are classified as "Health/ Fitness". So when choosing "Health / Fitness" from the drop-down menu on the main page it is easy to access these earlier articles (though even an April Fools joke made it over there). Your first article however doesn't seem to have classification hence it may get lost in the depths of the PB articles, which would be a shame. Could you get your first article classified as "Health / Fitness" too?

Yeah when riding tight woods sections it is often either the helmet, shoulder or arms which take a hit when I ride a corner too tight. Most of it doesn't really bother me but I do want to steer clear of back/neck/brain injuries as much as possible. The stiff neck usually loosens up fairly quick indeed. Just wanted to be sure whether there is anything else I should do. But I suppose it should all be good then. Cheers!
  • 2 0
 One of the best ways you can reduce or eliminate back pain is by making your lower back muscles stronger.

And the best way to do that is doing heavy deadlifts and squats. It sounds almost counterintuitive but with proper technique (and that’s even more critical if you have back pain already) it makes a massive difference.

I totally cured mine in about 6 weeks.
  • 1 0
 Fascial restrictions know no origins and insertions. I've taught TA, multifidus, and pelvic floor exercises for years. It's a great starting place. But soft tissue dysfunction makes it hard to properly activate things. Adjusting your bike correctly and learning to hip hinge is HUGE.
  • 1 0
 Thank you for this. I've been struggling with lower back pain for the past 10 months, keeping me off the bike, making me very unhapppy. I hope these excercises can help me! I hope my hollow back / front of pelvis rotated downwards can be somewhat stabilised by doing the right excercises regularly.
  • 2 0
 A good follow up for the many of us who a few days ago were asking the doctor about dealing with lower back pain. Will give these a try...thanks!
  • 1 0
 Was gonna say the same. After last weeks comments in the medical thread, this seems to be a major issue for many of us.
  • 1 0
 It's top prio to avoid fatal trauma. Sure. But closely followed by those nagging perma issues like lower back or neck terror.
  • 1 0
 I’m glad I could help ????
  • 2 1
 @xice: Apparently PB doesn't know my emojis that I use from my phone haha.. hence the ????
  • 3 3
 Thanks, will look forward to more of your posts. I do have an honest question though.

I think something in the PT realm that exists that I'm not sure that PT's acknowledge (or maybe they do), is that sometimes it's hard to believe that an exercise with such low weight and intensity will actually benefit. It probably stems from the want and need to be better NOW and so when I see and hear such "easy" exercises (admittedly even before trying them Wink ) I get a little skeptical or turned off.

"Will this really help me?" "Will I even be able to "fix" myself?" "This won't work for someone like me, who's had a spinal curve imbalance for as long as I can remember."

I'm starting to but in the work, especially in the lower back flexibility realm, but the long road at times has be likely discriminating unduly on lesser intensity exercises that for someone don't seem to appeal. I'm also attending pyschotherapy groups to address this flawed thinking hahaha
  • 3 0
 Having thoughts of ... “this is too easy to help me” “I have had pain for too long” are very common thoughts for people that come to see me. I call these exercises “Base exercises” they give a good base so then when you do more challenging exercises you will have a different/improved motor pattern that will help to start to correct some of your imbalances.

These exercises are also called motor control exercises. You need strength but before you can strengthen something, you need to be able to have improved firing of that muscle... right?

These are a starting point... not your middle step or your ending point exercises. I hope that makes sense.
  • 2 0
 @theridelife: It does! I meant my comment in positivity and honesty, sorry if it came off negative or condescending at all.
  • 2 0
 @youknowitsus: no I don’t think that you meant negativity at all. I was just saying that it is a common train of thought (you are not alone) Smile I have to phrase to my athletes that specific train of thought. It is hard to buy in, unless you understand the difference in strength and motor control.

It is hard to put out such small exercises for people, but I know they will be helpful. Thanks for your thoughts, I’m sure others were thinking it too Smile
  • 1 0
 I'm gonna get on the floor and try theses as well. It's been an epic battle for me over the last few years, especially this winter.It just seems to go in a big shitty circle pain and struggling to find mobility... Damn back!
  • 1 0
 Oh no... that is aweful. You can also message me.
  • 2 0
 Thanks. I tried those today. I do a lot of other exercises, but that was something fresh.
  • 3 0
 It works thanks PB & Liz Koch
  • 1 0
 Thank you Smile
  • 1 2
 Stretching is important, however I do not understand why everyone is so excited about this particular "specialist". This is a rather poor example of stretching. For instance, arm lifts in the video are jerks with a small amplitude which would not even properly activate muscles in your back.. one ought to extend the arm and lift the arm higher so it tocu the ear and freeze in this position for a coplu of second reaching forward. etc etc
  • 3 0
 Your are right. This is a poor example of stretching... because it isn’t stretching.

These exercises are for timing and activation. Small movements. The exercises are meant to be performed slowly. If you don’t feel like you get anything from that one move more into a plank and then lift one arm then the other whole keeping your body still. It is a rotational stability which will activate and trigger the small muscles in your back called the multifidus. They are small rotators.

Try it out. Rotational stability is key for Mtn biking Smile
  • 2 0
 It’s hard for me to resist the feeling that, I want to rock.
  • 1 0
 Try breathing out when you lift your arm... (I think that is pertaining to the exercise you are talking about)
  • 1 0
 Does anyone know the eight limbs of pratajanli yogic sutras? Don't believe in what I say, research what I say
  • 1 0
 Thank you! More posts like this!
  • 2 0
 Thank you Smile
  • 1 0
 This is really helpful stuff. Thank you!
  • 1 0
 Thank you for reading Smile
  • 8 7
 No Aby?
  • 1 0
 Great! bookmarking now!
  • 1 0
 Thank you Smile
  • 1 0
 thank you!
  • 11 11
 Where is Aby?
  • 5 4
 Squatting fives Smile
  • 8 2
 I came here for this comment.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: no that’s Mark Rippetoe you’re thinking of
  • 1 1
 @robdpzero: u no say Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: yeah, nah, for sure
  • 1 1
 I miss Aby

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