3 Yoga Poses To Alleviate On-The-Bike Back Pain

Mar 7, 2022 at 8:55
by Abi Carver  
Yoga For Core Strength

Photo credit: Charley Smith

One way to understand physical pain is as a prediction signal from your brain alerting you to an area of weakness that may be vulnerable to damage. And this could be the reason that you experience a dull ache in your lower back that builds and builds during a long stretch of pedalling.

If you find yourself standing up on the pedals and arching your back at the top of a long climb, it's possible that you have a weak core and lower back or a lack of muscular endurance in this area. And that the pain you experience is your brain screaming at you to pay attention.

Building Core Strength

Unless we specifically train it, we generally we don't have very good core strength. This is especially true when our jobs require us to spend considerable time sitting, with our lower backs and abdominal stabilisers disengaged. When we are weak in this area, our core is not sufficiently prepared when we ask it to perform on the bike and we experience pain as a result.

As you lean forward over the handlebars, although you are supporting some of your weight through your upper body, the majority is stabilised by your lower back and abs. And over time, this can take toll on an unconditioned core.

If you’ve been forced to take significant time off riding, you may have found that the strength in your lower back is the first to go and that the first few rides back are uncomfortable to say the least. But the good news is that the core responds quickly to training and in a short time can be strengthened so that you no longer experience discomfort in this area.

Yoga Superpowers

Yoga is not just about candles, chanting and effortlessly putting both feet behind your head. It can also be an impressively challenging strength practice as you’ll know if you’ve ever been to an ashtanga or advanced vinyasa yoga class.

But actually, for your purposes, you don’t even need to get that good. My personal yoga philosophy is based on the 80/20 principle. What are the 20% of inputs you need to focus on to achieve 80% of the results? And in my experience, when it comes to building a strong core, these three poses are your 20%.

Your 3 Core-Strengthening Yoga Poses

Three of the most effective poses for building muscular endurance in the core are Plank, Side Plank and Locust. And this is your challenge: complete the following sequence once a day for 14 days.

1. Plank—3 sets of 1 minute with 30 seconds rest between each set. (You can do this pose on your forearms if you prefer.)

Plank Pose

2. Side Plank—3 sets alternating 30 seconds on each side. (You can do also this pose on your forearms.)

Side Plank

3. Locust—3 sets of 1 minute with 30 seconds rest between each set.

Locust Pose

And don’t worry. It’s totally fine if you can’t complete the full amount of time in the beginning. As long as you stick with it and trust the process, you will get really good super fast.

Staying Pain-Free This Season

We can't expect our bodies to indefinitely deliver without giving them adequate training and recovery. Especially when we spend much of our time sitting, travelling and insufficiently nourishing ourselves from a movement perspective.

You could, however, consider incorporating yoga as a therapeutic tool to target areas of recurring pain, release deeply-held tension and improve your range of motion so that you are able to ride pain and injury-free for multiple back-to-back months. Safe in the knowledge that you can keep up with your friends, beat your rivals and continue to ride stronger and faster, in spite of age and any injuries that you sustain.

Let me know how you find these poses and what other aches, pains and mobility issues you would like my help with. And check out my new Yoga For Mountain Bikers course for a comprehensive program to keep you fit, strong and supple throughout the season.


77 Comments

  • 79 1
 Slightly off-topic Abi, but once again you've helped me. I don't know the cause but my hip joint has been giving me gradually worsening pain over the past five or so years to the point I couldn't ride more than an hour. So I followed your 8 minute hip owners video on YouTube every day for about two months and my hip is almost back to normal. This means a lot to me. Thank you.
  • 26 4
 Don't models do a lot of walking, posing, and twisting of the legs?
  • 30 2
 @kinematix: and they do it on the catwalk.
  • 33 2
 @weebleswobbles: Yeah, the catwalk?
  • 33 2
 @ntac: on the catwalk yeah, and they do a little turn on the catwalk
  • 18 2
 @iamamodel you know what I mean?
  • 2 3
 Just out of curiosity, the hip of your primary foot forward or back when your standing on your bike?
  • 10 2
 @gnarnaimo: they shake their little touche on the catwalk, as well?
  • 5 4
 Poor pussy cat.
  • 4 2
 …and with shirt on.
  • 3 2
 @KK11: isn't he too sexy for his shirt on the catwalk?
  • 3 0
 That's amazing! I am so happy to hear that those poses fixed you and allowed you to get back to your previous form on the bike. Was it this video? www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0WCtpUFDsM
  • 1 0
 It's crazy how seemingly chronic discomfort can be alleviated by such a simple practice, as opposed to medial intervention. It's worked for me time and time again.
  • 1 0
 @deez-nucks: My chocolate foot is right (foot forward), but the long term injury was, I suspect, spending lots of time working on skirting boards, sitting on the ground with my left hip/leg rotated outwards, and always working in the same direction (clockwise around a room).
  • 1 0
 @kinematix: And for the rest of you, I'm not a model, it is a quote from Kelly Bundy. See 44s www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXEeNt04wng&t=11s
  • 2 0
 @iamamodel: Ah that makes perfect sense. Those poses stretch the hamstrings, groin, hip flexors, glutes and piriformis. Great work on your consistency! I am impressed.
  • 77 2
 I'm just going to walk up to my rooftop helipad and give this a try
  • 32 1
 everyone should have one. I prefer the one on my new yacht... bought cheaply from french confiscating agency ;-)
  • 27 1
 @danimaniac: unfortunately my yacht is full of Peletons
  • 8 1
 @TommyNunchuck: I hate when that happens. Can't move my helicopter on my yacht because the helipad has too many Peletons on it.
  • 5 1
 @TommyNunchuck: Pelotons are the new dead hookers
  • 1 0
 @TommyNunchuck: My hovercraft is full of eels.
  • 19 6
 Abi, you always put out great content but the locust position is one that has been found to be potentially damaging to the spinal disks.

(Anyone not into this stuff, please now feel free to ignorantly downvote me or move on to the next exercise).

Dr Stuart McGill at the U of Waterloo in Ontario conducted studies to determine how much spinal compression occurs during common back and abdominal exercises. Exercises like the Locust hold "imposes around 6000 Newtons (1350lb) of compression onto the spine".

McGill (seen as a leading authority on spine mechanics) recommends not exceeding 3300 Newtons.

Perhaps the Bird Dog would be a good alternative?

But thank you so much for your work here, your mobility work has done me no end of good!
  • 2 0
 Do you have a link to the reference for that please?
  • 3 0
 Try Cobra if you're worried about it...similar just with feet on the ground. Squeeze your glutes and press your toenails into the ground as hard as you can to protect your spine.
  • 3 0
 @rp86:

One of several - just Google Stuart McGill Superman exercise

ojassmartpt.com/tag/superman-exercise
  • 3 0
 Appreciate your advice, last thing I want to do is make my pansy back worse!
  • 6 0
 I will anecdotally attest to this. I created my own little hell of sciatica through spinal compressions of common back/ab exercises. After a year of physio, I have completely new routines that no longer involve paralyzing nerve pain. Woot!

The routine involves variations on the "dead bug," doing all upper body work whilst on a wobble board, doing nearly all lower back on a wobble board ( body or low-weight, high-rep), and very carefully-controlled upper body movements with various hanging grips. Oh, and yoga without the locust or cat-cow Smile
  • 6 11
flag lassemj (Mar 9, 2022 at 9:04) (Below Threshold)
 Im sorry but people should not be afraid to that exercise at all, you even got gravity working against the contraction. Its like saying you shouldn't go to full extension in a knee extension machine, because you will lock out your knees and damage them - it's simply not true..
The spine is not fragile and which is something many people have a hard time understanding because of "slipped disc" stories. a slipped disc does not equal pain - which is also why many leading leading experts recommend only doing scans and imaging when there's talk about red flags like a fracture or a tumor.
giving people the idea that their body is fragile causes fear avoidance, catastrophic thoughts which can be a huge contributor to the experience of pain - and the major player when it comes to chronic LBP
  • 7 1
 @lassemj: "Slipped disk doesn't equal pain"? You obviously never had one.
  • 3 1
 @lassemj: @lassemj: Indeed the spine can support enormous load (using correct technique).

Re discs, people throw around "slipped discs" incorrectly. A Bulging disc can be painless (I had one).
McGill has taken elite athletes from struggling to move to breaking world records.

Take a look at his website -https://www.backfitpro.com/ There's a whole world of "disc"overy (see what I did there).
  • 3 0
 @Mfro: thanks for the info!
I've forced myself to do yoga after years of back pain and herniated discs and Abi's video are my favorite and have helped a lot.
I have also heard that some of the poses are not good for the discs; thanks for providing a credible source to substantiate these claims.
  • 2 2
 Absolutely. I think Locust will be safe for many people but Bird Dogs are a great alternative.

yoga15.com/pose/bird-dog
  • 3 0
 @fujisan: Thank you!
  • 3 0
 @Joecx: Leading experts are recommending doing way less imaging because studies have shown that many people walk around with disc bulges/protusions without having any symptoms at all. So no just because you have a disc bulge or protusion doesn't mean you are In pain. Just like you can see people with arthritis in the spine or knees and not have any pain at all from it. There's a lot more to pain than the structures of our body.
Psykosocial factors plays a HUGE role.
  • 2 0
 @Mfro: There is no such thing as a good lifting technique.
When you perform on an elite level and wants to have the maximum output of power in a lift for example having a certain technique makes sense.
If you got a job requiring lots of heavy lifting then its the lack of restitution and loadmanagement that seems to be the larger issue.

Im about to finish my education as a physiotherapist so im doing plenty of reading -thanks Smile
  • 2 0
 @Joecx: What lassemj perhaps could have said was slipped disc doesn't *have to* equal pain, especially beyond the acute phase.

@Mfro, thanks for the link. I can't easily/cheaply get a copy of the source textbook by McGill unfortunately. From what I can see the 3300N limit comes from occupational health and safety guidelines and shouldn't be applied to an athletic population, who presumably would be exceeding those guidelines with other heavy strength training as well. Careful, progressive loading to achieve tissue load tolerance is key. That said I regularly treat people with back pain and have never prescribed superman exercises.

@lassemj: good luck with the rest of your studies! Discussing non-physical contributers to pain is hard, I've found it requires a fine balance between validating the patient's experience/suffering, developing better physical competence, and pushing them to better manage their psychosocial factors.
  • 1 0
 @rp86: Thanks!
The way I expressed it might have been a little confusing - but Im glad you get my point.
And yes its definitely difficult talking to patients about other contributing factors to pain whilst making sure they know you acknowledge their experience of pain. Explaining stuff like central sensibilization and other mechanisms is a big pedagogical task.
  • 2 0
 Thanks again for mentioning McGill's work and website! I ordered the book after doing a bit of research and received it today. Fascinating stuff that I wish I had read years ago! Who knew the Pinkbike comments section could be a source of sound advice Cheers!
  • 2 0
 @fujisan: Dig around and you'll find plenty of podcasts interviewing him. He presents his data and knowledge in a very easy-to-digest manner.
  • 11 1
 Plank, plank, plank, and more plank. This is the one exercise everyone should do. It doesn’t take long, has a massive impact on your strength, balance, and with push-ups is the easiest way to lose weight. Every part of your body benefits from it.
  • 5 0
 planks and jump squats FTW. took me a while to realize that the lack of power output on steeper climbs was taxing my back bc my hip flexors and quads were gassing out and transferring the load to my lower back. started training weighted squats and jump squats and now I feel like I can huck the bike uphill!
  • 7 0
 Long mtb rides and lots of climbing is the easiest way to lose weight. You just torch calories.
  • 6 0
 @tacklingdummy: my wife gets mad when all she sees me eat is cake, and drink beer like water- why are you skinny? Because my other activity is riding my mountain bike up challenging trails that basically require 100% output or you're walking, and after three hours of that I'm so torched I can barely move. It's the best.
  • 3 1
 @VTTyeahyouknowme: Yeah. People who don't ride mtb have no idea how hard of workouts are when riding 1 to 3+ hours with significant climbing. The more you ride, get conditioned, and fitness goes up, the easier the workouts get and the pain is more manageable. Long hard workouts leaving it all on trails feel great after.
  • 3 3
 Agreed. Plank plus all the different variations.
  • 2 2
 @Caligula1620: Jump squats are a great idea. Weighted squats also, of course.
  • 1 0
 Just want to add a note of caution to this - planks are great, but they are too hard for a lot of people initially and alterations or other exercises are often a better starting point.
  • 13 1
 Sigh, I need photoshop to get into most of these positions.
  • 2 1
 Yeap, when my foot cramps by pointing my toes straight down for a few seconds, I know I’ve pick other things In life over fitness.
  • 4 0
 @usedbikestuff: Its not too late to start fitness today. The time you've been on PB so far is enough to do a full set of these planks!
  • 3 0
 @Sardine: I feel called-out by this post and I don't like it.
  • 1 0
 @Sardine: haha. And especially these short routines.
  • 6 0
 Stretching hamstrings (mainly), calves, etc (everything just connected to the back) has alleviated my back pain a lot. It is an every day maintenance routine.
  • 2 0
 I concur with this. If I let my hamstrings get tight then my back reminds me after I go ride.
  • 2 0
 Hamstrings stretching is also great to alleviate knee pain.
  • 2 2
 I agree that this is another part of it. Stretching the hips and hamstrings is also fantastic for alleviating lower back pain.
  • 1 0
 Hip flexors too! Smile
  • 4 0
 Yoga it's becoming a must if you're riding over years... Bikeyoguis.com take note Robin...
  • 3 1
 Addicted “light” crossfiter here. 3xs a week I do the plank and side plank. But never tried the locust
Thank you, always looking for something different
  • 5 6
 Unpopular opinion, but IMHO the best pose is the deadlift pose and the backsquat pose, with a little rock climbing pose in the mix. The pros have been aware of this for a while, but for some reason the amateur community seems to have a deep dislike for weight training
  • 9 0
 Weights are stretching aren't mutually exclusive, in fact both is best and every interview with a physical coach I've read says the same.
  • 1 1
 @ROOTminus1: yes, fully agree that both are ideal. It's just that I get the sense that simple weightlifting movements are very seldom featured in MTB press
  • 5 0
 I don't dislike weight training and definitely is very worthwhile. However, as you build more muscle, you have to work harder to keep range of motion and stay flexible.
  • 3 0
 @tacklingdummy: depends, if you do things like pull ups, push ips,, dips and full depth squats and RDLs it can help with functional range of motion and get you stronger....problem is with the body building partial rep stuff
  • 4 2
 Shout out to Tom Merrick and his cycling flexiblity routine on Youtube...less reading, more focus on stretching.
  • 3 0
 MvdP likes this!
  • 1 0
 "Hip owners"? I guess that one's for just about everyone!
  • 2 1
 Just do Kiegels.
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