Build a better back for cycling

Avoid developing a stiff, painful and weak back from your riding position

Exercise physiologist at St Mary’s University and author of Advanced Personal Training, Paul Hough, has some tips on how to build a stronger back for cycling and reduce back stiffness.

The parts of the back

The upper and middle back is known as the thoracic spine region. This area consists of 12 vertebrae, which attach to the rib cage, and a number of muscles.

The trapezius is the largest of the upper back muscles. The upper back also consists of muscles within the shoulder girdle, which attach to the scapula (shoulder blade) and the back of the thoracic rib cage.

The thoracic spine region is typically very stable because it encases the vital internal organs and enables us to stand upright. Therefore, the thoracic spine has a limited range of movement.

The cyclist's back

Cycling posture usually involves the upper back being in a flexed position with the shoulders rolled forwards — this posture is often replicated in everyday activities, such as sitting at a desk.

What can go wrong?

Over time this posture causes the upper back to become stiff, painful and weak — causing tightness or pain in the upper chest, shoulders and neck.

How to strengthen your back

Thoracic spine mobility exercises are recommended before and after long rides. Also, break up any prolonged periods of sitting with mobility exercises or simply stretching your hands above and behind your head.

Strengthening exercises of the posterior shoulders and supporting upper back muscles, such as dumbbell rows, should be performed at least twice per week.

One exercise to try: spine rotations

Perform before and after rides to reduce back stiffness.

1. Sit back

1. Sit back
1. Sit back

Sit back towards your shins with your back straight. A cushion can be placed underneath you for comfort.

2. Stabilise

2. Stabilise
2. Stabilise

Flex at the hips so that your back is angled at 45 degrees. Bring your right hand down to the ground and place your left hand against the side of your head.

3. Mobilise

3. Mobilise
3. Mobilise

Slowly rotate the upper spine so your right elbow travels away from your torso towards the ceiling. Keep your head square to the shoulders, and hold the position for two seconds before returning to the start. Perform three sets of 10 reps on each side.

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