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 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.)
2. Side Plank—3 sets alternating 30 seconds on each side. (You can do also this pose on your forearms.)
3. Locust—3 sets of 1 minute with 30 seconds rest between each set.
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.