Being a relatively low impact activity many people consider the legs to be the most significant muscles used in cycling and while they are so important in generating the power for the pedals the importance of the back and spine should not be underestimated. Cyclists spend many hours in the same position so you must consider the muscles used to hold your body in place during this time.
The importance of the back in cycling for support & stability
If a cyclist is unable to hold a stable lumbo-pelvic position in the saddle it will lead to excessive side-to-side movement which is inefficient and increases the risk of injury. Strong, deep back muscles will mean that you are cycling more efficiently while optimising your power output and providing a stable base for your leg muscles (gluts, quads and hamstrings) to work off.
Using the wrong or weakened back muscles for stabilisation and power production opens up the risk of back, hip and knee pain and injury such as:
- Disc, nerve and ligament stress and irritation
- Hip and groin pain
- Sciatic nerve pain in the lumbo pelvic region
- Irritation of the spinal nerve
Less back strength will cause other parts of the body to overcompensate and can cause further problems injury, pain or stress in the hands and arms, mid-back and neck, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors. Trying to stabilise the bike and perform well without strong back muscles will, over time, cause a curved spine on the bike and result in many muscles working ineffectively, spinal stability muscles fatiguing too quickly and risking pain and injury in other parts of the body.
The main back muscle groups
The main back muscles groups include the latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius, rhomboids, and erector spinae. The lats, while located on the back side of the body, mainly affect movement of the shoulder joints and is responsible for moving the arms toward the sides and behind the body.
The rhomboids are responsible for moving the shoulder blades together and down, while the trapezius can move the shoulder blades together, down toward the thighs, and then elevate the shoulder blades up toward the ears.
The erector spinae are responsible for ensuring your back is extended and upright as well as providing stability for your hips and lower back.
Exercises to strengthen the back
A range of core strengthening exercises will aid to strengthen the back, increase stability and balance while reducing the risk of injury.
Another tip is to ensure that your bike is always set up correctly and specifically for your body. An incorrectly set up bike can cause additional stress and strain to your back as your body tries to compensate.