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4 Useful Exercises for Mountain Bikers with Back Pain

Do you struggle with back stiffness, discomfort, or fatigue when out mountain biking?

This is a common complaint that can crop up when out on the trails. While back pain is multifactorial, in this instance it can point to a lack of endurance in our core and ‘posterior chain’ muscles. These posterior chain muscles include our hamstrings, glutes, back extensors, and lats, and are very important to help hold us up in a strong, athletic stance while riding. Our core muscles are another very important group of muscles to help us maintain the stability and control over our bike. The following exercises are designed to target balance, endurance, and strength to give you more confidence and less discomfort while riding!Do you struggle with back stiffness, discomfort, or fatigue when out mountain biking? This is a common complaint that can crop up when out on the trails. While back pain is multifactorial, in this instance it can point to a lack of endurance in our core and ‘posterior chain’ muscles. These posterior chain muscles include our hamstrings, glutes, back extensors, and lats, and are very important to help hold us up in a strong, athletic stance while riding. Our core muscles are another very important group of muscles to help us maintain the stability and control over our bike. The following exercises are designed to target balance, endurance, and strength to give you more confidence and less discomfort while riding!

  1. Balance (3x 10 reps)
    Good balance is a huge component of mountain biking both on ascent & descent! Finding exercises that challenge us to the limit of our balance is how we improve. There are many exercises to challenge balance but this is a good way to mimic the athletic stance needed in mountain biking combined with a component of instability. Place 1 foot on the bosu ball, and then the other. Keep your feet about hip width apart, then slowly come down into a partial squat. Think about sending your hips back behind you as you go into the squat position, then imagine pushing your heels to the floor as you come back to an upright position. You can place the bosu ball near a wall for balance support if you need!


  2. Posterior chain strength/ endurance
    • Deadlifts (3x10 reps)
      Deadlifts are a great way to engage all the muscles of our posterior chain. Grasp the bar with a wide grip as shown. Draw your belly button toward your spine, and keep your back in a neutral position by ‘hinging’ at the hips. Pull the bar toward you. On the way down, think about sending your hips back, sliding the bar down your legs back to the start position. Then move into an upright position by pulling the bar along your legs and driving your hips forward.Your knees will only bend slightly at the end of the movement, most of the movement should come from the hips.


    • ‘Athletic stance’ Bent row (3x10)
      This exercise incorporates the posterior chain strength that is important for riding, along with the upper body muscles we need to control our bike.
      Find an ‘athletic stance’ position, engaging your core by drawing your belly button toward your spine while keeping your spine neutral. Use weights that you are comfortable completing 3 sets of 10 reps with. Pull the weights up toward your body, thinking about squeezing your shoulder blades together as you lift! Slowly control lowering the weights back to the starting position.


  3. Core strength/glute med (2 x 10 reps of leg lifts per side)
    Core strength is really important to keep ourselves stable on the bike during a ride and allow us to have more control and confidence while maneuvering over obstacles. Side planks work our obliques, our glute med, and the stabilizers of our shoulders.
    • Side planks
      Laying on 1 side with the bottom knee bent, align your knees, hips and shoulders. Position your forearm and elbow so that it is under your shoulder. Push off the ground and hold this position for 15-30 seconds without letting your hips ‘sag’ toward the ground. For an added challenge, lift your top leg up and down!

This group of exercises can be a good starting point to begin working on the endurance, balance and strength needed to mountain bike. If your back pain or discomfort is persisting, come in for an assessment to identify personalized strategies to get you back on track!

Rebecca completed a Bachelor's degree in Kinesiology at the University of Calgary, graduating in 2018. She previously worked at Momentum Health as a Kinesiologist for a year before entering the Master of Science in Physical Therapy program at the University of Alberta in 2019. She has special interests in chronic pain, oncology, and vestibular rehabilitation. Rebecca is certified in the Advanced Integrated Musculoskeletal (AIM) Physiotherapy Program Level 1 from the CPA Orthopedic Division. She is passionate about exercise and health and enjoys mountain biking, running, snowboarding, and hiking whenever she can. Her experiences have encouraged her to take a multifaceted approach with patients that incorporates their unique experiences, targeted exercises, and manual therapy to help them get back to the things they love to do.

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