Back ache = wrong set-up?

by Ben_Gills   September 1, 2014  


I recently did my first long distance ride of London to Cambridge (104km there & then the return journey the next day) and my lower back was aching for a couple days after.

Is my set-up (seat/handlebars) wrong? Or is this simply due to me not being used to being in that position for just under 5 hours straight two days in a row?



9 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

To be honest, it's impossible to tell from this side of a screen - and bear in mind that any health advice given to you via the medium of the intertubes will be worth pretty much what you pay for it...

Having said that, poor bike fit can result in a bad back - but, then again, weak core muscles can result in a bad back even if the bike fits perfectly; as can a host of other things. It may be a combination of several factors...

Personally, I think that the money spent on getting a proper bike fit is worth it - it will remove one possibility (or highlight it as the likely cause). I'd also recommend paying £40 or so for a private physio to take a look at you - try to find one that works with cyclists. It's also going to be money well spent - and bear in mind, if you baulk at the cost, that you'd happily spend a lot more than that on a spare part of the bike: surely it's worth spending some money on the engine?

adamthekiwi's picture

posted by adamthekiwi [86 posts]
1st September 2014 - 14:53


For me (and YMMV) lower back pain was solved by a combination of core training in the gym and replacing my stem with something a little shorter - my bike was a little bit too long for me - I was amazed how much difference 3-4 cms made to my comfort.

posted by sergius [283 posts]
1st September 2014 - 15:42


I would agree with the above comments. It is difficult to say, but I would suggest poor core strength is most likely culprit... more miles needed

posted by SideBurn [913 posts]
1st September 2014 - 19:54

1 Like

Thanks everyone.

I think I'll try working on my core. Got a few long distance weekends coming up in few months to prepare for a London - Nice ride I'm doing with friends next Summer.

I'm going to Google specific cycle fitness programs but does anyone have a particular recommendation of workout websites?

@adamthekiwi I agree with your sentiment at the end!

posted by Ben_Gills [5 posts]
2nd September 2014 - 9:35


Lower back pain whilst cycling is essentially the same as the cramp you experience in other muscles when you overdo it... namely you are over working the stabilising muscles of the lower back.

To overcome this, you need to either;

- strengthen the lower back muscles so that they are better able to cope with the load placed on them
- Reduce the load placed on them by altering your position.

As mentioned, core strength and more big rides will over time strengthen those muscles.

A bike fit will highlight options for reducing load on the lower back. Typically however, it is caused because your hip angle is too extreme (either through your saddle being too far back, or your handlebars too far away), or that your saddle is higher than ideal.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [433 posts]
2nd September 2014 - 9:47


I picked up a book that was recommended to me on here: Tom Danielson's: Core Advantage.

Lots of nice cycling-specific core exercises in there, though if you are already a gym goer there may not be too much that is new to you.

posted by sergius [283 posts]
2nd September 2014 - 10:26

1 Like

Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

more big rides will over time strengthen those muscles.

A couple of people have said things like this, but it's not really true. When you ride a bike you support most of your weight through your saddle and your handlebars, which takes the loading off your core, meaning you don't really work your core muscles that much.

If you didn't have a strong core before you got into cycling then your legs will get 'stronger' than your core and your back will end up doing the work to resist the movement of your legs, rather than the whole of your core - which is when your back starts to hurt.

Cycling doesn't work your core enough to get it back into balance, so you need to specifically work on your core; google "core strength exercises for cyclists" to see the types of things you can do.

What I'd really recommend though is pilates or yoga. Do a class once a week and then do the exercises at home two or three times a week on your own too. The classes not only teach you good form, but they also teach you how to 'activate your core' so that the whole of the core is doing the work rather than just your back. That's really important for out of the saddle riding and big efforts.

Take it from me, as someone who is currently having physio for a bad back after only a 1.5 years of road biking; you want to build your core as you build your legs, rather than waiting for your back to give out. I've lost a thousand miles of riding already to this so far this year and it's driving me nuts!

Ride in Oxford? Come and join the Cowley Road Condors cycling club, Oxford's friendliest cycling club!

tom_w's picture

posted by tom_w [190 posts]
2nd September 2014 - 10:51


I'd just add, in support of what tom_w has said and in opposition to those saying "just ride more": actually, cycling is not good at working core muscles, so a separate training program will work wonders.

I've been doing a Pilates class for several years and my physio has highlighted that I have weak glute min/med muscles (extremely common in those that have seated jobs). Among other things, these support the upper leg, reducing load on the knees, and stabilise the ilia, preventing SI-joint problems and overwork of the lower back muscles (particularly the quadratus lumborae). Cycling long distances will not work these adequately, so without specific exercise I would resort (as I did before Pilates and physio) to pushing with the outside of my foot (to stabilise my knee - resulting in problems all the way up my legs) and overworking my QLs (because of the lack of pelvic support - resulting in back and shoulder problems). The end result will be that the affected prime movers (lower back and lower legs in my case) would be strengthened, but the injuries will keep accumulating.

adamthekiwi's picture

posted by adamthekiwi [86 posts]
2nd September 2014 - 12:26


Thanks for all the tips and Tom_W what you say makes sense & my legs gave definitely overtaken my core with regards to strength.

I'll look into pilates & yoga!

posted by Ben_Gills [5 posts]
2nd September 2014 - 13:13