Weak back? Ride a bike? That combo can suck! This article will teach you a 20-minute routine to strengthen your low back for cycling by using three effective exercises.
As someone who has ridden a bike all her life, and in the last almost two decades as a competitive cyclist, I know how frustrating it can be to have your ride hindered from a weak low back. It can hurt, physically and mentally!
When we are in the saddle, we are hinging at the hips and if our back is weak, it will become strained due to the time under tension required to hold certain positions. While you can train your low back to become stronger directly in the saddle, which requires a specific type of training focus, it is more efficient and effective to do this in the weight room.
I strength train on a regular basis but that doesn’t mean I am strong in every area of my body. I know where I am weak and where I am strong. However, identifying your weaknesses is one thing. Working at strengthening them is another. If I want to have a stronger low back on the bike, I need to make sure I follow through. Right?
Maybe you are in this position right now and need some help? If so, read on and let’s do this!
THREE EFFECTIVE LOW BACK EXERCISES
There are many exercises to help strengthen your low back for cycling. I recommend exploring them to find the ones that you can do pain-free. That old saying, “No pain, No gain!” is long gone out the window. We now say, “With pain, no gain!” (I stole this quote from Dr. John Rusin.)
You can begin by trying the low-back exercise routine I created below. It includes three effective exercises:
Standing Good Mornings
This exercise doesn’t just work your low back but your entire posterior chain including the fundamental hip hinge movement pattern. In the video below, we use dumbbells. However, those that have experience doing this exercise can use a barbell instead. Beginners that have never done this exercise and also have limited range of motion may want to start with just using their bodyweight. Perfect the hip hinge pattern first, then add light weights and progress from there. Start slow. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.
Remember to always brace your core, maintain a neutral spine, adjust your body position to be in a pain-free stance, and then execute the movement. Anyone can sling weights around in the weight room but to strength train effectively requires both mind and muscle engagement. Focus!
Bent-over rows also use the entire posterior chain but also help to strengthen the latissimus dorsi, in addition to many other back muscles. This exercise can also be done with a barbell instead of dumbbells. Beginners can stick with light weights until they nail the movement pattern. Another option is to use bands.
For everyone, it’s super important to use a strong and engaged stance. Corkscrew your feet into the ground, brace your core to keep your spine in a neutral position, and then hinge at the hips. Whatever you do, avoid the common mistake of dropping your shoulders towards the ground as you lower the weights. Also, avoid rounding the spine. If you hang tight on that core engagement, you will reap many more benefits from this exercise than just strengthening your back.
I first learned about bird-dog from Dr. Stuart McGill and it has become a staple exercise in most of my routines. In the video, we do bird-dog squares. The best part about this exercise is it actually works the whole body, posterior and anterior chains. You not only get to strengthen your low back using a very safe and effective exercise, but you also work the glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, triceps, chest, deep core muscles, superficial core muscles, and the list goes on.
This exercise definitely challenges your coordination too. You must maintain a stable spine using the core bracing technique while you draw squares with your extended leg. Do NOT make the common mistake of flexing or hyper-extending your spine. If you do this exercise with a focus on form and engagement, you will reap the benefits. Time well spent!
Advanced levels should skip the video ahead to see the very last set of the bird-dog squares and follow those instructions for all sets. Beginners can modify the exercise by omitting the squares and just holding the leg in place for 5 – 10 seconds. Work on body positioning, spine stabilization, and building muscular endurance before progressing.
The Low Back STRENGTH Routine
The video below teaches you the three exercises discussed above to help strengthen your low back for cycling. Each exercise has a demonstration, one practice set, and then three working sets. Even if you are familiar with the exercises, use the practice sets as part of your extended warm-up to prime the muscles you are about to work.
There is no warm-up or cool-down included in this routine. However, I posted a warm-up and cool-down video below so you can get everything you need within this one article.
Once you complete the low back strength routine, please post your comments in the section at the bottom of this page. I would love to know if you found any of this useful and if it’s working for you.
Warm-Up & Cool Down Routine
This mobility work was designed for cyclists to use as a warm-up or cool-down. These components of your cycling routine are a perfect time to work on areas that are weak.
This video has chapters so you can easily get to the areas that you need to work on improving.
Did you know that in order to increase your flexibility you must work on it daily?
Most people stretch randomly and maybe once or twice a week. That does very little to make a change.
Stretching is just like fitness, you must do it often to build it. Once you build it, you must maintain it. Otherwise, you will lose it all. This is called the Principle of Reversibility, which basically means once you stop doing an activity, you begin to lose the effects of doing that activity.
Now, with that said, you don’t have to stretch to become flexible. Flexibility will occur when you do exercises, especially when using the full range of motion (ROM). However, if you have limited ROM, then you will want to work at increasing that through flexibility and mobility exercises so when you do ride your bike or lift weights, you can move in full range.
See the connection and why it’s so important. Identify your weakness. Work at improving them. Reap the benefits of a more balanced body and how that increases your cycling performance and reduces pain.
This routine is delightful. Very relaxing, peaceful, and is a great way to end your workout.
So there you go! If you do all the work described above, you will have a routine under one hour that will help you strengthen your low back for cycling. You will also increase your core strength and mobility so you can have a more comfortable ride on your bike.
Again, don’t forget to comment below. If you love the stuff above and want more of it, be sure to check out my Tammy Lee TV YouTube channel. As I write this today, I have 108 videos to browse including a growing collection catered towards cyclists.
Also, if you need help with another area, let me know in the comments below and I’ll share with you something that might help. If you’re curious about some other strength routines I have, you can give this Full Body 30-Minute Tabata a try.
All the best and happy cycling! 🚴♀️ ✌️