Biking and Your Back: Cycling Tips and Tricks

January 02, 2019

Biker experiencing back pain
Back pain can occur without proper biking techniques.

Site of spine pain after biking workout.

Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN

How much exercise do you need to improve and maintain physical fitness and health? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, aim to get 30 minutes or more a day, at least 5 times per week — that's a total of 150 minutes per week.

Bike riding is a beneficial, low-impact way to get your daily exercise. However, biking with back pain is not fun. Are you following the proper precautions? You should always use proper form so you can exercise to prevent back pain.

Protect Your Back While Biking

Typically, biking, especially stationary bicycling, is easier on the back and spine than aerobic exercise like running. However, there are still necessary precautions to take to protect your back.

Although biking is often thought of as a leg-based exercise, the upper body is involved too. It's easy to strain your neck and lower back when cycling, as there is typically little conditioning to get your body ready for this activity. Poor posture in your neck and back, as well as pulling up on the handlebars, can also cause pain.

To ensure that you exercise to prevent biking with back pain, there are a few key considerations before you begin a regular bike riding regimen:

  • Keep feet flat. Observe how your feet are in the pedals. They should be flat when pedaling. Toes slightly up and heels slightly down is the recommended posture for the feet for the most power in each revolution.
  • Adjust your seat height properly. If your seat height doesn't initially feel good than it's not the right height. Adjust the bike seat so that the heel of your foot is resting on the pedal in a fully down position. Your knee should be slightly bent when the ball of your foot is on the center of the pedal during a rotation. When the pedals are horizontal, make sure your kneecap is vertically over the pedal axle.
  • Measure handlebar width. Your handlebars should be about the same width as your shoulders. Measure the distance between the small bumps on the top of your shoulders otherwise called the "acromion process" — that's what the handlebar width should be.
  • Watch your form. Biking requires proper form to avoid injury. Some of your body weight should be distributed to your arms while keeping your chest up. Frequently adjusting your weight, as well as lifting and lowering your head can help eliminate neck pain.

Biking While You Work

A desk bike at work is a smart and simple way to exercise to prevent back pain by allowing you low-impact activity when you would otherwise be sitting. Desk bikes are a great workplace intervention for reducing sitting at work, which helps with overall health and wellness over time. A study in the journal Public Health revealed that when employees used a desk bike for 98 minutes per week over five months, they were more energetic, self-confident and had a better overall health outlook. Sitting still less at the office offered participants an added bonus of increased motivation. So, if your job is sedentary or you're looking to boost employee motivation at work, why not try a desk bike?

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