Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Off Season: Core Work and Back Pain

For the past few seasons I've read about the benefits of building a strong core, but always returned to the idea that if I just rode more I would naturally get stronger. This year, out of necessity, things have changed.

After experiencing some nagging lower back pain throughout much of September, I scheduled a consult with my Physical Therapist. He diagnosed a combination of weak stabilizer muscles in my hips and back, and mild inflammation between two discs in my lumbar spine, all of which can most likely be attributed to poor posture and long hours seated at the office.

We talked a bit about my current workouts, a full-body circuit I found in Men's Health and a cycling specific core routine that Bryan Redemske recommended, both if which he approved of. He added in some lumbar stretches, recommendations on posture, and most importantly the need to add instability to strengthen stabilizers throughout my body. Here are a few of the basics:

Lower-Back Stretch
  • Rest forearms against a wall and pull your belt buckle forward towards it. Hold for 1-2 minutes.
  • In the push-up position, push your upper body away from the floor, letting your lower back sag as far as you can as you exhale. Hold for 5 seconds and lower your body to the floor. Thats one. Do 15 reps.
Stability Exercises
  • Plank with forearms on stability ball and feet raised so body is parallel with the floor. Hold for 60 seconds.
  • Push-up on a stability ball with feet raised so body is parallel with the floor. Do 10 and then try 5 with your left foot raised off of the box, and then 5 with your right foot raised.
  • Lay with your shoulders on the ground, feet on a stability ball, and body straight. Lift one leg and hold for 5 seconds and then alternate. Do 10 reps with each leg.
Four months later I have seen a huge lift in my overall fitness, and a dramatic decrease in day to day back pain. My recommendation: buy a properly sized stability ball NOW (I am 5' 11" and a 65cm is perfect for me), and get started with this core program from Bicycling Magazine. Build on it when you're ready.

I know the season is just beginning, but after one ride so far I can tell that my core is no longer going to be a liability, but an asset. The challenge I am giving myself is to maintain my core strengthening efforts during the season while adding in a more proactive stretching routine. Last year I know I fell flat on both and my endurance and strength reflected that. This year will be different.
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