When the bicycle was being developed during the mid-1800's, few inventors realized just how brilliant of an idea they were monkeying with. After-all, designing a machine that married the ingenuity of the wheel to the power of the human quadriceps has proven to be a match unsurpassed as the most efficient human-powered device on the planet.
We still get a thrill from screaming down the road at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour using only the power in our legs.
We aren't quite so thrilled, however, with the screaming pain we sometimes feel in our low back due to the position we're in when riding a bike.
Hunched Over On A Bike Is No Way To Go Through Life
If you look at old photos of the earliest bike riders you'll see some jolly old lads and lassies sitting straight up on their seats, dressed in dapper togs, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Fast forward to today's cyclists and you may see a stern-faced middle aged man dressed in spandex, bent over his $2000 bike into a position resembling Quasimodo's tormented posture. It's a position begging for low back pain.
Some of the most ardent evolutionists like to maintain that we aren't intended to ambulate in the upright position. But it's my observation, as a Chiropractor who's evaluated and treated low back pain for over 25 years, that there are a host of low back pain complaints that can be traced to too much flexion (being hunched forward) in the modern lifestyle.
When the modern-day exerciser supplements their work posture, which consists of bending forward over a desk and computer, with time spent bending forward over a bike, or even time spent on an indoor cycling trainer, the structures of the low back take a real beating.
Just What Happens On A Bike?
Part of the genius of the bike is that it is so efficient. There aren't any swinging arms sucking up calories, there isn't any lifting of the exerciser's body weight up and down (as there is when running), and the legs are limited to a rather small range of motion. In fact, there isn't very much wasted motion at all.
But with this efficiency comes a new set of problems.
When you bend over a bike and peddle, the muscles that are doing a lot of the work become shorter and tighter. If you keep doing it for very long without taking preventative measures, you'll become aware of muscles that you didn't know you had.
And I don't use the 'aware of muscles you didn't know you had' phrase casually. I'm thinking of a very specific muscle group...the iliopsoas muscle, also referred to as the the psoas (so-az) muscle. Now here's a muscle that is largely unknown but is critical to riding a bike.
What's This Psoas All About?
The psoas is located behind all the intestines, on the front of the spinal column. That pretty much explains why it goes largely undetected. It originates by attaching to each of the five lumbar vertebrae, and travels downward to attach to the top of the femur (the large bone in the thigh).
When it contracts it pulls the thigh upward and forward (hip flexion)...and it does a whole lot of contracting when cycling is involved.
It's important to know that when you're bent over at the waist, such as when sitting or cycling, the psoas is shortened. It is while in this shortened configuration that the psoas is needed as a primary contributor to pedaling a bike. And when a muscle works hard while somewhere in the range between 'short to shorter', trouble is on the horizon.
'Psoas' To Stay Healthy, Stretch It Out
A bit of stretching of the psoas will go a very long way toward continuing to stay healthy while cycling. While most people know how to stretch the hamstrings and the quadriceps, psoas-stretching awareness is lacking.
After all, it makes sense that people aren't going to be diligent about taking care of a muscle that they most likely don't even know exists. But with the wonders of Youtube, learning how to effectively stretch the psoas is only a few clicks away.
Watch the video below to learn how to stretch out the psoas from Dr. Woolner, a Chiropractor in Boise, Idaho…
By doing a few preventative measures like stretching the psoas regularly, getting up and moving around to break up times of prolonged sitting, and periodically standing up out of the saddle when pedaling, the psoas will be much less inclined to be the source of the debilitating low back pain that plagues a lot of cyclists.
Cycling is a exhilarating sport. Nothing can match it when it comes to speed, and it is truly one of the few exercise formats wherein destructive shock to the joints is not a problem. By adding a few stretching exercises, the stress it puts on the low back can be minimized as well.
That translates into many happy miles pedaling down the road or over the trails. Maybe it's time to load up that bike rack on your car, and enjoy some time aboard the most efficient human-powered machine on the planet.
About the author: Dr. Ron Fritzke reviews cycling gear on his site, Cycling-Review.com. Besides his private Chiropractic practice in Mount Shasta, he's on the Sports Medicine team at the College of the Siskiyous. A former 2:17 marathon runner, he now races his bike in Northern California.
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