Braaaping and back pain

Hey Lee!!

Love the site, love the book. I was wondering if you have had any lower back issues during the course of your cycling experience. Yesterday I was braaaping and today I feel a lot of stiffness and soreness in my lower back. I never had any serious injuries to constitute any sniveling. I’m 37, slightly overweight.I ride a hard-tail similar to the P-series bikes. Usually I find that some heat therapy or even a chiropractor is good when it requires it. My question is this, could it be my technique or should I consider specific back exercises to reduce pain after braaaping? Thanks Lee. See ya’ at Sea Otter!!


Hey Dan,

First the disclaimer: I am neither a doctor nor a physical therapist nor a personal trainer (but my dad’s a doctor, and I studied exercise physiology, and some of my best friends are personal trainers). If you are experiencing any issues and before you make any changes, see a trained professional.

OK, now:


Good posture is good posture, off or on the bike. AA BMX Pro Danny Caluag snaps a gate with perfect hip/spine alignment.

– There are different types of pain. There’s the bad pain, from a slipped disk, impinged nerve, damaged soft tissue, etc. And there’s the good pain, from tired muscles. Bad pain is bad and must be addressed. Good pain is OK and can be trained through. If you have any question, see a professional.

– About 12 years ago, I had Bad lower back pain. It was caused by an overzealous personal trainer. This guy was literally a drill sergeant, and we worked legs once a week. Dude, I was so freaking strong in the gym, but it made me no faster on the bike, and I gave myself a chronic strain. Everything sucked: walking, riding, even sitting. The issue slowly went away only after I laid off the gym, started some gentle stretching and let things heal.

– These days, my lower back gets sore and tired just like the rest of my muscles. If I push too hard or lift too much, I give myself a little strain, and I pay for it for a day or so. This winter I did five straight days of heavy snow shoveling, and that did a number on me. 100 laps of pump is always a challenge. Otherwise, my back is fine.


Textbook attack position. Note the lack of spine curve.

– The alignment of your pelvis and spine has a huge effect on your riding technique and the amount of strain on your lower back.

– Many riders keep their pelvises vertical, as if they’re sitting on a barstool, then they curve their back forward toward the bars. This is A) weak, B) inefficient and C) puts your lower back at risk. You shouldn’t lift heavy things while bending your lower back, and you shouldn’t yank on the bars while bending your lower back.

– Practice keeping your pelvis and spine in line. On the bike in Attack Position, that means rotating your pelvis forward and keeping your back level. This makes you stronger and more stable, and it also improves cornering, pump, etc.

– Many of you have no idea what I’m talking about. If you really want to dial in your hip/spine awareness — and meet cute girls — attend some basic yoga classes. You will learn a ton, and you’ll feel the benefits everywhere.


AA BMX Pro Jason Richardson demonstrates perfect power clean technique. This exercise strengthens the key movements and encourages — no, demands — proper alignment.

– Your core cannot be too strong or have too much endurance. Studies show that, when it comes to preventing injury, endurance is more important than raw strength.

– The most effective way to prepare your lower back for riding is … riding. Get out there and practice perfect technique. Your skill and your strength will increase together.

– I am a huge fan of off-the-bike exercises. They work you in a more integrated way, and they build strength and stability that you cannot get on the bike. James Wilson’s programs are excellent.

– I love lifting heavy things, but with my crazy shoulders and lower back, I’ve learned that consistency is the key to my comfort. I don’t push hard, but I do some basic exercises every day that I don’t ride super hard or do a James program.

– My favorite “everyday” exercises are sun salutations; upward dog/downward dog sequences; front, back and side planks; and divebomber pushups. These all build strength, range of motion and endurance with minimal strain.

– Merely standing and sitting correctly are excellent training. Oh yeah: Lose that extra weight.

To recap

– Be careful with your back. Things can go very wrong very quickly. If you have any worries, see a professional.

– Practice excellent riding technique.

– Constantly improve your functional strength, range of motion and endurance.

– Braaap!!!

Lee (39 this year and stronger than ever!)

Also read: “My quads hurt” – Use your hips!

9 replies
  1. Denise says:

    It’s been a long time since I wrote in, but this topic is near/dear to my heart (back). I have slight scoliosis, and have a tight back all the time. Since I started doing James Wilson’s dynamic movments and stretching (and trying to get in the workouts, too), I have noticed significant improvement in my back tightness. I even talked to James about it and he emphasized that core strength is key to back pain. I agree!

    After 2 kids, and turning 43, I’m stronger and ride (moto & MTB) longer and better than ever before! 🙂 Even us old chicks can rock it.

  2. Walt says:

    Kettlebell swings or snatches (done correctly) will make your back stronger than any weightlifting or stretching exercises. But go real slow at first until you get used to it and never do them when your back is hurting. When you back is hurt, don’t stretch or do anything. Just rest and use ice for the first 48 hours (yes, ice packs) Then you can use heat after that. Once it’s gone away, start slowly doing the exercises 3 times a week and your back troubels will be a thing of the past.

  3. Mike says:

    Alot of people here are talking about strengthening exercises which a definitely part of the equation for a healthy back. Equally important though is stretching. Very common to bike riding is extremely tight quads and hamstrings. These can jack up the tilt of the pelvis and result in alot of pain and injury.

    The biggest help I’ve found is Yoga, like Lee says. Keep those hammies loose and your pelvis in the right place and the pain will go away.

  4. leelikesbikes says:


    But, as with all things, you gotta take it easy. Avoid “Competitive Yoga Syndrome,” in which you hurt yourself trying to impress everyone …

  5. James Wilson says:

    Here is the deal with the vast majority of cycling related low back pain (LBP)…you get chronically tight quads and hip flexors which rotate the pelvis forward. This is coupled with weak lower abs and inhibited glutes. The pelvis rotation increases the pressure on the lumbar vertebrae and lengthens the hamstrings.

    The hamstrings tighten up in an attempt to minimize the forward rotation. This is why tight hamstrings are usually not about tight hamstrings, they are about tight quads and hip flexors. In fact, I’ve had clients who had not touched their toes in years be able to touch the floor in less than 5 minutes of targeted mobility work for the quads and hip flexors.

    Because the glutes are inhibited and can not fire properly due to the reciprical inhibition caused by the tight hip flexors the hips start to use the lower back to power movement instead of simpy stabilizing the spine. Put it all together and you have tight quads and hip flexors, tight hamstrings, inhibited glutes, weak lower abs and a dysfunctional movement pattern that uses the low back to power movement.

    This is why it is not as simple as stretch or strengthen the core. You have to take an integrated approach that addresses all of the issues. I have a video on my website that demonstrated exactly how to do that. In fact, anyone who has low back pain and does that routine will notice immediate pain relief and with consistent effort will be able to get rid of most of their back pain for good.

    You can find the video here:

    BTW, I would not recommend cleans and snatches until you know how to power with the hips and not use the low back. Without retraining this movement pattern first you run the risk of making the situation worse. Things like the single leg deadlift are great exercises for relearning this skill in a slower manner so that you can ingrain it and apply it better to faster movements. You must be systematic and progressive in order to ensure success.

    Also, not to be a hater but whoever taught Jason that power clean technique owes him a refund. That is NOT how to do it. His hips need to be higher (he should be in the attack position for cycling so that he can power it with his hips and not his quads), the bar needs to stay in closer to the body, and he should catch it in the “rack” posisition with his elbows in front and up high. I would recommend that peole google Olympic weightlifting to see some vids and pics of great form and you’ll see what I mean.

    Anyways, hope this helps.

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