I was thinking to myself the other day, as I was grinding up what felt like a pretty hefty hill on my mountain bike, that many of us who only manage to get out for a ride 1-2 times a week at best probably struggle with the same problem--a weak back. You know the feeling I'm speaking of...the pain or sometimes even numbness in the flank region when you are really pushing those pedals. This is the region of the oft overlooked Quadratus Lumborom, or QL muscle. The QL is a key torso stabilizer and it helps in side bending and twisting. It is heavily recruited as you are hiking your hips up during a climb--in the saddle or out!
Does your QL have enough endurance to get you through the season injury-free?
One way you can find out is to do a side-plank and attempt to hold it for up to 60 seconds. Compare one side to the other to determine which side is weaker.
There is a good chance that if you have a weakened QL on one side, then there is a problem with your glute (bum) muscle activation on the opposite side. Strengthening your glutes and QL is a good place to start when attempting to gain more endurance to protect your spine if you are planning on doing a lot of mountain (or road) biking. This is a super simplified version of what may be going on in your particular body, but is often a great place to start!
To strengthen the QL, you can start by just doing that same side plank on the weak side until you can hold it for at least 60 seconds. You can then progress to more functional movements which mimic more how the QL works in real life, such as holding a kettle bell on the weak side and walking while attempting to level your pelvis (not letting the weight of the kettle bell collapse your trunk on that side). Once you've mastered that, you can hold the kettle bell above your head for an additional challenge.
We have traditionally thought of core strengthening as doing crunches, sit-ups, or pilates type exercises, but have often neglected the "back core", which is paramount in spinal stabilization and in creating endurance for athletic performance.
If you suffer from occasional knee pain, there is a good chance that you have a weak QL on the side opposite your knee pain and a potential weak gluteus medius muscle on the same side. By strengthening these muscles, you will not only create a stronger "back core", which will help your riding, but you might just alleviate that annoying knee problem, as well!
Happy Riding, and I hope to see you on the trails!
About the Author
Dr. Jennifer Morrow is a Chiropractor and Massage Therapist with a background in Kinesiology and rehabilitation. She is owner of Gorge Chiropractic at TrueMed Institute in Hood River, OR. You can connect with her on Facebook and Google+.