Question: I’m training for RAMROD, a one-day event in Washington state. It covers 155 miles with three major climbs totaling 10,000 feet of vertical gain. My weekend training ride includes a tough climb of 6,000 feet that I’ve done all-out for three weeks. Now the nerves in my lower back are inflamed and I’m in pain even on the flats. I’ve had an expert bike fit, so bad position isn’t the cause. What’s the solution? — Jacques G.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies:
I’m glad you had your position checked. Bike fit is usually the cause when long climbs produce back pain.
However, there are lots of “correct” fits. Some are more aggressive than others (lower handlebar, higher saddle) and are more likely to make your back hurt. So be sure your fitter didn’t go too far in that direction.
That said, long climbs can make anyone’s back hurt.
The muscles of the low back work harder during seated climbing. Usually, climbing during training will make them stronger. But it sounds like you have been doing too much before you’ve adapted, duplicating much of RAMROD’s climbing in your big weekend ride.
There’s no need to train that way. You already know you can climb 6,000 feet at a hard pace, so don’t keep hammering yourself before the event. Climb a bit less, and don’t go all out. You don’t want an injury to keep you from missing your goal.
You might also check your climbing technique. Do you spend the whole time in the saddle? Alternating sitting and standing is key to relieving tension on back muscles.
Here’s another factor: Low-back pain can result from lack of midsection strength. Hard climbs put a whole new level of stress on back muscles and may require extra strengthening work. Core exercises are usually effective.
If you feel the need for personal attention, a physical therapist may be your best bet.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.