Lower Back Muscle Fatigue from Muni

I’ve been riding for two years now, and it’s probably been about a year since I’ve been getting lower back muscle fatigue on some of my rides.

I’ve seen some threads about lower back fatigue from very new riders, and lower back pain from hopping, dropping, or injury. But my problem seems different. I’d like to think I’ve become a fairly strong muni rider and should have gotten passed the initial aches and pains long ago. And I don’t do any significant hopping or dropping.

At times I’ve thought my fatigue correlated with bumpy trails. Other times hilly trails.

I do push myself pretty hard. But I can tell my lower back fatigues much earlier than other muscles.

I’ve had some thoughts of what might be the cause.

  • Maybe my back was super weak before unicycling, for whatever reason, and is still playing catch-up.
  • Maybe I have a posture problem.
  • Am I somehow using the wrong muscles?
  • Perhaps I am involuntarily tensing my lower back.
  • Or maybe my seat is too low.

I do notice that I’m not usually sitting perfectly straight up when I ride. But that’s because I’m usually trying to move quickly and so I lean forward.
When I consciously sit up straighter, it does releive some of the fatigue.
I also notice when I’m on bumpy ground, going too slow, shifting into my high gear can exacerbate the fatiguing feeling. It in that wobbly correcting stage that I feel it.
Maybe that’s an indication that I’m using my core muscles too much to keep balanced, and I should moving my wheel more instead?

I’d appreciate any suggestions, and especially anyone who has had similar issues!

Well sit up streight and don’t lean forward :roll_eyes:

Or strengthen those muscles.

You can do “supermans” - lay on your stomach and ceeping your limbs relativey streight raise your arms and legs. Don’t lift your head, keep it inline w/ your spine to avoid stress in your neck.

Or “swimming” same thing, but opposite arm, oposite leg, kind of like the freestyle stroke.

Machines IMO at your local gym like one of these work a bit better. I preffer the first one, I feel it puts less stress on my back, plus you can flip over work your abs or sideways and work your obliques. If its too easy you can hold a small weight to your chest (I’ve done them w/ up to 25 lbs, but IMO higher reps w/ up to 15 lbs is better).

Focus on Core Stabilizers

The multifidus (mull-tiff-a-dus) muscle, at a minimum, is weak.


Good read on how to strengthen low back stabilizers.

In general your unicycle conditioning program should focus on the entire core muscle groups, not just the area of pain.

Someone that walks 10 miles a day with one shoe will eventually develop pain in the knee (or back, hip and even neck). Knee surgury will not solve any problems if he doesn’t wear two like shoes.

There are two ways you should be looking to attack this problem, IMO.

One is making sure your muscles are in balance. Having overdeveloped abdominal muscles can lead to increased risk of strain to the lower back. This isn’t just a problem with the back, it can also cause problems in other joints, especially the knee!

Balance your front - back core muscles and life will become much easier for your back. I am no sports trainer or physical therapist (but I play one on TV!) so I won’t give you advice here… I suggest you talk with a trainer to see what is appropriate.

The other thing to correct is your riding posture. If you’re hunched over while riding, of course your back is going to take a pounding! Fix that posture now, even if it forces you to learn new riding techniques…

Buzz -
Roland and I both experience tired/sore lower backs when we do hard muni, or climbing major hills on the road, for that matter. Having ridden with you, I think your riding position is fine. It’s simply that pedaling a hard down-stroke, like up a steep hill, or slow, twisty pedaling over roots and obstacles, uses the lower back muscles intensively. Those muscles are pretty closely connected to that hamstring that’s pushing/pulling your leg from bent to straight down.

I do front planks and side planks EVERY morning, along with occasional other core exercises and stretches, especially a good psoas stretch (here’s the one I usually do). Just 5 minutes of these daily gets from stiff and sore to a state of creamy goodness.

Happens to me if I am tense. I usually get the back pain on descents when I am holding onto the handle and tensed up. I think the backpack also amplifies the soreness when tense.

Ok, I deal with weak low backs every day. Please don’t do the back extension exercises… They put a huge shear stress on the discs and really only strengthen the extrinsic back muscles. For exercises, look up “McGill’s big 3” and do those daily.

What we really need to know is:
Do you have a handle? if not, getting one may help
Watch your riding posture, are you bent over? If so, you need to figure out a way to straighten yourself up.

For dynamic exercises, kettlebell swings and snatches help to strengthen your entire body, especially your core muscles.

Ideally, your glutes should be keeping you upright and your low back muscles should be spared for everything except the fine adjustments that you need as you’re riding.

For mobility, search for MobilityWOD, Dr. Starett does a kick ass job of showing you daily mobilizations to keep your joints and soft tissue mobile so the right muscles can fire at the right time.

Tirving - what about those exercises I mentioned in my post? The front and side planks, and the psoas stretch? I notice that the “Big 3” include side planks, at least. I also do that “Bird Dog” thing sometimes.

Buzz’s riding posture seems fine to me, as I mentioned. And I don’t think a sore lower back indicates a weak lower back. I think most of us have relatively strong cores, just that hard muni places a high demand on these areas. Working and strengthening muscles naturally leaves them feeling somewhat sore, just as doing sprint intervals or hill repeats leaves the thighs sore as they get stronger.

I’m with Steve- I do planks too- typically 5x a week. Before I was uni riding, I was riding around on singlespeeds and fixed gear bikes on and off road.

Now, mixing it up with the uni and bike seems to keep things a bit more balanced muscularly. Even though they’re both pedaling, they still seem to work different muscles.

I’m not doctor, so this is by no means an expert opinion.

You’re right; I mentioned “weakness” because most of the posts were about strengthening exercises. The low back is tricky and not usually the main problem. Most of the good exercises deal with getting the right muscles to fire at the right time and maintain their endurance. This is huge for those who partake in muni :slight_smile:

Your exercises are good, the plank is one of the Big 3. A sore back occasionally is OK, if it happens the majority of the time after muni, it suggests a weak core, not necessarily a weak back. The back muscles shouldn’t be primary movers, they should support an upright posture, the primary movers involved should be the glutes, adductors and abs. The small micro-adjustments should be performed by the intrinsic back muscles with the extrinsic back muscles being saved until this system fails. A sore low back indicates that the endurance of this system is in question.

The interesting thing is it hasn’t always been like this. This fact led me to ask about posture while riding because it seems some stress has accumulated over time to break down the system.

I’m assuming that it’s normal to lean forward when riding fast and aggressive. Maybe my body leans forward but my posture becomes poor. I will consciously analyse it soon.

In my case, I wouldn’t be surprised if my back muscles are dominant over my abs. Especially because my back muscles have gotten sore so much during my past year of riding, but I keep pushing on. I think they’ve gotten a huge workout. In my two years of riding, I haven’t felt sore in my abs from anything other than a specific ab workout (not riding), which are few and far between. Anyone know of a test to check for proper muscle balance? Specifically back versus abs?

I’ve been thinking about this. Aside from being frugal and a major DIY’er, I can’t get past my belief that 5 trainers would give me 5 different diagnoses and suggestions. But I’ll be keeping that advice in my back pocket.

I need to figure out if and when I’m tensing up. I wish I could wear muscle montitors while I ride, and correlate the data with my speed, the terrain, and my actions. I guess I’ll have to try to analyze myself as I ride, despite my brain’s difficulty with task switching.
The backpack comment is interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. I wear my CamelBak with probably 3 lbs of water/gear. Perhaps that’s part of the equation.

I feel like most muni riders would be complaining of the same fatigue if having particularly strong lower back muscles was required. And while it’s possible that my lower back hasn’t kept up with the rest of my body, it just doesn’t seem likely to me. My body is telling me I’m using my lower back when I shouldn’t be, not that it’s too weak. I, of course, could be wrong.

The planks/Big 3 should be easy enough to find time for. I will be fitting these into my daily routine.

I raced Tuesday and my lower back muscles fatigued early and remained fatigued. Pushing through it was hard. I just want to be clear, the fatigue is definitely happening during rides (some much more than others), not after. I do feel the muscle soreness in the days that follow too.

It’s been more and more of an issue as I’ve ridden more challenging trails more aggressively. Without a doubt I’ve been pushing myself harder than ever. But maybe I’ve just been noticing the soreness more, because I’ve been riding more often.
In the past month I’ve raced muni in 5 mountain bike races (another one tomorrow and Tuesday), and rode 6 good muni rides. I’ve also been pushing myself on those rides, seeking out steeper hills to climb and more technical trails. Perhaps I’m pushing too hard too soon. But old man winter is never too far away… and I need to get my fill before it’s too late! :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks for all the suggestions! I know it’s hard to diagnose and treat these things over the internet.

My lower back also often feels fatigued after riding (especially when riding multiple days in a row). I found 2 things that helped me most:

  • handles. I often found that I was riding with my upper body slightly twisted towards one side or the other. Putting my hands on the handles helped me keep my back aligned better.
  • stretching, in particular the it band muscles. I don’t know if it’s because it pulls on the lower back, or what, but that seems to be the stretch that does the most good to relieve my back.

Sore during or after… Basically the same advise; there might be slightly different thongs going on, but I’d treat them the same. Try doing the McGill exercises daily and check into MobilityWOD for some daily mobilizations and stretching. You should be able to adapt to the added intensity over time.

So you’re saying it doesn’t matter which thong I’m wearing. Now that’s good news!


Is there any reason I shouldn’t do exercises/stretches at the end of the day? My morning schedule is tight, but I could probably do them in the evenings in front of the TV.

Ha Haa…damn auto-correct; I must use the word thongs a lot :slight_smile:

Do them whenever you can, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Make sure you do lots of stretches too :slight_smile:

I’ve been learning yoga and doing it in the mornings, stretches before my rides, and almost all of my back pains have disappeared.