For triathletes, the bike-to-run transition can be brutal on the lower back as you move from a forward flexed sitting position to a relatively erect position during running. Improving mobility into backward bending, or lower lumbar extension, may be the key for a quick transition to an erect posture after cycling.
L5 normally sits at a slight downward tilt on the sacrum. This relationship allows for a tremendous amount of shock absorption as the weight of the body is translated from the trunk, through this segment, and into the pelvis and lower extremities.
Gravity tends to pull the L5 segment forward: Sitting in the car, at work, or more significantly on an aggressively set up bike, promotes a forward flexed position of L5 on the sacrum through joint and myofascial restriction. Triathletes often have a difficult time getting out of this flexed position after a long bike ride.
In a normal standing position, many athletes can bend forward and place their hands on the ground with their knees straight, yet they can barely get past neutral when bending backwards. When bending backwards, the hips and pelvis must move forward under the belly button so that the trunk can move into extension.
If your hips are restricted such that the pelvis can't shift forward during backward bending, you will fall backwards as your center of gravity moves outside of your feet. Restriction at the hip, lumbar spine, or sacroiliac joint can produce a feeling of being locked in a bent forward position because your brain obviously won't allow you to fall backwards.
How to Improve Lumbar Extension
Lumbar extension is essential for proper gait during running. As the right leg moves forward, the left leg must be able to move behind you. If you lack extension at the hip or lumbar spine on the left, your body will compensate in any number of ways, such as trunk rotation to that side. Abnormal trunk rotation to compensate for a hip or lumbar restriction can cause excessive stress and pain at the lumbar spine or lower extremity.
Adding a couple of stretches to your workouts can make the first couple miles of the run more pleasant because you will be able to get out of that forward flexed position more easily.
Of course, if you are feeling numbness, tingling, pain down the leg, or any other unusual symptom, make sure to check in with your medical practitioner prior to adding any of these three exercises to your regular workouts.
1. Hip Extension Stretch
- One foot up on a chair, opposite foot behind you with toe pointed inward
- While standing tall, shift forward to stretch the front of the hip
2. Hips Side-to-Side in a Doorway
- Standing in doorway, move hips from side to side keeping head in middle
- Allow your trunk to make a "C" shape, without rotating
3. Prone Press Up
- Laying on stomach, leave hips on the floor as you press up into a cobra position
- Allow your back and hips to bend backwards by keeping them relaxed
David Jeter studied biology at Eastern Washington University and graduated from the EWU Physical Therapy program in 2001. Dave earned his Level III certification from the North American Institute of Manual Therapy in 2006 after completing 160 hours of continuing education. Dave lives in Spokane, Washington, and loves to golf with his wife, Sarah. He also enjoys barbecuing, mountain biking, adventure racing, triathlons, fly-fishing, and enjoying outdoor activities in the Pacific Northwest.