Back Pain with Trainer Versus Outside?

I have a bulging discs and some arthritis that is causing nerve pain. I have had treatment and currently working with a PT on strength and mobility. I did a 3 hour mountain bike ride last weekend with zero pain. A Sunday TR workout aggravated me a bit, which has me thinking sitting in one stationary position is an issue. Has anyone out there with similar back issues gone to all or mostly outdoor workouts with good results?

Are you saying Saturday you rode 3 hr mtb then Sunday TR workout and experienced pain on the second day? If so, sounds like you may have aggravated it Saturday and put the final blow Sunday when you really needed to recover. Lots of aches and pains are delayed a day for me

You already see a PT, so you should probably stick with that. But the video below does wonders to open up the posterior chain and allow a flat/neutral back on the bike:

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Yes, I used to keep getting back pain when I was on the trainer. I resolved it by doing regular core exercises to strengthen my core so I can keep my upper body still and enable an efficient power transfer, and by foam rolling every night before going to bed.

Also depends on if you’re trainer bike is a mountain bike or road bike.

If it’s a road or cross bike you might be in more lumbar flex ion (more back bending) which could cause some of the pain?

Grain of salt though. I am a PT but going off of no exam and next to no info. No one on this forum will be able to help you without an exam, pictures, or assessment.

Maybe take some on trainer pics (from the side) so your PT can analyze your position and then compare to your real world range of motion.

Core strength is important but more for mountain biking than stationary riding/road where it’s not as useful. Core strength/stability is most helpful for people with instability in their spine (not usually from discs and arthritis) and sports where power I. Their legs needs to be transferred to their arms (mountain biking and maybe out of the saddle efforts on the road). Just my two cents.

While I find the comments about core strength and related back health useful, simply looking at the core issue (sorry :stuck_out_tongue: )… I think the question about what exactly is different between inside and outside is important.

This leads to my typical observation that most trainers inside lack any motion, while outside (especially on MTB) we are riding a very mobile and variable position bike. With a normal trainer setup, you are instantly locked into position that is not a replication of what we get outside. Added to that, there is a tendency to stay seated more vs standing for breaks or even terrain (again, regular MTB experience).

So, considering that and the potential for adding motion to the setup (via full rocker plate or even simple foam blocks) could be worth a look at the very least. I can help with more info, but will stop my rocker spam at this point :wink:


In my experience, it doesn’t matter the type of riding. If certain muscles are not engaged/firing to stabilize the spine under load/relative high power disc and other connective tissue can and will be compromised. So, core (multifus, obliques, TA, erector spinae, etc…) is all about preventing instability and thus injury. This all assumes no mechanical instability.

You could try lifting the front of your indoor bike up… like sitting front wheel on a box and see if it helps.

yeah but the TR workout was a recovery ride for 30 min. i am similar with the delay. Thanks!

Hey thanks for that. My PT has set up a plan that has stretching, activation and mobility along with FMS. it seems to be helping as I have tended to neglect that part. Not anymore though.

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Thanks to all for the suggestions. As @mcneese.chad mentioned I was thinking that the lack of constant changes in position that mountain biking and to a lesser extend road was contributing to the pain. The disc bulge is pushing on the nerve bundle that includes the sciatic and when I sit for long periods (driving, desk jockying) it seems to get more aggravated. I normally race cx this time of year but bumpy courses were not very comfortable. @jreinfeld I have shared my xrays, mri and doctors notes with my PT and have had 2 epidural injections into my spine to help reduce inflammation. He is actually the one that suggested seeing a doctor. Regarding your comment on transferring power, i felt like the pain i was experiencing in my back and legs was limiting the power I could turn the pedals with. It became apparent in the first few cross races where I would start out well then everything would tighten up and I would lose power.


@jmacterp unrelated to your specific issue but I wanted to say something about the 12 minute foundation routine. At the start and end of the video he talks about “do this everyday, no back pain.” While I do NOT have back pain, doing that 12 minute foundation routine 2-5 times a week over the last 1+ years has made a noticeable difference on the bike. Primarily with being able to maintain a neutral back for hours on the bike, as well as opening up the chest to more easily breath deeply on efforts above threshold. I work in front of a computer all day, and now am more aware of my shoulders slumping.

The ready state is doing a free 14 day indoor cycling specific “challenge” to address issues dealing with pain riding on a stationary bike. I’m a couple days in and the stretches/ mobility exercises are working really well. I would suggest anyone to follow those guys and also SoCalbikedepot has a great program to help strengthen cycling specific muscles. Between those two resources I think it would benefit anyone who is dealing with discomfort on the bike indoors and outdoors. Just my 2 cents, but you can’t fix a bad bike fit!

@WindWarrior and @Foodpedaling, thanks I’ll check it all out.

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