Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world, a big reason people miss work, and many athletes I have coached have missed workouts because of it.  The first 2 facts are terrible, but missing workouts too, c’mon! 😉  The majority of back pain in athletic populations, in my experience, is caused by muscles becoming tighter due to fatigue and overuse.  This fatigue can come from many areas ranging from an increase of training workload to a tough race.  Fortunately, for most sufferers of back pain there are a few easy exercises you can do to loosen up the muscles and increase the joint range of motion to help decrease the pain.  There are many conflicting studies regarding when to stretch and how long to hold the stretches for, this is what I have seen work best for me and the athletes/patients I have worked with.

How to stretch

  • Ideal best time to stretch is POST WORKOUT.  The reason for this is because stretching a muscle statically will decrease its ability to contract which will result in a decreased amount of power produced.  We train too hard trying to increase our power and strength to reduce it right before our event!
    • Instead, try a dynamic stretching routine pre-workout if you feel tight.  Performing dynamic stretches will improve your range of motion, and you won’t lose any contractile force of the muscle, a win-win.
  • Stretches should be held for 30 seconds minimum.  Physiologically, it takes your muscle fibers ~30 seconds to relax enough to make static stretching beneficial and allow the muscle fibers to lengthen.
  • Stretches should be performed in a comfortable range of motion, so no crying because it hurts so much, but you also want to feel like you are doing something too.
  • Alternate each leg with each consecutive stretch, so as 1 side is resting, the other side is being stretched.
  • Perform the stretches 2-3 times each.
  • Stretch out 2-3 times daily if you are really having an issue with your back.  For maintenance, or if your back only hurts after an intense event/race, once a day is okay.

Lumbar/Thoracic/Cervical Spine Mobility

From a quadruped position bring your head forward, round your back, and bring your hips forward.

From a quadruped position bring your head and hips towards the ceiling and arch your back.

Lumbar Spine Mobility

From your stomach, press up onto your hands (or elbows if you’re very tight) and arch your back. Relax your glutes.



Place your foot on your opposite knee, reach for your thigh, and pull towards your chest until a deep stretch is felt in the buttocks.  Sometimes this causes knee pain, if so only perform the stretch below  

Pull your leg up and then across your body until a deep stretch is felt in the buttocks.  Try and keep your shoulders flat and try not to rotate your lower back too much.  


Latissimus Dorsi

Sit your buttocks back and reach your arms forwards.  You will feel a stretch along your outer torso and towards your arms or back depending on how tight you are.  

Shayne Gaffney

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care, is a licensed physical therapy assistant in Massachusetts, a USA Cycling Level 1 (expert level) certified Coach, a USA Cycling Power Based Training certified Coach, Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified Coach, a US Military Endurance Sports (USMES) affiliated Coach, and USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport certified. He is the Founder of GC Coaching, Workout Content Editor at Zwift, the creator of P2 Coached Computraining, and the creator of Zwift’s “Build Me Up”, "Pebble Pounder", and "201: Your First 5K" Flexible Training Plans. He has been published in Bicycling Magazine, the TrainingPeaks blog, and Zwift Insider. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com


  1. For the first piriformis stretch, I have been told to engage the foot – move your toes towards your knee, to protect the knee. This is on the stretching leg that has its ankle resting on the other knee.

  2. On the Proximal stretch, I’ve had great results by doing it with shoes on, park the heel of your foot of the stretch leg on the toe of the non-stretch leg, and reach down, bending at the waist.

  3. I have be having successful back pain for most of my adult life. You have very good recommendations here Shane. Stretching is often done too short an interval at ~12 seconds, which you indicated is way too short. It’s amazing to stretch with some and feel how long it really takes for them to relax before real stretching can begin. A nice long stretch is critical. I have found that in my case, most of the pain is from the sciatic nerves running along the backside of my gluteus through to my lower back. Stretching on the floor, even on a mat, pushed too hard on the nerves and was counter productive. However, if I started my day by doing two light stretches while I was still in bed, I could manage to move normally when getting up. This is just something that works for me to help with keeping my flexibility and being able to get going immediately. It may reduce some power, but without it and other stretching, I would not have ever dreamed of biking centurion rides with Gorgeous, my Iranman wife. Thank you for posting a great article!!!

  4. Hey Shayne great article but may I suggest adding stretches for the hip flexors. Most people forget to stretch the hip flexors and with cyclist these muscles are very commonly shortened somply due to the biomechanics of the sport itself. I have worked with many patients who are cyclists and rowers (who are also susceptible to shortened hip flexors due to demands of the sport and its equipement) and have had great success with eliminating chronic low back by elongating the hip flexors. Just my experience!

  5. Given that the piriformis is an external hip rotator the stretch you have tagged as piriformis stretch is stretching gluteus medius and minimus and tensor fascia latae.
    Add in hip flexor stretch

    1. Hi Sallie – You would be correct if I was stretching the piriformis below 90 degrees of hip flexion, however I am not. The piriformis reverses its role and actually becomes a hip internal rotator when the hip is flexed over 90 degrees. The leg over stretch does include the glute med/min, but I would have to disagree with you including the TFL as there is not any hip extension nor upward rotation of the ilium.

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