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Get in Shape

Avoiding Biker's Backache

As many as 70 percent of cyclists say they experience back pain from hunching over their handlebars and using their lower back to pedal [source: Yeager]. To prevent biker's backache, exercise your abs and back -- the muscles that support you when you ride -- a few times a week. Raise your handlebars so you don't have to hunch over. Shift positions as you ride, occasionally leaning back or standing up to relieve pressure on your back. Also, work on your aerobic conditioning, because you're more likely to lean forward when you're tired. If your back pain doesn't improve, see your doctor.

Mountain biking requires strength, endurance and skill. You never want to ride 50 miles through rough terrain on your first day. Build up your endurance and increase your aerobic capacity so that you can tackle longer rides, and practice your skills slowly until you get them down. Here are a few training techniques:

Ride up and down hills, alternated with speed intervals on straight stretches of road. Your goal is to get your heart rate up to 50 to 85 percent of its maximum [source: American Heart Association].

Practice handling your bike in a variety of terrains, from wooded areas to hills. Try tackling rocks, grass and sharp turns until you feel sure that you can keep your bike under control, no matter what's in front of you.

Each time you ride, take at least 20 minutes beforehand to warm up. This increases blood flow to your muscles so that you're less likely to injure them. For the first part of your warm-up, ride a stationary bike or take your mountain bike down a straight stretch of road. Start with high RPMs (about 90) and low resistance. After about 10 minutes, add a bit of resistance. Then get off your bike and stretch your muscles, especially the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, lower back, neck, and shoulders. Finally, ride again for 10 to 20 minutes to increase your heart rate.

Doing other types of exercises regularly -- also known as cross-training -- can help firm the muscles you'll use for mountain biking and give you the aerobic endurance you'll need for long rides. Swim, hike and work out with weights to stay in top biking shape.

For more common questions and expert answers on sports and athletic performance, visit Sharecare.com.

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