You Don't Have to Endure Neck, Wrist & Back Pain

By Peg Labiuk | 04/26/11


We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

The following tip is a reprint of a April 2009 question submitted by from Voler E-Mail List member Peter Saucerman – still an excellent subject at any time! His training question that follows was answered by Peg Labiuk (nee Peggy Maass), a colleague of Marilyn Trout, and a certified NCCP level 3 coach with a career in international road and track racing. She is a World Championship medalist, World Record holder, U.S. Olympic Team member, former British national team coach and Kreb's Cycle co-founder (British Columbia, Canada).

Avoiding the Bonk

I'm a 50-something recreation & touring cyclist in California, embarking on the 7-day Bicycle Tour of Colorado (BTC) in June. In the closing days of the ’99 Ride the Rockies, I was barreling down Monarch Pass, unable to hold my head up in a tuck position because of neck fatigue. Other than that, it was a great time.

It feels like my body is quite different than it was in my early 40's and so my training regimen should probably shift as well. My biggest concern is not overall fitness - its neck, wrist & back pain, and finding a regimen to counteract that.  Ten years on, I have somewhat regular neck fatigue, no doubt helped by daily computer use at work. I would love to find a reasonable neck exercise (or general upper body work) to help overcome this.




Pain is a major concern, and shouldn't be ignored if your goal is to complete a multi-day tour at altitude in June. It sounds like you have amazing endurance - doing long rides like 100 milers and completing them for over a decade. It's also amazing that you endure such neck, wrist, and back pain. Let's have a look at some causes, some solutions, and a change to your regime to get you riding pain-free.

As you may have read in other questions I have answered (Pain in the Neck, in Voler archives 2008), I am adamant about perfecting your position on the bike. Even if you are out a few millimeters, multiply that by 90 rpm x hours of riding (ex. 6 hrs/day) x 7 days = 226,800 pedal strokes you are facing! So, it adds up. What you describe is classic of a faulty bike set-up - back, wrist, and neck pain are all symptoms of poor bike posture. It sounds to me like your bars could be too low, stem too long, drops too deep, handlebars too wide, and/or seat tilted nose down. Am I right on any of these? Any misalignment would upset the balance of your three contacts on the bike: seat, feet, and hands. In your case, your pelvis could be tilted forward, placing more pressure forward onto your wrists, and, subsequently, more strain to lift your head up high enough to see. So, first thing, a good hard look at your bike position is in order. While you are at it, check your helmet fit. It shouldn't interfere with vision. A more aerodynamic and lighter lid will lighten the wind resistance your neck has to push against too.

It will take your body time to adjust to any position changes, so cut back in training for at least 3 weeks while you adapt. This would also be the time to get massages, try active-release, even acupuncture, to get the trigger points of your old injuries to relax. The goal would be to be pain-free during and after light rides. What you have could easily be classified as overuse injury, so while you may not like having to take time out, it's what's required to correct the problem.

Once you are pain-free, I recommend starting core-strength training to get your body ready to hold itself up with muscles, not leaning on your bones. Your massage therapist or chiropractor will be able to help identify what is tight and needs stretching and what is weak that needs strengthening. There are some awesome, simple body-strength exercises you can do at home. I really like the "plank" position exercises. The November 2008 issue of Bicycling Magazine depicts two. Check the Voler archives for the 2006 article, Backache in the Saddle Again, for some excellent cycling exercises. You'll need to tap into all the lower back and abdominal moves you can find. Pilates has worked wonders for me; some people swear by yoga. For your neck pain, you can do some gentle stretching, moving your head side-to-side and tucking your chin down. You will need to commit to a stretching and strengthening routine, even if it cuts into your riding time. You'll benefit from pain-free riding, and muscles that respond with ease.

Another thing to consider is the type of bike you are riding. If you are not already riding carbon, I think, especially for your endurance events, the investment would be worth it. I can attest to the relief found in the dampening effect that carbon fiber affords. Try adding clip-on tri bars. Having as many different hand positions as possible would reduce positional fatigue.

Regarding riding at altitude, as you may already know, day 4 or 5 at altitude usually feels the worst. So, I would try to arrive in Colorado in advance to get through the rough period before your event. If not, mentally prepare for lethargic feelings or sleeplessness with alternative, positive thoughts to go with exhaling, standing up out of the saddle, or stretches like heel drops. The idea is to do something to make you feel better while choosing a positive thought to go with it. Now stretch and say, "I will complete the BTC feeling free and easy." Ahh!


blog comments powered by Disqus

New to Cycling? Voler has you covered with training tips and gear to get you started.  Find out More