Neck and mid-back pain is another common complaint I get from cyclists of all ability levels.  I have noticed most of the athletes I coach experience neck and mid-back pain at the beginning of their first build phase, as their volume increases, or when we transition off of the trainers and back outdoors.  This is due to the amount of increased time spent with our heads looking down the road.  If our neck muscles are accustomed to riding for 1-2 hours and we increase our ride volume to 3-4 hours, you can bet those muscles will be sore and tired post-ride.  This is amplified if you spend the majority of the time riding in an aerodynamic position as the neck extension angle increases.

You can see from the above images what I am talking about; the cyclist on the left is assuming a traditional riding posture with relatively little neck extension compared to the cyclist on the right who really has to crank his head up to see ahead of him.  ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET!!!

How to stretch

  • Ideal best time to stretch statically is POST WORKOUT.
  • 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 side 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 neck/mid-back.  For maintenance, or if your neck/mid-back only hurts after an intense or long event/race, once a day is okay.

Pictures of my favorite stretches to help with neck and mid-back pain

Thoracic/Cervical Spine Mobility

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Position 1
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Position 2

Middle Back Stretch

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Lace your fingers together, reach your arms forward, spread your shoulder blades apart, and bring your head down.  You should feel a stretch in your middle back/neck.

Pectoral/Anterior Deltoid Stretch

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Lace your fingers together, bring your shoulder blades together, lift your hands off your buttocks as far as you can comfortably, and bring your head back.  You should feel a stretch in your chest, the front of your shoulders, the front of your neck, and possibly your biceps.

Latissimus Dorsi Stretch

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Reach both hands towards the ceiling, grab one of your wrists, and gently pull your arm towards the opposite direction while leaning your torso in the same direction.  Try not to stick your hips out, just bend the torso.  You should feel a stretch in your armpit area that may go down to your lower back depending on how tight you are.

Upper Trapezius Stretch

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Place your hand on your head and gently pull your head until a stretch is felt on the opposite side.  Remember to relax your opposite shoulder.

Levator Scapulae Stretch

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Turn your head and look down towards your hip.  Then place your hand on the back of your head and gently pull towards your elbow until a stretch is felt at the back of the neck.  This may go down to your middle back/shoulder depending on how tight you are.  An easy way to cue yourself to do this stretch properly is to imagine you are smelling your arm pit 🙂

For more information on GC Coaching and how we can help you improve your fitness, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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