My entire cycling life I've struggled with back pain. I've been to chiropractors, osteopaths, massage therapists, bike fit specialists, everyone imaginable. And yet there it is, always flaring up just as I start to put the pressure down. It doesn't stop me from doing so, but it's pretty uncomfortable.
On Monday I mentioned it to my trainer at the gym, Peter. He asked me a few questions about when it occurs, and then suggested the problem wasn't in my back itself, but rather in my pedaling technique. In his typically disdainful tone he told me, "Pedaling isn't about pushing down, Brendan. It's a circular motion. Drag your feet and it will engage your glutes and hamstrings, taking the pressure off your hips and back."
Tuesday and Thursday of this week I had big ring hill repeats to do - or, as I like to call them, Grinders. In the past I've had to lay down for an hour or so afterwards, just to get my back right again. But on neither day was this the case. The low cadence work gave me the chance to really concentrate on my action, and with each revolution I reminded myself to drag the ball of my foot across the bottom of the pedal stroke. And while my back still flared up a little bit, the pain was dramatically lessened. As an added bonus, Pete's way seemed a little more efficient - certainly the numbers seemed better when I was doing things his way.
I get a bit excited sometimes, and start thinking that this new thing I've discovered is going to make me a much better cyclist. Sometimes my natural cynicism gets overwhelmed by my desire to succeed at this ridiculous pastime. I'm pretty sure that pedalling better isn't going to win me any races, but if it can stop my back from hurting while I'm out climbing hills, well, that's a win in itself.