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Long time biker, few year single track mountain biker. Summer 2012 was my first year with a road bike (BMC). Looking to do everything from centuries to crits to racing....IF AND WHEN I can solve this lower back pain issue.

After about an hour on the road bike, my lower back kills and I have to head home. Standing up on the pedals helps and getting off the bike helps but as soon as I hop back on, hurts again. Somethin about that one hour mark.

My question is, what are the chances that my issue is a weak core vs. lack/need of getting a professional fit done. Don't wanna drop the cash on a fit if the lack of core strength is the entire issue. Or do you think it's the combination of the two? I don't want to insult anyone but how is the bike shop going to play with the fit more than I can on my own with my own tools (speaking strictly fitting in regards to comfort)?

Thanks, any advice is appreciated!

-Alex

PS. I know all the importance and the discussion of fits that goes on on this forum. Would like to know how/if fit and core strength are related....
 

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Of course they're related.

When you pedal, you generate power by pushing the pedals down in front harder than in back. That generates some torque that tends to lift your torso. Imagine that something is supporting your hips and your core is totally slack. You'd flop down on the handlebars unless you supported yourself on your hands.

Actually, I don't know that I'd expect that to be the problem. But whatever, it's just a general illustration.

I paid for a fit a while ago. I think that there were two really valuable things I got out of it. The "stupid me" one was that in paying someone to look at my fit, I had to give him a sense of authority, and listen to him about how I should have set my bike up. I'd had some preconceptions that were counterproductive, and were stopping me from finding my own way to a good setup. The other big thing is that when we ride bikes, we can't see ourselves. I bet when you see other cyclists, a lot of them look funny to you. How do you know that you wouldn't look funny to you? Someone with some experience can have a lot of insight looking at you riding, but it's really hard for you to get that perspective. My fitter saw some stuff that I didn't know to look for and asked a lot of questions that I didn't necessarily know to ask. We also tried a few different setup changes relatively close to one another, which can be hard to do outside a shop.

So if you're ready to take a prescription from some random dude on the internet, here are my two things for you to do. First, if you're not doing core work, start. I clocked myself this morning. I think I spend about four minutes a day on it, and that seems to be enough. I just need to actually do it. Second, if you haven't taken a systematic approach to dialing in your bike yourself, try it. I think that this process will either get rid of the need for you to see a fitter or sell you on the need, one or the other. Here's an article I like a lot.
How to Fit a Bicycle

Sheldon Brown (RIP) has a lot of good articles on his site, too, working from the direction of eliminating pain rather than building a good fit from the ground up. I think they both arrive at the same place, but I think Sheldon's articles would work better for someone with a fairly good fit roughed in, while Peter White's is written to do in order, from the ground up.
Bicycling and Pain

How long are your off-road rides? To be honest, I think my tolerance for time in the saddle is pretty similar between road and mountain biking, but they hurt in different ways as I get tired and start to push my endurance. But a difference in how long you can do the two disciplines or how they hurt you as you get to your time limit may give you some insight too.
 

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Working your core is a good idea even if by chance it doesn't relive your back pain, because it will make you a stronger rider.

Read this: How to Avoid Lower Back Pain While Cycling | Cycling Injuries | ACTIVE | Active.com
And: Cycling and lower back pain - Tri247
And this: 3 Stretches To Prevent Bicycle Low Back Pain - Carson City Personal Trainer - YouTube
And finally this: Bike 101 - Back Pain

If you notice all these sites focus on the core. Do this stuff first before taking the bike into an LBS for a pro fit because almost 50% of the time pro fits don't work, but 100% of the time a pro fit will help to eliminate that full wallet feeling that most of us dread; and 99% of the time lower back pain is eliminated with core workouts.
 

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Lacking core strength and lower back pain are definitely linked, but that's not a guarantee that fixing the core issue will alleviate your lower back pain. More times than not, there are a combination of factors at play, including:
- anatomical issues
- fit issues
- bad form
- saddle

I think your question on what a pro fitter will do using (basically) the same shop tools you have has been answered above, and (no offense meant) would add that you likely have neither the experience nor the 'finesse' that a reputable fitter has.

You don't say much about your history, specifically, if you've ever been properly fitted (when your bike was purchased). If not, you've essentially been 'winging it' since you started road riding last summer. If true, I'd suggest a standard fitting from a reputable shop before opting for the pro fit, along with building core strength and looking at improving your form.

Good point made to look at your off-road experiences. Might help you narrow the cause(s) with your road bike. Depending on how much you rode last summer, you may still be acclimating to the road riding position (and road riding in general).

Lastly, doing some stretches while riding (and safe to do so) can sometimes help. On a flat, straight stretch of road I manage to:
- look left/ right, roll/ rotate my head (loosens neck muscles)
- sit up, roll my shoulders forward/ back
- left hand on bar, stretch right arm back
- right hand on bar, stretch left arm back
- stretch left/ right at the waist - alternate hand on the tops

Takes some practice, but IMO/E serves to loosen the lower back/ upper torso.
 

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How are your hamstrings? I know from experience that if they are tight, your seat needs to be lower or you will have BAD lower back pain in a hurry. Fitters, the seat height equations, knee angle methods, etc you commonly see ALL place the seat too high for someone with tight hamstrings.

I highly recommend googling Steve Hogg's method of setting the seat height, which is done by feel.
 

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I had lifted weights for about 4 months before getting on the road bike, and I acclimated in one week without any issues. I think doing some squats and deadlifts will help you out real quick. You don't have to go all heavy, just enough to give you a good workout and toughen your core.
 

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As far as I know your core consists of the lower back and your abs so yeah, lower back issue is a core issue. The solution for me was to get a pro fit done that was geared towards enhancing core strength. As I gained strength, the fit changed with it and finally settled on where I am these days.

The people that did my fit, charged me once then had me come in once a month to keep making small incremental changes to the fit for a few months while I evolved as a road rider. Bike fit changes with your core fitness level.
 

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As the others have said, work on your core first. I have similar problem that about one hour into my ride my lower back begins to hurt and by the second hour the pain is gone. Since the pain went away further into the ride and when I got off the bike, I assumed (correctly) that I wasn't dealing with an injury. I spoke with PT about this and his suggestion was to simply take a mild pain killer (500mg Tylenol) at the start of the ride. This simple treatment has solved the problem for me.
 

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I highly recommend googling Steve Hogg's method of setting the seat height, which is done by feel.
I've set all my bikes I have and have ever owned by feel. Usually takes about 2 weeks to get it right. But my body isn't particularly picky about every mm either. I have frames from 55 to 58 and got all them to fit just fine without a fitter.
 

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For what it is worth, I recently purchased a new bike. After riding for about an hour or so, I developed lower back pain, which I never had on the previous bike. I did read up on core exercises and have just started doing them. I also decided on getting the pro fit from a LBS fitter who was highly recommended (and was a member of an Olympic cycling team.....had $60 discount too!!! After the fitting and the adjustments there is a 3 mm difference from the original fit (saddle, swap out stem, etc.). All in all, the lower back pain has gone away. It may be a combination of the core work out and the fit, but not sure I am doing the core exercise long enough for it to "take effect"...it's been a few days since starting. Also only have 2 rides of about 25 miles under my belt since the fitting, but all seems better. IMO, both have their benefits....one just cost a bit more!!!
 

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Thanks for the input guys. Could you chime in with your favorite core exercise?
deadlift (even with lightweight) beats any and all exercises.
Mix in some bent-over row to keep it fun.

You sound like you have a weak back, so work on this.

As for fitting, I don't believe in paying for a "pro fit" simply because I think the price is exorbitant. Online sources to fitting is already plenty info for you to rely on. Besides, there is nothing a pro fit can do to strengthen your back.
 

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I used to have lower back pain from tightness in my hips and nothing else. After hard efforts I have to do lunge type stretches or else my back tightens up and hurts.

Yoga type stretches will probably help too.
 
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