I have a lot of cycling clients from recreational to elite (road cyclists, triathletes, duathletes) who complain about neck pain. This is a frequent problem among riders because of their long rides on the saddle coupled with their aero positions on their bikes. The head and neck are in constant extension for prolonged periods of time. During training rides and racing, the neck extenders (i.e. splenius capitis) become strong and potentially overdeveloped. Regrettably, this action can overpower the neck flexors leaving them weak and less active, like the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). The SCM is a muscle that flexes the neck, assists to elevate the ribcage during inhalation, laterally flexes the head and neck to the same side and rotates the head and neck to the opposite side. The SCM is extremely important in head and neck flexion.

Weak neck flexors (i.e. SCM) and strong neck extensors (i.e. splenius capitis) cause asymmetry, and overtime this creates misalignment in the spine producing pain. The Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls Upper Body Series and Quickfix Neck Video are a perfect neck exercise solution to get a cyclist’s sternocleidomastoid back in shape. I always provide simple ball rolling techniques and targeted SCM exercises to my cycling clients. Afterwards, they feel a whole lot better each and every time. Riding a bike shouldn’t be a pain in the neck. Ride smart by rolling and practicing sternocleidomastoid strengthening exercises.

Read about more exercises for cyclists.

Read about the perils of forward head posture.

Watch our neck pain exercise video on YouTube.

Kristin Marvin

From Ottawa, Canada, Kristin now resides in Perth, Australia; where, she is spreading the wonderful world of Yoga Tune Up®. You can contact her via www.kristinmarvinfitness.com.

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Marta Hanrahan

I completely agree! SCM can play a huge role in head aches especially after an WaD injury or MVA


Have been getting a lot of neck kinks out of nowhere recently. No having an understanding of the SCM I am going to focus on releasing my neck extensors and spend some time lengthening and strengthening my SCM. Understandings the action of the SCM in relation to the neck extensors, its a little more clear on where my neck pain could be coming from.


Really great information for cyclists or those who work with cyclists. My husband experiences neck pain and does have head forward position. He’s been working on his posture and strengthening his neck muscles, these are some good exercises to add to his toolbox. Thanks!


Great info, thanks. When I’m cycling indoors on my trainer or at a spinning class my neck is fine, since I don’t have to raise my gaze to see what’s in front of me. As soon as spring comes and I begin outdoor cycling, I notice my neck muscles feeling really tight. This spring I’m bringing my therapy balls with me on my long rides.

Dani Ibarra

Kristin, thank you for this great article. I have many older students with weak necks, the responses were also very informative. I tend to stay away from rolling my neck because it doesn’t feel good in my body but I will continue my research so I can skillfully bring this information to my students.

Susannah Nelson

Kristin, I have Cyclists clients as well as other who habitually over use there neck extenders( splenis capitus ) in having a forward head posture who will benefit from doing the work you suggest below to bring balance from either being on a bike or sitting hunched over a computer!! as you say the imbalance of weak neck flexors sternocleidomastoid (i.e. SCM) and strong neck extensors cause asymmetry, and overtime this creates misalignment in the spine producing pain. We all dislike pain !! By working on the SCM & on the anterior part of the neck, chest wall is a… Read more »


Kristin, thank you for your clarity and your responses to others questions. I was curious if you also experience people who do not engage the neck extensors enough when riding because of a tight SCM or over active traps, clavicle breathing, or tension in the jaw. I have noticed a few cyclist friends of mine with a forward head position and a higher lordosis at the cervical spine. Also would love for you to comment on TMJ in cyclists.


I read your blog with great interest even though I’m not a street bike rider. However, spinning classes at my gym are very popular. No matter how many ways I adjust my seat and handlebars – even with the help of the instructor – it’s rarely an enjoyable event. Now that you’ve pointed out the problems with the neck, I intend to talk to some of my friends who bike (indoors and out) frequently. Maybe they’re suffering in silence.

YTU Teacher, Heal Thyself | Yoga Tune Up

[…] all those balls in the air. Between design jobs, practicing, teaching, taking care of my family and cycling, it is challenging.  Last fall, I was asked to part of a cycling team […]

Neck Pain: Blame it on Your Splenius Capitis! | Yoga Tune Up

[…] Discover neck pain exercises for cyclists. swfobject.embedSWF("http://www.youtube.com/v/AeoDhKxI-OM&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=0", "vvq-2002-youtube-1", "640", "385", "10", vvqexpressinstall, vvqflashvars, vvqparams, vvqattributes); tweetmeme_url = 'http://www.yogatuneup.com/blog/2012/04/13/your-splenius-cappitis-can-be-a-pain-in-the-neckitis-can-be-a-pain-in-the-neck/'; Share Bookmark on Delicious About This Author Kristin is a school teacher living in Ottawa, Canada. After being introduced to Yoga Tune Up® just a few months ago she immediately fell in love with it! Kristin would like to help people get to know their bodies better in order to live healthier, more active lifestyles. In August she will be moving to Australia to teach Yoga Tune Up® full time. View RSS feed […]

alysa farrell

Being a Pilates Teacher ‘The Head Lift’ is a constantly under discussion…’to do or not do”, The fear literaly wrapped around even moving the neck is THE WHAT that brings them to a class but then once IN the class not Having theability to lift their head or even Lay their head DOWN unassisted is usually the WHY they stay or LEAVE! Yor article gives a quick consise explanation of how overworked tight neck extenders (i.e. splenius capitis) overpower the neck flexors leaving them weak and less active, like the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) AND instant Relief for them if a moment… Read more »

Heather C

Hi Kristin, I am just loving your posts as they are very pertinent to many of the people we work with as well as my own issues I struggle with as currently it is neck issues from biking amongst other contributors! I love the connection between the hip flexors and the traps! We did some YTU hip releasing exercises yesterday which then directly affected my neck issues in a positive way, so exciting!! I also think its vital to have a knowledgeable person help cyclist with an appropriate bike fit as well as proper bike mechanics. Often we are imbalanced… Read more »

Jocelyn Larson

Kristin I am a cyclist by day and night and a wishful yogi at heart! It is so hard to maintain balance and flexibility while constantly brutalizing your body! For instance I wrecked over my handlebars yesterday and who knows what true damage it really did to my body as a whole! As for neck extension, as a cycling intrustor I always tell my clients to keep their head in a neutral position try and keep your shoulders from elevating to your ears. This is were uneccesary tension occurs and when people experience neck pain. Ask them what the position… Read more »


I’m studying Yoga Tune Up as part of the 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Course. I have recently taken up cycling and have started to feel discomfort in my neck and back. Similar to the “Shoulder to the Wheel” article, this article is helpful in explaining how this happens and ways to help mitigate this.

Robert Veihman

Great article, and very enlightening replies. I’m sure this information could help anyone sitting at a desk for long hours or piano players, really anyone who might be slouching due to the extension of the neck needed to keep the head level.


Kristin, great article and great responses! I’m not a regular cyclist, but your postings are educational and useful for everyone. Your follow-ups are a good reminder that the body is highly interconnected, and that the source of pain may not necessarily originate from the region of pain. That interconnectedness, like a tight iliopsoas contributing to neck pain, is quite fascinating.


Thank you so much, Kristin. That is super helpful!


Chad, a lot of people may suffer from coccyx pain while cycling because their saddles are slightly tilted forward (wanting to alleviate pressure in the front). Unfortunately, this makes the saddle have more of a chance to touch the coccyx, which is exactly what people don’t want. Make sure your saddle is properly adjusted. The saddle needs to be hitting the ischial tuberosity (sitz bones) and never touching the coccyx. In addition, people think that having a saddle with more padding will lessen the coccyx pain; but it can make it worse, so be careful! In regards to actual exercises… Read more »

brooke thomas

I used to have chronic neck pain (um, for like the vast majority of my life), which I healed with Rolfing, and I thought I had bid it adieu for good as it was resolved for nearly 15 years, only to have it return as I returned to my bike in this last year. I’ve loved getting reacquainted with cycling, but I can’t really same the same regarding my neck pain. And as I meet more and more distance cyclists who have the “vulture” posture of extremely anterior cervicals, combined with a strongly kyphotic thoracic spine and scalenes and levator… Read more »


Taylor, thank you for the excellent question. I’m going to make an assumption based on what you wrote. You have a road bike or triathlon bike that has been properly fit for your body. This includes proper aeroposition in the saddle, arms on the aerobars, and proper leg alignment on the peddles. If these or just one of these is off (i.e. you are not properly aligned) then you can have increased neck pain regardless of what I tell you. Aside from the bike biomechanics, relaxed hands and arms makes a huge difference. Anytime you have a grip of death… Read more »

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When I was a cycling commuter, I would depress my shoulders (when I remembered) but my biggest issue was stress on my coccyx. Does anyone ever complain about that pressure? It was very painful. I know they have specially designed seats to take the pressure off that delicate area, but are there therapeutic ways to alleviate this pain?


Kristin, thank you for this insight! During my triathlon training I’ve experienced this exact issue – especially on the morning after long rides. I’m curious if there’s more that we can do WHILE riding to reduce some of the neck stress to start with. I’m not sure how the neck muscles are relating to the shoulders. I’m curious if retracting & depressing the shoulder blades would provide a bit of the lift needed, without making the neck do all the work? Any thoughts?