Sometimes triathlon seems like it's all about the legs.
The photos I took of myself after my iron distance triathlon shows my back ... well, pretty ripped. People asked me if it was from all the swimming. I don't think it was. First of all, photos of Olympic swimmers' backs don't look the same as my back did. But more importantly, I never swam for power. Triathlon swimming is all about efficiency and conserving energy ... at least at the age group level. I was never out to win the swim, so I rarely swam hard enough to call on my back for real power and muscle development.
My back was well muscled after a season of training long because that's what it takes (and what you get from) staying in the aero position for a long time, particularly on a bike with a pretty aggressive position. On my old road bike with clip on aero bars, even in the aero position, I'm not exerting a lot of effort to keep my head down. In fact, the clip-on aero bars feel more comfortable than riding with my hands on the brake hoods, or down in the "drops" (the curvy part) or sitting up with my hands on the top of the handlebars. But once I graduated to a tri-bike, where the handlebars were at or below the level of the seat, it took a lot more from my body to stay aero for long periods. At first, it just felt unsteady. Once I conquered that, it just made me uncomfortable. The saddle was uncomfortable, my arms hurt, my back hurt, and my neck hurt from holding my head up enough to see in front of me.
Over time, these things all faded away, but what I learned from it was the importance of core strength in being able to stay in the aero position for an hour, two hours, even six hours. Now at the beginning of the season when I first start riding outdoors and actually need to lift up my head and the weight of the helmet, I can feel the difference. On the trainer, I'm not wearing a helmet, and I can let my head hang down.
I also find that if I tighten my core on purpose while on my bike, I can feel my position change for the better, and my back and shoulders feel more at ease.
Here at BT, we are firm believers in the important of strength and core training, both in the off-season and, sometimes, as part of training plans leading up to a race. It's even more important for beginners, who might have weak areas they need to develop in order to avoid injury. Core strength is important for running and swimming, too. But many people don't think about it on the bike.
A full explanation of the strength and core abbreviations you might see in your training plan are available here:
Core and Strength Article
In addition, we have six distinct core training circuits. You can use just Core #1 or Core #2 over and over, or use the ones recommended in your training plan, or move through the series for variety. These were developed by professional coaches, and have photos and videos to accompany them, so you'll know how to do the exercises correctly.
Add core fitness to your training, and you might be surprised how much longer you can stay aero!
Editor at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.