The triathlete's back workout

Your chest muscles get plenty strong via multisport training, but you can't neglect your back.

If you want to be a better triathlete, you've got to put your back into it. Here's why: Biking and swimming tend to over-strengthen your chest muscles, pulling shoulders forward—and hunching over a computer at work only exacerbates the problem. The tighter your chest becomes, the weaker your back. “When we constantly move in only one direction and use only one pattern the opposing muscles become weak,” says Cooper Mann, a Tier 3+ trainer and USA Triathlon-certified coach in New York City. “Strengthening—as well mobilizing—your back will translate into more power and speed.”

To test the tightness of your shoulders and lats, Cooper suggests placing your body flat against a wall from tailbone to the back of your head. Your feet can be out in front of you with soft knees. Place your hands at your side with palms facing hips. Keep your elbows straight and try to touch the wall above your head with your thumbs without letting your back or shoulders come off of the wall. Is there any pain or discomfort? Does one arm go further than the other? Can you keep your back against the wall?

Mann uses the exercises and stretches below to help athletes balance out and strengthen their upper bodies. These moves require packing your lats and retracting your shoulders to counteract rounded shoulders.

(1) Wide-Grip Rows
Sit on a bench with shoulders back, back straight, feet planted and knees slightly bent. Using the wide grip bar, hands should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Engage core and keeping body upright, pull bar to sternum, pause and return to start. Do 2 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

(2) Lat Pull-Downs
Sit at a lat-pulldown station, body upright and core engaged. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Without moving your torso, pull the bar down to your chest as you continue to squeeze your shoulder blades. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. Do 2 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

(3) I, Y, and Ts
For “I”, lie facedown on floor or stability ball and pull shoulder blades back and down. Keep elbows straight, extend arms straight and squeeze shoulder blades together as tight as you can as you lift thumbs towards ceiling. Try to keep your spine and neck straight. Lower back down to the floor. Do 2 to 5 sets of 10 reps. To do “Y,” extend arms at a 45-degree angle above head. To do “T,” extend arms straight out to side.

(4) Wall/Floor Angels
Lie on the floor or lean against a wall, flattening your back from tailbone to the top of your head. Press the backs of your hands and forearms against the wall or floor. Slide your arms above your head, keeping them pressed into the floor or wall. When you've reached a moderate stretch, slide arms back down to starting position. Do 2 to 5 sets of 10 reps.

(5) Twist
Start in table position on your hands and knees. Place left hand on your lower back with palm facing ceiling. Look over your left shoulder and twist toward the ceiling. Keep hips level and don't lean or wobble. To help keep your hips steady, place a foam roller across your calves and sit back onto it. Switch sides and repeat. Do 2 to 5 sets of 10 reps.

Get the best triathlon-specific core exercises here.