I am going through my 3rd bout of major lower back pain with tight glute muscles. I will admit that I stretch some, but surely not enough. My real question concerns my bike set up. Prior to getting into triathlon I was a runner in a previous life (20+ years ago) and then moved to cycling because of knee pain. As a "mostly cyclist" I cranked out longer rides without major issues.
Now in triathlon I have been trying to get an edge without going bankrupt. I have put aero bars on my road bike, a Lemond Chambery. After the 1st round of back issues I made to sure to get refitted on the bike, and sure enough I was put in a more upright position. With spring finally coming I have been getting some longer rides in with more time in aero position. After a ride last Saturday I was in terrible shape and still working my way out of it. My thought is that even with the refit, the aero bars are just not conducive for proper use on the road bike. Anybody have any thoughts? Should I stretch more and concentrate on core strength? Bite the bullet and get a tri bike? Take the aero bars off and look for hilly courses?
49 year old former marathoner just trying to stay in the game
Hmm....I have a similar background to you, except for the "mostly cyclist" phase. Forty-three, marathoning background, got into tris and thus cycling when I moved to Vietnam due to injury issues and heat. (Wanted an excuse to call swimming "training".) I don't think back pain is inevitable with a road bike and aerobars. I've never had back issues using my aerobars on my road bike. Granted, I haven't done IM or even HIM training with them (yet), but have done 2-3 hours rides almost entirely in aero. The only thing that ever bothered me was (at the start) my neck.
I'm guessing it's either bike fit and/or flexibility. I know the guy who fit my bike noted that my upper body's unusually flexible, probably due years of swimming, so I was able to handle a less upright position that a lot of beginners. I also have good core strength for a runner due to the swimming (lots of fly as a kid and even now sometimes) and lots of sit-ups. A strong core seems to help hold aero without straining one's back.
Not true of my hamstrings and glutes--those have caused me some grief when cycling and running, but aero doesn't usually make things worse--it's more a matter of tight muscles and scar tissue from some old traumatic injuries. I've found a lot of relief from deep-tissue massage and long, very simple stretches such as pushing my leg against a wall to stretch my hamstrings. I'm wondering if working on core strength (which would allow your back and glutes to take less of the load) and flexibility of your back, glutes, and hamstrings could be helpful. I saw a PT a few months ago after a crash aggravated my chronic glute/hamstring issues and he recommended some stretches which have really been helpful--might be useful to consult one in your case as it sounds like several muscle groups are involved.