Going for (core strength) gains

As I work towards my long distance training goals I’ve recently realised that my core strength needs improving.

Pre-pregnancy I always had strong abs (even if they were at times rather padded!). Unfortunately the C-section incision which helped my breech baby come into the world also sliced through my lower stomach muscles and they’ve never really recovered. An emergency appendectomy 18 months ago didn’t help either.

I’m well aware of the benefits of efficient hip/core driven rotation in powering swimmers through the water on longer distances, but my now slightly squishy tum isn’t very good at performing this task, so it often feels like my hips and shoulders are playing catch up with each other rather than working on the same plane.

I do a little yoga and it has helped strengthen my core. But, as I’m hyper mobile, too much tends to trigger joint problems, particularly when over-zealous teachers ‘adjust’ me into extreme stretches.

I’ve tried pilates too, and I can tell some of the basic moves (such as the straight leg roll up) really do hit your core properly. However some just seem ridiculous. There have got to be better ways to work out than by lying on your side, grinning and repeating tiny non-functional movements that have literally NO USE.

Any sequence this supported will take hundreds of reps to have a measurable effect. In fact, I find most mat-based classes aimed at women boring and patronising. ‘Thighs, bums and tums’ classes can do one. Yes, it would be nice to have ‘amazing’ legs. But I’d rather be able to do a muscle up than be able to wear hot pants.




Choices, choices.

What to do about the old core strength problem then? The husband, somewhat bemused by a pilates video I was watching, suggested getting into rings.


Gymnastic ring training (and body weight training in general) has boomed thanks to peeps like BarStarzz and is the hubble’s preferred form of exercise.

I’ve fancied the idea of being able to do pull ups for a while now, ever since I saw a woman campusing at my local bouldering centre, so as we’ve already got the ring set up it seemed a good place to start.

As I can’t even do one pull up, I’m starting from a LOW base, but hey, I like a challenge, so here’s what I’ve been up to…

DAY ONE – Assisted pull ups


For my first day I did assisted pull ups with a hammer grip, which felt the most natural. If you want to have a go, loop resistance bands around your gymnastic rings/pull up bar and stand in them – you’ll need to hook your foot in and push down until the loop touches the floor.

The resistance bands need to be good quality (the fear of one breaking and smacking me in the face was real!) and heavy duty. These green ones are from MyProtein.com and take 23 to 54kg resistance as a pair – effectively this means they are taking this much weight out of the equation if you stretch them to their full extent.

Once you’re standing in the loops, pull up slowly from a hang (hold your shoulders into your body) and lower at least as slowly. The temptation is to bounce, which I think was how I managed to do 15 twice, before concentrating more on form and hitting a lower third set tally.

Three sets to failure is plenty, and with a minute in between you’re only looking at 5 minutes or so for the whole thing.


The other half decided day one had probably been too easy for me, so we moved onto negatives.

If, like me, you can’t manage a single pull up yet (I can get about half way), the problem is progression. How are you supposed to get better if you just can’t do it at all? Negatives are one answer.


Get up quickly by pushing off a chair or bench using one foot – it’ll need to be quite far in front of you so that you don’t catch it with your knees on the way down. Don’t jump up – this is cheating as you’re using too much momentum to get to the top of the motion.

Once you’re at the top don’t hang around too long. The key thing is to lower down in a controlled slow manner – this is what will challenge your muscles and help you work up to a full pull up.

To make it harder you need to go to the full range of the movement, so cross your ankles behind you and keep your shins parallel to the floor.

Don’t hang with shoulders locked out – you need to keep your muscles working all the way down to avoid over-extending the joint.

Our dog is looking at me like I’ve lost the plot, but I’ve always liked more extreme exercises, and I could really FEEL this stuff straight away. I managed about 6 negatives – filming and taking pictures is a bit distracting so I’m not entirely sure of my total.

Then we had a little play on the rings. I did gymnastics as a kid (the cause of some of my joint problems now) and had forgotten how fun it was to play.

This was the best bit and I can’t wait to try it again!

Shortly afterwards it was off to the pool for my Saturday morning tech set. I’m not sure whether thinking about my core so much earlier on had anything to do with it, but I definitely felt more connected to it and managed to knock out some fast (for me) sprints.

I’ll update when I’ve done a few more sessions but so far, so fun!

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