Triathlete Talk: Thank The Plank


In a previous article, I spoke about the importance of strength training to prevent injury.  Let’s look at how developing a strong upper body (core) can help you to be a stronger swimmer and have better posture in the water.

During the last decade or so, the importance of having a strong core for faster swimming has become a lot more ubiquitious.  There are recommended core workouts to do to help improve all aspects of performance in your swim, including dolphin kicks for butterfly stroke and more explosive starts, especially if you are pool swimming.

A strong core will give you a powerful centre base from which you can pull, kick, and push through the water.  It will also help to keep you aligned in the water, by keeping your hips high.  Keeping your hips high reduces drag and improves efficiency.  Exercising and strengthening your core will help to keep your technique controlled, whether you are sprinting in the water or doing a steady paced set.

Many triathletes are obsessed with their kick. I was, for a while, until I realised that kicking in swimming has nothing to do with my feet.  In triathlon swimming, you kick with your abs and hips. Your foot’s job is to flex at the ankle and point backwards — think the opposite of what they do when you ride a bike.

In order to “make” my hips do this work, I needed to work on my core to give it strength and flexibility to drive me through the water.

Here are 7 core exercises that you can do to work that mid-section towards a solid base, while giving you more power and stability in the water.


Thank your Pilates teacher, time and time again.  If you don’t go to Pilates, then set yourself up at home, even before you get in the shower before work.  You can vary the way you do a plank too.  The traditional method is by doing the following:

  • Support yourself on forearms and toes. Keep your elbows directly below your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your abdominals and your butt to achieve a straight, powerful spine-line.
  • Beginners should aim for a 30 second hold. Increase in time as ability allows.
  • Your mid-section will try to sag towards the floor – don’t allow it! The point of the exercise is to keep your body in a firm line – including your head.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.


I remember this exercise from the 80s, as Jane Fonda thrust it out on her home exercise video tapes to the tunes of Michael Jackson.  Laugh not, as it is good for developing strength in your hip flexors, hamstrings, as well as your lower abdominals.

  • Get on your back, lay your arms down at your side.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor and raise your trunk towards the sky.
  • Stop when you have achieved a straight spine-line. Don’t over-extend.
  • Hold for a three-count, and slowly descend.

3. Superman

This exercise is fantastic for developing scapular stability i.e. developing and retaining good posture for your glutes and back.

  • Lay face down on the ground, arms straight above your head.
  • Tighten your glutes and pull in your belly button.
  • Lift your left arm while also raising your right leg. Hold for three counts. Now do the same but with the opposite arm-leg combo.
  • Don’t drop your arms and legs; you want a controlled movement
  • Then do with both arms and legs simultaneously

4. V-Sit Flutter Kicking

This one is a little more challenging. Depending on where you are currently at in terms of strength, you may want to start out with basic flutter kicking on your back. This exercise is tough, as it will challenge your lower back, hip flexors as well as taxing your abs.

  • Sitting on the ground start fluttering your legs up and down. Focus on making small kicks – as close as possible to your actual kicking motion.
  • Balance yourself and bring your arms above your head into a streamline position. Your body’s natural inclination will be to roll backwards – using your mid-section stabilize your body so that this doesn’t occur.
  • Try it also with a medicine ball


5. Cable Push/Pull

You will need a cable machine to make this work, or a couple of stretch cords. The push pull is great for developing rotational power with your trunk, which is especially helpful for you freestylers and backstrokers out there.

How to Do It:

  • Set up the cables; you can either do one up high and one down low (this more approximates the freestyle action), or position both cables so that they are chest high.
  • With one hand pull, and the other push. Make sure to focus on the rotation of the trunk, and not using your arms to push/pull the cables.
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6. Russian Twists

If there is just one core exercise that you should do, it should be this one.

The reason is that it requires you to be able to move your upper torso in a rotational manner, much like you do with the arm movement in freestyle. Being able to rotate quickly with power and control is critical.

Secondly, your core works to keep your legs extended and from swinging wildly back in forth, which also simulates the stable hip position you need to achieve when sprinting. Letting your legs and hips sway and slide leads to an inefficient and cork-screwing freestyle that causes drag and leaks power.

  • Park your fantastic triathlete’s derriere on the ground, raise your ankles off the ground, and lean back a little bit to balance yourself.
  • Using a medicine ball, dumbbell or even without a weight, turn your shoulders 45 degrees. Touch the mat with your hands. Now turn the other way. Repeat.
  • Perform the movement with control, not allowing your legs to flop or slide around.

7.  Roll-Outs

These are not an easy exercise to do if you do not have a strong core, and should be done with care and caution.

The principal of the exercise is simple enough—when you roll out, using an ab wheel, a barbell or a dumbell, your core goes into overdrive to keep your back from arching and collapsing.

Think of them as super planks.  If this exercise is too hard for you start with a planking routine and build your way up to roll-outs.)

Stronger Core – Thank the Plank!

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Remember, train where you’re at, not where you think you could be or should be.  Then build on that to a stronger, fitter you.


Louis Tharp – Total Immersion Swimming for some of the exercises