This time, though, I was indoors, at Pilates on Fifth in Manhattan, strapped into a contraption with lipstick-red ropes and slings hanging from the ceiling. The setup resembled a sleekly designed medieval torture chamber, but I wasn't deterred: I've done my time in the gym. I can out-rep (usually) and outrun (at times) most. Yet I found myself flat on my back, legs splayed, at a loss, as my trainer asked me to lift my hips off the ground.
"Lift? With what?" This was my first attempt at Redcord, the Norwegian workout offered in more than 80 percent of gyms in Norway and a favorite of Swedish models. Not that I'm expecting to get Elin Nordegren's physique, but the fact that the latest fitness import is a go-to for top athletes who've trained on it at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York, means it's no joke.
At least in my total initial failure, I was in good company. "The first time I tried it, I did only five reps," confesses Sara Studebaker, America's top-ranked biathlete, with a laugh. According to her trainer, Peter Toohey, "Every Olympian, the strongest, the fastest — they all fail on the system initially. Guaranteed."
The reason, explains Redcord guru Michael Torres, is that most exercises let us cheat. It's easy to churn out reps without engaging our core or using a stronger side to compensate for a weaker one. Over time, the neglected muscles weaken and can't respond when the brain signals them to move. When life throws us a curveball like a wet sidewalk, which requires a strong core to avoid injury, our brain screams, "Help!" but our muscles are too slow to respond. Redcord sharpens the brain-body connection.
For a gymnast, Redcord can target the muscles needed to stick tricky landings. For a skier, it can diagnose if one side is weaker to smooth out turns and jumps. (For the average person, it can also be used for rehab post-injury or for chronic pain.)
Personally, I was after stronger abs and a better butt. So we stuck with the basics, like a squat while attached to various pulleys. Easier said than done: With one ankle looped comically behind me, my arms strapped above me, the ropes shook uncontrollably. I persevered for the next few weeks, working out parts of my body I had naively thought were already in shape.
I thought I knew proper push-up form. With Redcord, we refined my technique so that I was working exactly the right muscles, with a bungee slung under my belly for assistance. As I got stronger, Torres lowered the bungees, until eventually I was almost doing a perfect push-up without any help at all. Improvement comes from doing more reps and repositioning the cords.
By my fifth session, I succeeded in repeating the initial butt-lifting exercise with far less rope-quivering. For fun, I tried the "Mission Impossible" — a move in which each limb is suspended by a rope, and, in my case, the core is supported by a sling. First, I balled up, knees to elbows. Then I busted out my arms and legs into an X, like Tom Cruise (in theory). I'm told that the exercise literally uses every muscle — and while my brain doesn't yet comprehend where each of them are exactly, I'm tapping into them all, simply by trying to keep the ropes still. It's the kind of exercise normally done by an elite soccer player looking to nail midair bicycle kicks. Perhaps one day I'll do one of those — or not. For now, I'm happy to walk taller, feel stronger, and make it down the block confident that I can manage just about any curveball life throws at me.
Marie Claire Newsletter
Celebrity news, beauty, fashion advice, and fascinating features, delivered straight to your inbox!
Your Guide to the Best Affordable Gifts to Scoop Up This Season
Introducing the ultimate holiday cheat sheet.
By Anneliese Henderson
'Sweet Home' Will Return for Its Third and Final Season Very Soon
Fans of the monstrous K-drama won't face another three-year wait.
By Quinci LeGardye
Jennifer Lopez Is Leading the Chunky Sneaker Comeback
Dust off your Balenciaga Triple-S and Nike Air Forces.
By Kaitlin Clapinski
Senator Klobuchar: "Early Detection Saves Lives. It Saved Mine"
Senator and breast cancer survivor Amy Klobuchar is encouraging women not to put off preventative care any longer.
By Senator Amy Klobuchar
How Being a Plus-Size Nude Model Made Me Finally Love My Body
I'm plus size, but after I decided to pose nude for photos, I suddenly felt more body positive.
By Kelly Burch
I'm an Egg Donor. Why Was It So Difficult for Me to Tell People That?
Much like abortion, surrogacy, and IVF, becoming an egg donor was a reproductive choice that felt unfit for society’s standards of womanhood.
By Lauryn Chamberlain
The 20 Best Probiotics to Keep Your Gut in Check
Gut health = wealth.
By Julia Marzovilla
Simone Biles Is Out of the Team Final at the Tokyo Olympics
She withdrew from the event due to a medical issue, according to USA Gymnastics.
By Rachel Epstein
The Truth About Thigh Gaps
We're going to need you to stop right there.
By Kenny Thapoung
3 Women On What It’s Like Living With An “Invisible” Condition
Despite having no outward signs, they can be brutal on the body and the mind. Here’s how each woman deals with having illnesses others often don’t understand.
By Emily Shiffer
The High Price of Living With Chronic Pain
Three women open up about how their conditions impact their bodies—and their wallets.
By Alice Oglethorpe