fitness, pelvic health

Why the ‘Squat Challenge’ Didn’t Give you a Better Booty

You’ve probably seen all of those ‘squat challenges’ floating around social media, selling a better booty with more squats, right? You may have even tried them, hoping that it might help correct the flatness your bum seems to have acquired over the last few years. You squat, squat, squat and still have a flat butt… What gives? Well the problem just may be a butt wink.

What exactly is a butt wink?

Well when you are performing a squat, and you lower down to the floor, for a lot of people their bum rolls underneath them and tucks as they get lower into the squat, rounding the lower back. This is referred to as a ‘butt wink’.

Why is this a problem?

Well the problem is three-fold.

First and foremost, when your bum tucks under, your glutes are virtually knocked out of action (hence why doing squats didn’t fix your flat bum). They are unable to fire appropriately in this position to help push your body out of the squat. This is bad. This is bad because your glutes are supposed to be one of the prime movers in a squat and if you are taking them out of the equation then you are forcing more work onto the quads and the anterior chain, which is already tight as a result of our sitting culture. We want to squat in a manner than balances all of the muscles in the lower body, the quads, hamstrings, glutes and even the calves.

Second, when your sacrum and pelvis roll under in a squat, this forces your spine out of ‘neutral’ and creates extension in the lumbar spine. Now, our spines are designed to flex and extend, but when doing a squat, this is not the action we are intending to strengthen and can cause problems like disc and ligament damage. No one wants to knowingly cause disc and ligament damage in their spine.

Third, butt winking or bum tucking shortens the pelvic floor, and bulges the anterior core or transverse abs. It puts the entire core into a less optimal position which prevents it from functioning the way it should. Squatting properly can strengthen the core, and you want your core stability system working optimally, especially when you start doing things like adding weight.

So I challenge you to either get in front of a mirror or take a video of yourself and see how your pelvis performs in a squat. Especially if you are doing squats with weight on your shoulders, like a typical barbell squat, as this can accentuate any butt wink you may have. Your spine and pelvis should remain aligned throughout the movement, with flexion occurring in the hips, knees and ankles.

Next, work on correcting the wink. The first step is to identify at what point your butt tucks under. Sometimes all it takes is to be mindful of this, and consciously keep your bum and pelvis in the right position. Sometimes your physical anatomy is working against you, not everyone’s hips are the exact same shape. Some peoples hip sockets face forward, some out to the side, some are shallow, some are deep, some have long femur necks, some short and these all affect how we get down into a squat. Try playing with your stance, widen your feet a bit, turn out your toes a bit, and see if this helps. Very rarely it is due to muscles that are too tight to allow that depth of squat with a neutral pelvis, but this isn’t often the case.

The last reason may be that you’ve been squatting improperly for so long that you are now imbalanced between the front and back of your body, usually the quads overpowering the hams and glutes. To overcome this, you can try squatting either with the weight in front of you, like a goblet squat, or using something to hold onto, like a TRX handle or doorframe and focus on putting your weight into your heels and trying to keep your shins as vertical as possible. Doing squats aided in this manner will force your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) to do more of the work, allowing them to strengthen and balance out the quads.

So next time you bring your ass to the grass, remember not to wink.

Your booty will thank you.

Why the

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fitness, pelvic health, postpartum, Self Care

Let go of the Ego

Let me tell you a story.

Doing my personal training classroom training, included a ‘fitness class’ for one hour at the end of the weekend. Our ProTrainer had the intention of teaching us some lessons beyond ‘how to exercise’ and she certainly did.

Now to clarify, at this point I was 3 months postpartum, had only had one session with my physio and wasn’t really supposed to be doing any sort of intense exercise. However, I love intense exercise, I am supremely competitive and cannot stand the thought of others thinking I was lazy or not ‘fit’ enough.

Before the class began, we were told ‘bring something with sugar in it, like fruit or juice. Do not bend over so your head goes below your heart at any point during the class, do not let your feet stop moving, and above all do not leave the room alone’.

I knew things were about to get serious.

I was excited. I hadn’t had what I would define as a ‘real’ workout in months. We get through the majority of the class, lot’s of squats and lunges and such, nothing I couldn’t handle. Then our instructor says “If you’ve had a baby, you’re going to hate me”.

Oh shit.

I literally JUST had a baby. This isn’t going to be good.

She coaches us to skip (without the rope). Continuously. For what seemed like forever.

Now for most of the class, this was an intense physical workout, that challenged their body and fitness.

For me it was mental.

I nearly broke down in tears during the class. She had taught us earlier in the course to ‘check our ego’. To not focus our training on ‘being the best’ or comparing our clients to anyone but themselves, and train them at the level they are at, not the level we think they need to be. It took every ounce of me to listen to that message for myself during that class.

You see, physically I definitely could have kept up with the class, no problem.

At the expense of my pelvic floor.

That could have easily been one of those moments you hear about where the woman leaves with soggy underwear, or worse, my uterus getting ready to fall out. But no one in the room knew that, all they could see was that I appeared as though I wasn’t trying. From the outside it looked like I didn’t care enough to push through the class, because I definitely wasn’t tired, and it was obvious.

This killed me.

I always prided myself on at least giving it my all. Busting my ass, so at least if I didn’t ‘win’ or keep up, at least I gave it my all when it came to anything physical. But this time I was faced with limitations. I had to have a frank discussion with myself:

Is this worth it?
Is ‘pushing it’ in this class with a bunch of people you may or may never see again worth potential life long damage? 
Is it worth sacrificing your body to prove something to these people who probably don’t actually give a shit?

And the answer was, obviously, no.

But it killed me. I hated that I couldn’t push through the discomfort. That I couldn’t just ignore what my physio said and jump until my calves gave out.

Eventually one of the assistants to the instructor came over and asked me if I was okay. “Are you leaking?” she asked. She knew. I explained I wasn’t but I was in physio and not willing to risk it, she understood and showed me some modifications to help me continue to participate without risking injury. It was at this point that I realized in my own embarrassment I had slowly moved to the back of the room. I was almost against the back wall, unconsciously hoping that no one would notice that I wasn’t fully participating. Trying to shrink back into the shadows and not allow myself to be seen as ‘unfit’ or not trying.

That was the moment I vowed to never allow any of my clients to feel like this. To never let them feel like they weren’t good enough to participate, or that their level of participation was inadequate. It was a terrible feeling that I hope I never invoke in anyone I am hoping to help. It was in that moment that I learned that training isn’t about the ego. It’s about where are you are here and now. Not where you were 6 months ago, where you were before you got pregnant, not where you were when you were 18. Right now. It’s about maximizing the abilities of your current body, today, in this moment. Some days, you might be able to bang out a circuit and feel like a rock star, other days the baby may have kept you up half the night and all you’ve managed to eat is a toaster strudel and a litre of coffee, and that same circuit feels impossible.

And that’s okay.

We have to learn to accept the here and now and forget about comparisons or being good enough. We can find balance between challenging ourselves and feeling inadequate because someone else can do it better.

We are strong even in our weakest moments.
We are enough today, tomorrow and every day.

 

Let Go of the Ego

Uncategorized

Slouching, Leaking and Mummy-Tummy

When I got pregnant and started the Fit2BirthMum program, I’ll admit I totally skimmed over all the ‘boring’ talk at the beginning about alignment and posture. I thought ‘ya ya, I have good posture, I don’t care about this crap’.

I thought.

Then I developed a diastasis and some pretty bad pelvic floor weakness postpartum and I started to pay closer attention. All of these #pelvicmafia people I followed talked so much about alignment. Initially I thought they were all kind of weirdly obsessed. I thought it was not important. But I see now how important it really is.

In order for your core to function properly, it has to be positioned properly. Think of it like this, if you wanted to look forward but you held your head tilted to the floor all the time, that would put quite the strain in your eyes, wouldn’t it? Same Idea.

So how does bad alignment make me leak or give me ‘mummy-tummy’? Well bad alignment can contribute to diastasis recti & total core dysfunction. Diastasis recti can contributing to that ‘bulging tummy’ look, and core dysfunction contributes to pelvic floor dysfunction which can result in leaking or incontinence.

Most people live out of alignment because our environment encourages this. We spend so much time sitting in chairs, on couches, on ‘cushy’ surfaces, that push our pelvis to be tucked underneath us. We also spend a lot of time looking down towards things like cell phones and computer screens, forcing our thoracic (upper) spine into an exaggerated curve, or kyphosis.

So how do I know if I am in good or bad alignment?

There are a few keys to check for. Stand sideways to a mirror, now rock your pelvis back (like you’re sticking out your butt) then forth (tuck your bum under), then relax, where does your pelvis sit within this spectrum? Do you feel like your lower bum is clenched when you are just standing? This is bum tucking. This forces your ‘pelvic bowl’ out of sync with your ribcage. The two need to be aligned in order to function properly. Now look at your ribs. Stand in what you think is ‘good posture’. Can you see the outline of the bottom of your ribs sticking out? Is your ribcage sitting on top of your pelvis? Think of it like a cylinder (transverse abs) with a bowl at the bottom (pelvic floor) and an upside down bowl on top (diaphragm). These three things need to be lined up kind of in the shape of a twinkie without tilts or twists in order for the piston system to work properly.Core model Your ribs need to be stacked vertically, with your lower ribs aligned with your hip bones on the front of your pelvis, with your pelvis neutral. I find it easiest to find my neutral pelvis first by sitting. Sit on a hard surface and rock your pelvis until you are sitting on your ‘sits bones’, now stand up while keeping that position. There should be a gentle curve in the lower back, but you shouldn’t force it. It’s a happy medium between an over-arched lower back and a tucked bum. At the end of all of this your head, shoulders, hips and ankles should all be stacked vertically on top of each other.

A few bonuses of living in good alignment, besides better core function. For one, you just look better! With your ribs and hips aligned, your tummy will appear smaller and with your pelvis in neutral instead of tucked under, your bum won’t look as flat or saggy. And who doesn’t want to look better without even stepping in the gym?

Now I realize, it is difficult to understand this concept through words alone. I tried my darndest to take photos of myself in the positions I described, but I just couldn’t get it to turn out the way I wanted to, dammit! However, Julie Weibe does an excellent job of helping you find your perfect alignment in her program The Pelvic Floor Piston: Foundation for Fitness. I had my alignment ‘lightbulb moment’ while going through this program at home, and I hope you will too!

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While I am in the process of obtaining my PT certification with prenatal/postpartum specialization, I’m not quite there yet. Even then, I won’t be able to help everyone, but I don’t want that to hold you back from reaching your goals. My lovely friend Lorraine Scapens over at Pregnancy Exercise has most generously offered to give my readers a 10% discount on her programs that I used when pregnant and still use postpartum; Fit2BirthMum & Birth2FitMum as well as her other programs Super Fit Mum & No More Mummy Tummy Challenge. Simply enter the discount code ‘HMHB‘ at checkout to get your 10% off!

Birth, fitness, Pregnancy, Uncategorized

What I Learned From my Labour & Birth

They say hindsight is 20/20.

39 weeks
Me in early labour at 39 weeks pregnant!

I thoroughly believe that is true. Looking back at my labour and birth of nugget nearly 6 months out, there are a few things I would have done differently, if I had the chance. This doesn’t mean I regret anything. I did the best I could with the knowledge I had at the time, but I also believe that it’s smart to take every experience you have and try to learn something from it.

  1. I wouldn’t have pushed so early
    As soon as I felt the urge, I pushed. It felt good, so I kept doing it. Looking back now, I think I was just over excited and should have let my body and my uterus do more of the work before I started actively participating. Even when a woman is not actively pushing, your uterus is still working to bring baby down with each and every contraction. I would have focused more on ‘breathing baby down’ or breathing through contractions and allowing them to do their work and conserving my energy for the work of actively pushing later on.
  2. I would have squatted more during labor
    I honestly have absolutely no idea why I didn’t do this. Squatting during labour helps open the pelvis and relax the pelvic floor, allowing baby to come down more easily. I prepared by squatting throughout my pregnancy, I knew that squatting in labour was beneficial, but for some absurd reason it did not pop into my head once to squat during labour. I think maybe I had it in my head that squatting should be reserved for pushing, but even then I didn’t think of it.
  3. I would have paid better attention to my posture
    All day in early labour I was so keen. I stayed in alignment, made sure I was giving my baby the best passage through, until I got into the birth tub. For some reason as soon as I got in there, I sat back on my sacrum (re: slouched) and I believe that influenced nugget bumping into my pubic bone on his way out. I also started out pushing in this position, which when I think back was actually a terrible idea!
  4. I would have slept!!
    Man, I wish I had slept more in early labour. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and stayed awake until 9 the next morning after he was born, with the exception of a few very short naps. I had it in my head that labour was going to be quick and didn’t let myself relax. I was also worried if I got too relaxed, labour wouldn’t start and I would have to be induced. Being induced terrified me, so that was always in the back of my mind.
  5. I would have paid closer attention to my body
    Going into labour I thought I was very body-aware. Now, thinking back, I don’t remember feeling the baby move down. I was shocked when my midwife told me how low he was because I didn’t feel it. I don’t remember feeling my contractions move him down until he was crowning. I don’t remember feeling my pelvic floor, whether it was relaxed or not. I would have put more mental effort into concentrating on how everything felt and how it was changing as I progressed.
  6. I would have seen a women’s health physiotherapist prenatal
    Now this isn’t essential, however I believe it would have dramatically helped me connect with my transverse abs and pelvic floor while I was pregnant to better prepare them for labour and postpartum. It probably would have also made me realize that I had a tight pelvic floor and allowed me to work on releasing that tension before I went into labour.
  7. I would have moved more in the later stages
    If I had known how much of a difference getting up and walking out to my car and contracting in those awkward positions would have made, I would have done it so much earlier! If I had known possibly hiking up and down the stairs even one time would have helped nugget sneak past my pubic bone and stop that excruciating pain I would have done it in a second. My midwife said later she thought about suggesting it, but didn’t think I would have been very receptive to the suggestion, which may or may not have been true.
  8. I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself
    As soon as my water broke, it was game on. I was raring to go. I’ve never been much of an endurance athlete and that was totally reflected that day. I wanted things to happen and I wanted them to happen NOW. I happened to be wearing my FitBit and I recorded nearly 60 stories of stairs walked that day! Looking back, instead of basically climbing a mountain worth of stairs, I should have rested, relaxed, and let my body do it’s thing.

I hope you can learn a bit from the things I would do differently if I had the chance. I’m hoping I will remember this when it comes time for nugget #2 and I can have the homebirth I dreamed of the first time around. I can only hope that my words and experience will help even one other woman takes steps towards having the birth that she hopes for, whatever that looks like.

what I learned

fitness, motherhood, pelvic health, postpartum, Self Care

Why I’ll Never Tell You to do Crunches

When I started my PT training, I learned that one of the exercises I needed to  perfect for my practical exam was the crunch (or abdominal curl up).

I was annoyed.

I hate crunches, doesn’t everyone?

But I hate them for reasons other than they suck to do. I hate them because they aren’t very functional, and they usually do more harm than good. And guess what? They probably aren’t doing anything to help you flatten your stomach, especially if you’re postpartum and have a diastasis recti (DR). They also can wreak havoc on your spine and your pelvic floor. Bet you didn’t know that either?

A lot of women with DR experience a ‘belly pooch’ or feel as though they still look pregnant weeks (or months) after birth. So they think, I just need to train my abs to suck that tummy in, so they get on the floor and crunch, crunch, crunch until they cannot crunch anymore. And they still  have a pooch, or sometimes it even gets worse! This is because DR is the thinning of the linea alba down the middle of the abs. The linea alba is the line of connective tissue that all of your abdominal muscles attach to, and it runs vertically from your ribs to your pubic bone, between the rectus abdominus, or 6-pack muscles. When you crunch, you increase your intra-abdominal pressure, pull on all of those abdominal muscles, and increase the tension on the linea alba. If it is already weakened, such as in DR, then you are just adding to the damage. If you’ve ever done a crunch and noticed a bulge in the middle of your belly, that’s your linea alba failing to support the pressure inside your belly.

So if this pressure can affect the linea alba, it only makes sense that it also affects the pelvic floor. In my previous post I talked about the pelvic floor being a trampoline that is stretched out postpartum. Which means, if your pelvic floor is already stretched and weak, then it will have a difficult time supporting the increased abdominal pressure created with crunches and it will delay the healing of the pelvic floor. This puts you at an even higher risk of incontinence or prolapse.

Now, my goal is to encourage women to focus on rehabilitation and training their body postpartum to be as highly functioning as possible. But, I know realistically, a lot of women will also have goals relating to their appearance, and that’s okay. The good news is repairing a DR will help in both because not only will it help your core function better, it will help reduce waist size, or that ‘mummy pooch’, which I know a lot of women struggle with.

I know I felt like my whole life changed so drastically after nugget was born, all I wanted was to feel normal in my body, to have that be one thing that was the same. So I get it, I understand wanting your clothes to fit and wanting to feel attractive to your partner. It doesn’t make you vain to feel this way. What I don’t agree with is sacrificing function in order to look a certain way, I believe we can have both! It might take a little more time and we have to let go of that ‘training ego’ that says we have to do crunches or whatever, because there are better ways of doing things.

The key to tummy is the transverse abdominus (TA), or the deepest ab muscles and learning how to engage them properly. Most people have difficulty connecting with these muscles without engaging their more superficial core muscles like the obliques and the rectus. But if you’ve ever ‘sucked your stomach in’ the TA is what you are using. It is also important to engage your pelvic floor when you engage your TA as they work together, which I learned from The Pelvic Floor Piston: Foundation for Fitness when I did the program. The core muscles are a team and you have to train them together in order for them to function well.

Now you don’t have to be training to practice working with your core. The core is always on, always part of your daily movements. If you didn’t have your core, you wouldn’t be able to stand up or lift anything, or breath or cough. In fact, once you’re a mom, it’s even more important that you learn to engage your core through your daily activities. Think about how much you lift in a day, your baby, laundry, groceries. That’s all lifting! These are perfect opportunities to practice engaging your core and sneak little workouts in throughout the day. Think about lifting your PF and bringing in your TA every time you pick the little one up & every time you carry a load of laundry. Pretty soon you’ll get better and better at being able to feel those muscles and engage them appropriately. If you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing and can’t connect with those muscles no matter how hard you try, I encourage you to seek out a pelvic health physio in your area who can help you learn to use them properly.

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While I am in the process of obtaining my PT certification with prenatal/postpartum specialization, I’m not quite there yet. Even then, I won’t be able to help everyone, but I don’t want that to hold you back from reaching your goals. My lovely friend Lorraine Scapens over at Pregnancy Exercise has most generously offered to give my readers a 10% discount on her programs that I used when pregnant and still use postpartum; Fit2BirthMum & Birth2FitMum as well as her other programs Super Fit Mum & No More Mummy Tummy Challenge. Simply enter the discount code ‘HMHB‘ at checkout to get your 10% off!