fitness, pelvic health, postpartum, Pregnancy

Pregnancy is Temporary, but Your Choices Last Forever

Being avidly interested in perinatal fitness & a new mom myself, I come across a lot of advertising and social media posts about exercise in pregnancy and postpartum. I often find myself scrolling through the comments to see what the general consensus is on the latest (usually controversial) video or message is.

One comment that almost always crops up is:

“I did crossfit/ran marathons/did crunches/did what I always did when I was pregnant and my baby turned out perfectly fine”

And all I can think is you just don’t get it!

While there are definitely recommendations for exercise in pregnancy circled around maintaining baby’s health, Mom’s health is just as important!

(I know, groundbreaking stuff, right?)

When I (and many other well-educated fitness professionals) say maybe it isn’t the best idea to do crunches, or run long distances, or lift super heavy, I’m not saying this because I think you are putting your baby’s health at risk. I am saying these things because you are putting yourself, your body and your future function at risk!

Yes, you can powerlift (or sprint, or do jumping jacks, or whatever) when pregnant, and baby will probably be fine, and it might feel okay for you at the time, but should you? Probably not.

Something one of my idols in the fitness industry, Brianna Battles says regularly about exercise in pregnancy is:

Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
~Brianna Battles, Everyday Battles

It all circles back around to training with intention. When pregnant, a lot of women fear losing themselves when the baby comes (I know I did. I so did!) so they try to keep doing what they’ve always done and enjoyed through their pregnancy, as if to prove to themselves that they are the same! But, as much as you are the same, you are so not the same during (and after) pregnancy. You are growing a human! That is a big-freakin-deal! You need to respect that. You need to surrender yourself to the fact that as important your personal goals are, the priority should be keeping your body healthy and strong in this (so very short) chapter of your life.

There are so many more factors at play in the perinatal period when it comes to exercise and fitness. Hormones influence your connective tissues. A growing uterus influences center of gravity, balance and movement patterns. Diastasis recti influences core function and strength. The weight of baby on the pelvic floor influences it’s ability to respond appropriately (hello, pee sneeze – not normal!). So we need to take all of these things (and more) into account when training in pregnancy.

Yes, we can program exercise along the same lines you are used to and enjoy, they just might look a little different. The how of exercise is often more important than the exercise itself. It’s about strategy rather than just do’s and don’ts. If you follow Brianna (mentioned above) Jennifer Cambpell of Mama Lion Strong & Healthy Habits Happy Moms, or Jessie Mundell, or Julie Wiebe or Katy Bowman, they all preach ‘ribs over hips’ and keeping your ribs, spine and pelvis neutral.

[Side note: I would be literally nowhere if it wasn’t for all I have learned from following these amazing women and for their trail blazing in this field]

So, can you complete a heavy overhead press while 30 weeks pregnant? Yes. Okay, but can you do it while maintaining your ribs over hips, without your diastasis bulging, and without holding your breath? No. Then that exercise isn’t the best choice for you in this chapter of your life. If you say you are just going to do it because it feels fine to you, my next question is why? What is the value of continuing to do an exercise that maybe isn’t the best for your body at this point? Is it because you think you should be able to do it? Is it because you’ve seen other pregnant women do it and you want to look ‘badass’ like they did? Is it because you’re afraid of looking like a weakling or a failure who didn’t have the guts to go for it? Take a look inside yourself, and analyze why you feel you need to do a specific exercise or program. Is it worth the risk? Spoiler alert: putting your glory ahead of your future function is not badass and doesn’t take guts. You know what takes guts? Putting yourself first. Saying no when someone challenges you. Looking within yourself and standing up for your own values. That’s badass. That takes guts. Going with the flow because everyone is doing it, that’s cowardly. Having the courage to stand out on your own is the pinnacle of strength.

Now I’m not saying you can never do your favourite not-so-ideal-in-pregnancy exercise again. That is definitely something you can return to. However, it’s something you need to work up to, and be mindful of how your body is functioning, and be ready to maybe take two steps forward and one (or two or three) steps back along the way. It’s about checking the ego, and respecting where your body is at during this very important period and allowing yourself to surrender to it. This chapter in your life is temporary. Eventually it will end, but the choices you make within it can have lasting consequences if you aren’t smart about it. In closing, I’d like to bring it back around to another quote from Brianna;

Pregnancy is temporary, Postpartum is forever.
~Brianna Battles, Everyday Battles

Try not to forget that, because your body won’t.

having-the-courage-to-stand-out-on-your-own-is-the-pinnacle-of-strength

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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!