When should I return to high intensity exercise?

Exercise can be so so key when you are a mum and so many people I work with and talk to are desperate to get back to their former routine, jeans and get time for them. Having had 2 babies and about to have the 3rd I completely get it.

Why should I wait?

  • Your pelvic floor deserves a break. After 9 months of carrying a baby it’s had a lot of extra work to do, then there is the act of pushing out a baby. It’s understandable that it may need some R&R time. Jumping back into high impact workouts will put extra pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, preventing them from recovering properly and potentially damaging them further. A weak muscle is a muscle that is easier to damage. It is NOT right to need to wear protection in your pants when you exercise. Leaks should not be the norm.

tap drip

  • Your body has had 9 months of carrying a baby around. It takes 9 -12 months to recover nutritionally, so why would it take any less time to recover your physical body?

Pilates with Priya: Baby Bump

  • You need a good, strong, solid foundation before you build. Your core is your floor. So get that strong and the rest will follow. Your lower abdominals, pelvic floor, the postural back muscles and the obliques all functions together to provide your stable base. Don’t rush into running, lifting, jumping in order to have it crumble away under you.

How long to wait:

A lot of the time this is individual and depends on your previous fitness, how many babies you have had and how your pelvic floor function and core were before. But I recommend you wait a good 4-6 months and build up slowly. Listen to your body.

Things to watch out for:

If you feel a dragging or heaviness in your pelvic floor.

Have pain in your lower back, pelvis or abdominals.

Leaks when exercising.

It generally feels uncomfortable or wrong.


Go back to working on your core, get stronger and then try again in a couple of months.

How to help stop those leaks.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve bounced too much on the trampoline, coughed and sneezed too much or just bent down and leaked a little? Horrible to talk about but it happens.

One way to help with this is to practise and use core bracing. Any movement that increases the pressure inside your tummy can push pressure down on your pelvic floor. To help counter this you can brace the core. It’s like adjusting the tension on a trampoline so that when you jump you don’t touch the floor.

Use Your Core

Ready, Steady, BRACE:
As you breath out draw in the lower tummy muscles (tranversus abdominus) and the pelvic floor muscles too. Your transversus abdominus muscle is below your belly button, to find it you can slide your fingers just inside your hip bones and cough. That muscle that you feel move is the one to engage. To engage your pelvic floor think about lifting the muscles around your vagina and anus. It can take a bit of practice to engage your core and pelvic floor at the same time, but persevere it will come.


Practise this when doing everyday movements and it should become a habit. So whenever you cough, sneeze, lift something, bend, bounce, push something, extend away, reach or twist you can brace the core.

Stretch those Hamstrings to help your back.

Looking around classes there are a fair few people who look like they have tight hamstrings so here are some tips on how to improve your flexibility in that area. Why? Because tight hamstrings can lead to lower back pain! So get stretching if this applies to you.

Hamstring Stretch
Hamstring Stretch

How to test if your hamstrings are tight:

This can be done by lying on your back with one leg outstretched along the floor  and and lifting the other leg, foot towards the ceiling. As soon as the pelvis starts to tilt backwards and the back flattens to the floor stop. The leg should go to about 80 degrees. If it is less than this then the hamstrings are tight and short.

Whats the problem with having short hamstrings?

As well as being vital in sports such as football and running, it can become a major contributor in maintaining or causing back pain. Some kinds of back problems are not resolved until the hamstrings are got back to adequate length. It is also worth noting that hamstrings can get shorter as a consequence of back problems as well, thus producing a viscous cycle.

Causes of actual short hamstrings

Long hours sitting / driving.

Tension. People often hold their legs tensely, normally unconsciously. Signs of this are habitually putting feet back under chair when sitting, or holding knees tightly together.

Back problems. This is because the hamstrings are trying to stabilize the back.

Lack of core strength where the hamstrings take on the role of attempting to stabilize the trunk.

Poor coordination and habitual movement patterns. Using the hamstrings in hip extension (leg moving backwards) rather than your gluteal (bum) muscles.

3 Stretches to do:

  1. With band- lie on the floor in neutral. Slide 1 leg away along the floor, then put the band around your other foot and lift that leg into the air, foot to the ceiling. Use the band to get a food stretch down the back of the thigh. Push against the band for 15 seconds and then let the leg come slightly closer towards you to increase the stretch.
  2. Stand with your foot on the back of a chair, on a windowsill or on a Worktop, find the right height surface to get that stretch.
  3. Lie on the floor with one foot against a door frame, knee bent. Now press your heel into the door frame for 3 breaths and then slide your leg up door frame to get the stretch. Shuffle nearer the door frame to get a better stretch.


Top Tips on Maintaining Neutral Spine and Pelvis

Neutral pelvis is a funny concept where we aim to keep the pelvis neither tilted up or under but in “neutral alignment”. The idea is to have a straight line from hip bone to hip bone and to be flat from that hip bone area all the way through to the pubic bone. With Neutral spine it can be simpler to think of the spine being straight, however this isn’t actually true! When lying down there will be a slight natural curve in the lower back, for some this will be bigger than others. Think about being able to pass an envelope underneath your lower back and get your instructor to check if you are not sure.
Most people find getting into neutral is relatively easy to achieve at the start of an exercise but maintaining it is the tricky bit. My top tips are to:

1. Think about the lower back being heavy and almost sinking into the back (we don’t actually want it to do this but the imagery can help)
2. Think about there being a heavy weight on the ribcage holding you down to the mat.
3. Keep the sides of the body long and strong to hold you still.
4. Think about the core being weighty as this is what is keeping you in neutral.

If you feel yourself coming out of neutral, stop the exercise, check your core is drawn in and then try again. You may need to make the movement smaller until your body is a bit stronger.


Pilates helps in Sport.

Currently we are getting a few more sporting types coming through the studio who are looking to use Pilates to improve their performance. Pilates is especially effective in building core stability, improving focus and injury prevention. All sports have their own key patterns of movement and repeated use of these movement patterns can result in muscular imbalance. Less relevant muscle groups can become weak and inefficient, with the more predominant muscles becoming bulky and tight. Pilates focuses on the body as a whole, aiming to rebalance muscles and improve postural alignment. Here are some of the ways Pilates can help in specific sports.



Both Mike Atherton and Graham Thorpe use Pilates as a way to overcome previous injuries and to prevent future ones. Pilates provides key benefits for both batsmen and bowlers, which is why many top cricketers use it in their training. Mike Atherton, the former England captain, swore by Pilates as a way both to recover from injuries and to prevent future ones. Graham Thorpe, another England batsman, abandoned his cricket equipment and used Pilates to overcome serious back problems he’d acquired from playing the sport.

Pilates improves flexibility and strength, enhances posture, balance and co-ordination and develops core strength. Incorporating Pilates into your training programme is the perfect way for cricket players to improve their posture which in turn will improve the way they handle their cricket equipment.


Snowboarding and Skiing plus Watersports:

Pilates challenges the deep abdominal ‘core’ muscles that help to maintain the dynamic, balanced posture that is essential for safe and efficient skiing or snowboarding. A strong core helps to counteract the twists and turns of the slope, and gives you the ability to negotiate the slopes or the water with great balance and poise.


Tiger Woods, Annika Sorrenstam and Rocco Mediate have all incorporated Pilates into their training regimen and the results are clear!

The golf swing is a little one-sided, which can create imbalance in the body. Pilates helps you to swing from your core, not from your limbs, and to balance out the body against the forces of the swing. If you strengthen the core, increase your flexibility, build stability in the pelvis and shoulder girdles and balance both sides of the body, it will allow you to hit it farther, straighter and more accurately.



Runners advocate Pilates because it builds long, strong muscles, improves flexibility and lessens the risk of injury. Runners often suffer from back, knee and hip problems from the constant impact involved in running. Pilates concentrates on posture and alignment – it opens up the hips, the vertebrae in the lower back and focuses on joint mobility.


This requires balance, good posture and strong gluts, thighs and core. Pilates will help to correct postural imbalances, create body awareness and stretch out tight glut and hamstrings.

Show Jumping

Football and Rugby:

A growing number of top footballers and rugby players do Pilates as a way of improving co-ordination, mobility, flexibility and technique, as well as for prevention and recovery from injuries. The All Blacks and the Welsh Rugby Union is among the high-profile advocates of Pilates

Football and rugby both demand rapid directional changes, often at near-maximum pace, which demans flexibility in the body. The players also need to deliver controlled power from unbalanced body positions for tackles and scrums – all Pilates movements are initiated from a strong core to provide stability, and targeting these requirements can aid injury prevention and enhance performance by developing stamina, co-ordination and strength. Hamstring tears are common in both sports – focusing on the stabiliser muscles of the pelvis (the buttocks and groin muscles), will help prevent them.

Pelvic Floor Muscles

Pelvic Floor, use it or lose it.

This week in my classes, the pelvic floor has come up a few times. Now as a dietitian I end up talking about bowels a lot and as a Pilates instructor I now get to talk about pelvic floors – you can see how glam I am 😉 , I thought I’d add a quick blog post on it to help you out.

In Pilates we use the “CORE” muscles these include the “transversus abdominis”  (TA) muscle, which is similar to a corset, wrapping round the  body, I describe it as being below the belly button, and the pelvic floor.

The muscles of the pelvic floor can be thought of as being like a hammock going from your front to your back passage, holding everything in! When these muscles are weak most people know it can result in stress incontinence, but did you also know the pelvic floor muscles aid the emptying of your bowel and bladder, and they can make sex more enjoyable!

Pelvic Floor Muscles
Pelvic Floor Muscles

So how do you find these muscles? It sounds crude but I’d suggest when you go for a wee try stopping the slow of urine part way through and this will show you were there muscles are. Or think about going on a long car journey and being desperate for a wee but having a husband (like mine) who refuses to pull into the services 😉 It’s those muscles you have to use to hold it in!

Your pelvic floor is pretty much like the foundation of  a house, if that is strong you’ll function better. After a while in Pilates you learn to get both your TA and pelvic floor muscles firing when you are doing exercises, but in the early stages you may need to remember to engage both of these seperately. What will end up happening is when you contract one the other will co-contract.

So I’d encourage you to start training your pelvic floor and keep using my reminders in class to check you’ve got your CORE engaged. Use it or Lose it 😉

How Pilates can help you.

With new classes come new clients and a few people recently have been asking me how Pilates can benefit them, so here is a little recap for you….

(1) Mind & Focus & Clarity
Pilates exercises require you to use your brain! There’s body alignment to think about, muscles to focus on, limbs to move and breathing to perfect. It can take a while to get the hang of all of this but when you do it become relaxing and challenging all at the same time. Pilates movements are smooth, stretching, and flowing, leading to a relaxed body awareness and focused attention. The philosophy of pilates is to understand and accept your current capacities and slowly work towards improvement, rather than trying to force things. I find that focusing on feeling my muscles working and concentrating on my breathing really leaves me feeling like I’ve worked but I also feel refreshed and chilled.

(2) Spinal Stabilization
Pilates is particularly helpful to individuals with back pain or arthritis because it stabilizes and strengthens the muscles around the spine. Research shows that the transverse abdominus and multifidi muscles are involved in spinal stabilization. Following an injury, the spine can get out of alignment, either due to the injury itself or the person’s attempts to compensate by making postural changes. The deepest layer of transverse muscles in the abdomen wrap around the spine and help to stabilize it. Therefore strengthening these muscles can both prevent and diminish low back pain as well as improving posture and strength. Personally I’ve seen a lady with really hunched over shoulders and upper back (kyphosis) start to straighten out and have worked with lots of people with lower back pain who have seen significant improvements. It helped me all throughout my pregnancy and continues to help me now when I’m carrying a baby around.

(3) Core Strength
The core muscles are those in the back and abdomen. Pilates exercises strengthen these muscles, leading to better posture, better balance, flatter abs, and more resistance to injury. Over time you learn to use these muscles when doing day to day tasks. Becoming more aware of how to protect your spine and look after your body whilst moving, twisting and bending is key to preventing injuries. Many people hurt their back simply through bending over and picking up something in an unsafe way. Pilates will help build strength in your core and help teach you how to move using your core.

(4) Breathing and Relaxation
Pilates exercises require a focus on the breath as participants move with in and out breaths. This can be tricky to learn but so relaxing once you get it! Breathing may be lengthened to accommodate the movement, and awareness of breathing is enhanced. The combination of deep breathing and rhythmic stretching movements can lead to deep relaxation and stress relief.

(5) Fitness and Toning

Over time, when combined with cardiovascular exercise and a healthy eating plan Pilates will help you tone up your body and build your fitness up. I combine my Pilates sessions with running, walking, step aerobics and conditioning sessions where I do exercises such as squats, lunges, press ups and use weights. However I also like to vary things and so review what I am doing regularly and make changes to keep it interesting. My exercise has to fit around my baby, so its often involving her too.

Pilates recommended by Osteoporosis experts.

Osteoporosis International Journal has written a guide for health professional working in rehabilitation for patients with Osteoporosis. The techniques described are basically Pilates showing how spot on the Pilates technique really is.

There’s a summary of the journal advice here…http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/health/28backsb.html?_r=2&ref=todayspaper

It talks about avoiding stomach crunches/sit ups done in the way typically seen in gyms and other fitness classes, lots of repetitions, done at full speed where the back is jerked up off the floor putting pressure on the lower spine. The internal organs are pushed aside and the stomach compacted. Doing lots of repetitions means good technique is lost and the head is often pulled up by the arms. It is of course possible to do a good sit up but its not often seen in a gym/large class environment, in fact as an ex gym-bunny myself I can truly say I used to do sit ups all wrong! In Pilates a curl up would be done in a much slower, controlled way, lengthening the spine, peeling up off the mat bone by bone and replacing the same way. Only a few reps would be done as we look for quality and not quantity.

Other tips talk about maintaining good core strength when picking up objects and moving the body and maintaining a good posture. Again Pilates will help with this. I know that I am now so aware of my posture and the way I move that I tend to auto correct myself at points in the day. So if I bend to pick up the baby moving from my waist I tell myself off and practise doing it moving from the hips instead. Over time it becomes a habit. My shoulders used to be hunched up by my ears and after a while of working on that I now keep them pulled down properly (most of the time!).

So…not only is Pilates good for toning and building that all important core strength but the Pilates lifestyle is recommended for bone health. Fab news.

Challenging yet fun.

I so enjoyed teaching this evenings class. It’s great working with a bunch of people who I know well enough to be able to push that little bit further and who enjoy having a giggle together, but who also work hard. Tonight we tried a roll up with bent legs from the floor….this is where you start lying on your back with feet on the floor knees bent, feet  further away from you than a sit up position. You inhale and take your arms over your head then as you exhale you slowly curl your spine off the mat to end up in a seated position (Don’t try this unless you’ve been shown how please as my explanation is not a full one!). It ended up in giggles as I was the only one who could manage it, but its a good thing to work towards and I was pleased to see people realised they couldn’t do it as they knew their bodies limits rather than hauling themselves up without using their core muscles properly. I class that as a success 🙂

We also tried some preparation work for a roll over. A slightly crazy exercise that we will never attempt in its truest, fullest form, but the variation we did was a great challenge and add some spice to the class as well as working the triceps for us. The quote of the night for me was in response to my demo of the roll over….”You wouldn’t be able to do that with a flabby tummy as the flab would get in the way”. This certainly caused some amusement 🙂 Who says exercise has to be dull?