I want to woman to be able to breathe properly In a full 360° breath.I want them to be able to connect the pelvic floor, lower abdominals and feel their back expand as they breathe.In order to correct your posture work is going to need to be done.This is going to involve some release moves, possibly some soft tissue work.It needs to be a daily approach. What you do in a class needs to spill out into your daily life.It’s also really important to focus on you. Self-care cannot be underestimated. Finding ways to make yourself out of that highly stressed fight/flight state into the calm zen like parasympathetic nervous system is absolutely 100% important. This could involve meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, along path, or otherwise of chilling out. However you do it it’s important. If you are living in stress and tension you’re not going to be able to heal your body.
Since starting specialising in postnatal womens recovery I feel like I’ve discovered a secret sect. An un-talked about condition that is just normalised by ladies and it shouldn’t be. It has become something these ladies accept and life their life around. Why? Often I think life is busy, most of these ladies are mums and when you are a mum you are no longer at the top of the pecking order. The children come first, there is a lot less time for focusing on yourself and you learn to put up with those annoying niggles and problems.
Incontinence, leaking and those accidental moments should not be a normal part of life. Whether it be having to avoid the trampoline, “sneeze pee”, not being able to wait until you get in the door for the toilet or needing to wear a pad when you run, it is not how your body is built to function and it can be improved upon.
Maybe you have had some help in the past and it has not worked? Or you have squeezed your lady parts over and over with no improvements? Well it’s time to start over. Yes those kegels/pelvic floor exercises are important but if you are not doing them correctly they won’t work and there can also be other muscular imbalances in your body that are the sticking point. Our bodies are connected from head to toe, this means that your foot position and your neck position impact your pelvic floor! So if you feel you need a fresh approach then here are my tips:
- If you have any heaviness or dragging in your pelvic floor region go and get checked out by a womens health Physiotherapist. Yes this costs money but it is well worth knowing what is happening in your body. I recommend a Mummy MOT for ladies who want a once-over post baby.
- Be committed. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles like any other in your body and it takes time to see progress. However after a few weeks you should be noticing improvements. It takes work all of your week and not just the session you work with someone. I encourage people to do daily, focused work using the exercises we do in a session and to also focus on their posture as much as they can in the day, plus some dedicated breathing time. So you need to carve some time into your day to do all of this.
- It is NOT all about the work however. For some people it is all about the RELAXATION. Over-working a muscle leads to it being tight and weak. So if you live life in your stressed place the relaxation phase can be the key.
- Get your breathing assessed. Oh my days, so many of us do not breath properly and all kinds of funky things go on connected with this. It could be you are pushing down on your pelvic floor when you breath out and it needs a re-train.
- If you aren’t a fan of lying on your back doing Pilates moves then it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of ways to incorporate your pelvic floor rehab work into variations of the exercises you like.
- Find a practitioner who you can work with, someone you like, who really knows their stuff, who has worked with lots of ladies with success and who you be open with. Facebook can be a great place to get recommendations. I work with women on a 1-1 basis and via the Holistic Core Restore courses.
Get in touch if you need to chat or to find someone who can help. Most importantly do not suffer in silence and get some support.
Let’s talk planks.
An amazing exercise for building core strength, for working the whole of your body and there is so much you can layer and add into a plank.
Also one of the exercises that therefore needs great technique or a lot can go wrong. All too often people are encouraged to dive head on into a full plank without knowing the hows, why’s and why nots. I love a challenge, but I don’t like the planking challenges. Personally I do not see the benefit to being able to hold a static plank. I have a body that rarely stays that still and so far more useful is a moving plank with levers and motion.
Many people are just not strong enough to launch into planks. These are not beginner exercises. Done incorrectly the intra-abdominal pressure will build up and it has to go somewhere, so if you have weak abdominals these may sag and bulge or the same with your pelvic floor. I remember attending a mums and babies fitness class with mums there 6 weeks after having baby – all being told to plank for 1 minute. If your core is not ready, do not do a full plank, if you have recently had a baby and you are rebuilding your strength, do not plank, if you have a weak pelvic floor, do not plank. Now that may sound harsh and rather black and white… so here is the softer version. There is a version of a plank that everyone can do, it is just finding your level and knowing which muscles to use plus ensuring you breath.
So what about if you really want to plank or if you are in a class with planks and you need a variation? Here are some plank progressions for you, including a standing version that I use with my pregnant and postnatal ladies.
I’m not even sure where to start with this post. So I will start with my own experience. I’ve had 3 babies in the past 7.5 years and my youngest is about to turn 2 yrs. With each baby, my own recovery, my own postnatal journey and the care offered to me, has been different. I’ve had 3 babies who have lost weight post-birth, 2 of which required a period in hospital, each baby has had a tongue tie and it’s always been a stressful start in those initial weeks. Now I’m a well-educated, opinionated, determined (or bloody stubborn) kind of girl, which has got me through. What I have been, and continue to be surprised at, is the lack of support that is out there for new Mums. I had a hyper-tonic pelvic floor before babies, after babies I was complete unprepared for the change in my pelvic floor! I also had a diastasis recti after baby 2 and 3.
Having baby 1 is overwhelming, you are learning new skills constantly and becoming a new family. Subsequent babies are also equally overwhelming, suddenly you have to balance everyone’s needs. The babe becomes the most important in all of this and Mums come way down the list. But they shouldn’t. The early postnatal period is a critical time for recovery, by offering good support at this stage and preparing Mums we could actually help prevent some problems later on. Even by helping Mums with some simple stress management and practical ideas it could help them feel looked after, nurtured and reduce their cortisol levels. I know I was highly stressed after having my 2nd baby and it really had an impact on my body. Techniques such a deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness and just having time off for Mum can make such a difference. I now recommend Mums have a 2 week chill-out after baby as much as they can and call in lots of help.
Mums are usually offered a 6-8 week check, however this is often more for baby than for mum. It’s a quick assessment and I think a lot more could be offered at this stage, however resources are thin on the ground. The Mums that I see and my experience is that pelvic floor is not really discussed, perhaps a cursory “are you doing your exercises”, abdominal separation is rarely checked but there is a screening for Mums mood and contraception.
Whilst it is great that Mums and babies are seen by the GP and continue to be monitored by the health visitors, I feel we are missing a vital opportunity. A chance to talk to women about their bodies, what is not right, where could they be signposted to get more help. I’m not suggesting these teams can provide the answers but they could link in with NHS or private services who could. For example, local women’s health physiotherapists and postnatal fitness instructors who really specialise in this type of rehabilitation.
We need a revolution in postnatal care, more chat, more information sharing, more love, more respect for how women’s bodies change and more holistic care. I’d love to know your stories and thoughts.
Some people come to us thinking that Pilates is all about the stretch and that they need to be super flexible to be any good at it. Confession, ahem…. whilst we have super flexible people who teach for us and I envy their ability to do the splits I’m not a bendy ballerina.
Whilst I totally can work on my flexibility and improve it, I’m also aware that being super bendy is not always a good thing and you can overstretch for your particular body. Yup, I’m saying it doesn’t always pay to s–t–r–e–t–c–h.
Let’s think about that over-stretching:
- If you are hypermobile or have Ehler-Danos Syndrome then pushing your body past it’s normal range of movement into the hypermobile zone is possible for you but not a good idea. Over time moving out of the normal range can increase your risk of injury, sprains, dislocation, joint pain and can lead to the joints popping out. Pilates is one of the best forms of exercise for these conditions as a good teacher will watch your range of movement and help you work out exactly what you need to strengthen. By strengthening the areas around the hypermobile joint it can help you stay strong.
- The effect of hormones. When you are pregnant and postnatal you definitely do not want to be overstretching. At this point of life your ligaments are laxer and you may have a greater range of movement. But moving too far and stretching too much can lead to your muscles becoming overstretched. This leads to pain/injury for you which can then be an ongoing weakness in your body. Relaxin can take up to 4 months to leave the body after you stop breastfeeding. This can also mean your body is not as strong as you expect it to be. I remember after baby 2 really struggling with some of the harder pilates moves until I stopped breastfeeding (I fed baby until he was 16 month) and then a couple of months later my body was at it’s peak once again. So don’t rush things and risk a lasting weakness.
- If your body is causing a muscle to be tight for a reason. Sometimes the body is protecting itself. Much like we do not work muscles in isolation, it can be detrimental to stretch a muscle in isolation too. Instead we need a whole body approach and to think through why an area is tight. Is it due to a certain posture you adapt most of the time – in which case work on the posture. If it is due to pain elsewhere in your body and you are compensating, then the area of pain needs to be dealt with too.
Anyone can overstretch their bodies. Our collagen make up is genetic and we just aren’t all born with stretchy joints, ligaments and bodies. So whilst stretching is of course good for us, listen to your body.