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.
How my life has changed! Once upon a time I avoided PE lessons like the plague, hated getting sweaty and would never have gone to a fitness festival for fun! I did enjoy certain types of exercise but they were not the standard ones included at school. They were not accessible and I couldn’t just pop in somewhere to try things out.
This is part of what Luke from Sweat Southsea made accessible at the Southsea Fitness Festival. Different forms of exercise were made accessible. From high impact to upside yoga, from power plates to a dualathon. It was truly fabulous and the best part, free and family friendly. Having this festival outside also meant that people could just walk by and take part, or just watch! I saw mums with newborns, pregnant ladies, gym bunnies in Lycra and older adults all soaking up the vibe.
Quote from Luke:
“We created the Festival to inspire and celebrate active and healthy lifestyles. It was apparent from the outset that it needed to be a free and fully accessible event. There are many barriers to exercise which as fitness professionals we try to break down – so why create a barrier by charging an entry fee? Our goal is to make a major difference first and foremost in our hometown which has some pretty shocking childhood obesity health related statistics. We hope to show that there is a sport or activity for everyone. The event is also an opportunity to support other local businesses and to create a network of like-minded businesses which can work together in a positive way.”
Highlights for me included taking part in the dualathon with my kids. Again, not something I would normally enter (though I am tempted) but so much fun to do this without the pressure being on.
We need to be on a mission to get children active. It’s a huge part of how we will help with their health. In my opinion (with my dietitian hat in) its no good putting everyone on strict diets. Instead it’s about making long term changes to eating patterns AND long term changes to the whole lifestyle. So finding ways for children to be active EVERYDAY is part of this. My kids loved it all. They went on gym equipment, they tried wobble boards, they loved the TRX, my girl did a body balance class, dance and some yoga. My boy spent a long time just running and playing in the fountains getting wet 😂
Thankyou Southsea for having us. We will be back. More of this please.
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.
Roll Ups are trickier than you initially think. Few of us, once past toddlerhood, are blessed with a spine that perfectly articulates. Over time the postures we adopt and the movements we do on a daily basis affect lead to tightness in parts of our spine, the space in between the vertebrae gets cramped, it gets sticky and our movement is affected.
Just being able to get up and down in a Roll up is not the be all and end off of the Roll up. I know it often feels that way and that people will use all parts of their body to get themselves up…. however the Roll up is also about moving your spine segment by segment. The aim is to be able to lie your spine down one vertebrae at a time and then pick it up one vertebrae at a time. In order to do this, your spine needs to curve and flex. With our stiff backs from sitting and slouching this is hard to do. I know I have a section of my spine that is stiff and doesn’t like to curve and I’m working on getting it moving properly.
So here are some tips on improving things.
- Use a rolled up towel under your mid spine, this is so helpful at helping you not to hinge up from the mat.
- Use a band to firstly help you get up off the mat but also to help you focus on curving.
- Focus on the half roll up with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Going just half way back can help you find those sticky points and work on them.
Tight shoulders, neck pain, one shoulder higher than the other, restricted movement in a shoulder or shoulder pain are all issues that we see in the studio daily. There can be many causes, but many arise from our day to day lifestyle. Computers, laptops, smart phones, we all use them but they can affect our posture. Whether you have a desk job or not, you likely suffer from tightness in your shoulders and probably have a forward jut in your neck from leaning to look at a screen. So here are some tips to help and some exercises too:
Correcting your posture is a huge part of dealing with this issue.
- Bring your screen to eye level so you do not have to bend you neck to look at it. This may be you need a laptop raiser.
- Have your arms in line with keyboard so your wrists are not bent as you type.
- If working with your laptop, try not to use it on your lap! Instead place it ontop of a higher surface or place a laptop on your lap first.
- Stay away from the slouch. Sitting in good posture is an absolute must, as is taking posture breaks. Your eyes and shoulders will thankyou for a little move around.
To help deal with those aches and pains from working, lifting, leaning towards a screen or carrying children, here are some simple but effective shoulder mobilisers and release moves.
If you need more support with your neck of shoulders then why not book an assessment and sports massage with James.
So we talked about knees and what to check for if you get that pulling in your knee when you do a movement. By this I do not mean constant pain but just a tugging on a certain move, that feels like a tight area. If you have ongoing knee issues, constant pain, popping, grinding, swelling or anything that doesn’t resolve then get it checked out!
So now we are looking at how to strengthen the muscles around the knee.
The VMO, or vastus medialis oblique: is one of the four muscles of your quadriceps. If you flex your quads, you’ll notice a large muscle toward the inner part of your thigh. That’s your VMO. The VMO attaches to the patella (your kneecap) and to the femur. It allows for normal knee function—especially during squatting and multi-directional movements as well as running and jumping. So you can see why this muscle being weak or too tight would cause knee pain. Good exercises to strengthen it are step ups. Literally climbing stairs or stepping up and down on the same step.
TEST: Sit on the floor with legs outstretched. Squeeze your kneecaps and release whilst feeling the inside of your knee. Ideally you should feel a muscle working called VMO.
The Hamstrings: If your hamstring is optimal there should be a right angle between your 2 legs with leg in the air straight up to the ceiling and the other leg stretched out on the floor. If your leg will not go to this range you need to work on releasing those hamstrings. A good stretch with a band will help.
TEST: Lie on the floor with 1 leg in the air and one leg on the floor. In order for you to straighten you leg will and knee where does your leg have to be.
Think about what you feel when you try to stretch your knees? Is there a pull or tightness in the front, back, side or in the knee joint itself? If so it could mean you need some massage, release work and then strengthening. See a sports massage therapist for help with this.
Posture, as always is king: You can do all the release work in the world and then undo it with poor posture. So if you are doing work and not seeing the benefits get checking out your regular and habitual sitting and standing positions. Specifically think about taking regular posture breaks. Don’t remain in any one position for too long, if you are working at a desk take regular movement breaks. Check your pelvis, in seated and stood, your ribcage should be over your pelvis. You want to be sitting and standing tall and in neutral alignment.
The Hypopressive exercise, is a relatively new technique developed to help with pelvic floor rehabilitation and postnatal recovery of the abdominals. It is a form of breathing and intense posture work that involves creating a vacuum with your breath. This activate the involuntary fibres of the pelvic floor and abdominals, you don’t have to find the right muscles and squeeze them, instead you work with the bodies natural reflexes.
Where did the Hypopressive Exercise originate?
In the late 70’s, Dr. Marcel Caufriez realized that ‘traditional’ abdominal exercises were damaging women’s pelvic floors. So he looked into alternatives, moving away from high intra-adominal exercises such as creates and planks, the hypopressives were born. These exercises have been used for 30 years in Spain and are now used postnatally in hospitals in Europe with ladies with know pelvic floor and diastasis issues. However this is all brand new to the UK, we are pleased to be on the cutting edge, bringing you this technique.
Priya has trained with UK Hypopressives and has started doing hypopressives herself. With just 10 minutes a day she is feeling the effect on her core. These exercises are fabulous as they don’t take a lot of time and do not need any equipment. If you can breath, you can do them! However you do need hands on help to learn the technique.
This is a technique that can be incorporated in with other pelvic floor safe rehabilitation work, or used on it’s own for 30 days. It really depends on what level you enter this at. For example, someone with a prolapse it would be sensible to use the hypopressives only, then build on other pelvic floor work later.
Additional benefits can include:
1. Decreasing back pain
2. Reducing the waistline
3. Preventing disc and abdominal hernias
4. Improving sexual function
5. Treating and preventing urinary incontinence
6. Treats and prevents Pelvic Organ Prolapse
7. Improving respiratory function
8. Improving posture and balance
If you would like to learn more and experience hypopressives for yourself then please book onto our workshops. These are kept to small numbers so that you can have plenty of hands on help to learn the technique.
Monday 29th January 10-12pm
Thurs 22nd March 1-3pm
Booking to come