Prepare to Plank

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’d love to hear how you find these. For more videos and tips do follow me on Instagram and Youtube.

 

 

 

The 3 top benefits of postnatal pilates.

It strengthens your core and fixes your body. This is HUGE NEWS. Mums are lifting, bending, rotating, reaching, rocking, pushing and feeding babies. A whole lot of work and strain on the body. The core is made up of the abdominal muscles, the back muscles and the pelvic floor. This cylinder provides the support for the rest of the body to move. After carrying a baby in your womb for 9 months there has been quite a strain on the core. Your abdominals have been stretched and may have stretched apart slightly (diastasis recti). Your pelvic floor muscles have been supporting a heavy load and then may have helped push a baby out. Your lower back muscles will need supporting and strengthening as your baby grows and gets heavier. This is where Pilates has been invaluable for me and it fixes me weekly. Yes there are plenty of other fitness classes you can do postnatally, but a specialised postnatal Pilates is the one you want to do FIRST. It provides you with the foundation that you need to rehabilitate your body after pregnancy and labour. If you do not strengthen your core and get your posture sorted then later along the line you could suffer set backs and problems such as leaking and abdominal separation that doesn’t heal up. If you have this issue come see me for a 1-2-1 session.

If you have pelvic floor issues then you need to be on my pelvic floor workshop.

There are a couple of ways we work on core strength in classes.

Firstly BREATHING. It is something we all do all of the time but breathing using the diaphragm will help the core work in synergy. The Diaphragm, abdominals, back muscles and pelvic floor are all involved in breathing. Try this out:

1. Place your hands around your ribcage. Inhale feeling the breath come into your ribcage. So your ribs move out to the side, your back expands, your chest expands.

2. As you exhale, breath out with pursed lips, feel the tummy come in, the lower back tense and try to get right to the end of your breath to feel an tension in your lower abdominals and a lift in your pelvic floor.

3. Practise this for 5-10 minutes and it really can help, plus it relaxes you 🙂

All the Pilates moves are layered on top of the breathing. It can take a while to get the breathing at the right time and in the right way but suddenly it will click.

It reconnects you with your body. As a mum your primary focus is on your gorgeous baby. There is less time for you to look after your own body and this can get pushed down the list of importance. However your postnatal period is an important time of recovery for you.

A postnatal class can teach you how your body feels when you do certain movements. I know I can be busy rushing around all day and then suddenly in a class I realise my shoulder is out of alignment or my hips ache. It makes you focus on your tummy and pelvic floor, an area many mums don’t want to connect with post-birth. Let’s  face it things are changed in or bodies but it is something to embrace and work to strengthen rather than to avoid. A class also means someone else also has a look at how your body is functioning, which can give you valuable insights and reassurance.

I myself go to classes so that someone who knows my body can give me feedback and push me further. We all need someone who knows us well to watch out for us.

It is you time. Our postnatal classes are run with a creche. I love babies, but having taught with one crawling around the studio, going under and over me… I know how distracting it is to doing the moves correctly. You tense up in order to ensure baby is safe which then means you do not get the full benefit from the class and exercises. You listen to their noises and not your body.

We’ve found over the years that having a creche away from the studio works best. Then the mums are not listening out to their babies, they aren’t all in the studio freezing each time a  baby makes a noise, working out if it is theirs, if so do they need to go to baby. It takes trust on the part of the mum, but James has been running our creche for 7 years now and has seen an awful lot of babies in that time. If he can’t cope and needs a mummy, he knows when to ask.

So if you are thinking about trying a postnatal class I would highly recommend you try Pilates. Yes I am completely biased, but I am also proof that it works. Having had 3 babies, I have rehabilitated each time with Pilates. It works.

What postnatal pilates can do for you.

When you are pregnant there is a lot of focus on keeping your body healthy, looking after yourself and putting you first. There is a lot more time to focus on exercising well, cooking good meals and thinking in general. The midwife and friends/family are asking how your body feels, how is the bump, what aches and pains do you have and giving plenty of advice. Then the delicious baby arrives and is totally the centre of attention. Your life is suddenly a whirlwind of feeds, sleepless nights, surviving as best you can. There is little time and energy left for exercise. Cake and chocolate can be relied to get you through the day or are part of a treat at playgroups. No-one really asks how your body is feeling or what they can do to help YOU, it is more about the baby.

The problem is that when you are postnatal your body is pretty vulnerable. It has been stretched, carried a heavy weight around and then birthed a baby. Now if you had a major operation you would lie in bed, rest, recover, have meals brought to you and be looked after for a few weeks. This is really what you need after having given birth. Instead you have a little person dependant on you, you cannot rest as much as you need and you cannot listen to your body.

Postnatal Pilates: why all mums need it

As a pre/postnatal specialist Pilates teacher this is an area I focus on and love to teach.

Postnatal Issues Pilates can help with:

POSTURE:
It is hard to maintain good posture when you are sitting up feeding, especially at night. However without good posture, those aches and pains slip in. Muscles get tight in the wrong places which can cause restrictions in your movement and cause you to compensate.

Over time poor posture can cause long term pain throughout the body, so it’s not something you want to ignore. Postnatal pilates when run by a specialised teacher will put in exercises to strengthen your upper back, talk through shoulder placement with you and use functional exercises to help with those motherhood moves that you do daily.

Sitting more will also lead to tighter hamstrings, so these need to be stretched out regularly.

The key really is to find out which part of your posture you need to focus on and which muscles need releasing. A good class and teacher will highlight this to you.

FLEXIBILITY:
There can be a lot of hormones flying around. Relaxin is a hormone that can affect the laxity of your ligaments, so this can leave you vulnerable to overstretching and potentially pulling a ligament. Learning to work within the normal range of movement for your body is the key here and not pushing yourself too hard, too soon.

PELVIC FLOOR:
Having carried a baby around your pelvic floor has taken a lot of strain. If you have then pushed baby out then that is even more damage that will have occured to the pelvic floor. Pilates will help you strengthen the whole of your core, including your pelvic floor. If you need more help in this area then check out  “Pimp Your Pelvic Floor”

ABDOMINAL SEPARATION:
Many ladies suffer from Diastasis Recti, this is a condition that is common in pregnancy and nothing to be concerned about as long as it is fixed postnatally! For some, the abdominals will naturally heal up by themselves, for others it will take more work. Exercises such as curls ups, planks and sitting up from lying on your back are not suitable and can make matters worse. A specialist pilates teacher with postnatal training will be able to help you.

PELVIC GIRDLE PAIN:
If you suffered from this in pregnancy then the likelikood is that it will disappear once baby comes along. However it is always a good idea to do some strenghtening work postnatally. If your hips and pelvis were struggling in pregnancy then some TLC for them can make all the difference in the long term.

LOWER BACK PAIN:
One of the common complaints I see in mums. Those babies get heavy when you are carrying them around a lot. Having a strong core and good posture when you lift and carry is so important. Pilates will help train your body so you are stronger and more able to manage this. The release exercises will also help mobilise and decrease any pain.

If you aren’t local to me, then check out my Postnatal Pilates DVD.

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.

THEN STOP.

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

Mummyhood, 8 ways to look after YOU.

Being a mum is amazing, it teaches you so much about yourself, it challenges you the furthest you have probably ever been challenged. There can be moments of joy, fear, hilarity, excitement, frustration and annoyance all in one hour. Your little ones are the most amazing gift and a true miracle to watch them grow.

Post natal

So it is not surprising that in the midst of all the hard work of mummy hood that YOU, the mummy, can be the one that gets forgotten. Perhaps you don’t have time to eat properly, you aren’t getting proper sleep, you don’t have the time to look after yourself and there is very little You time.

The problem is your body is in recovery. For 9 month it has carried and nurtured a growing baby. That’s a lot of work. Your body has provided nutrition, your muscles have been stretched and strained by carrying the extra weight, your breathing has even adapted and your blood flow. Your hormones have been altered. Then you have given birth. No small feat, in fact a massive achievement and a massive ordeal for the body to then recover from. Mums are expected to spring back to full form in a  matter of weeks – but it can take the body a good 9 months to a year to recover nutritionally, hormonally and in strength.

So how can you help yourself?

Nourish yourself with nutritious and delicious food. It can feel like the last thing you have time to do but the inside of your body is your powerhouse. If you are not sustaining yourself then you will not be able to look after anyone else well. 

Base your meals around: good lean protein sources, wholegrains and fruit and vegetables. Plan your meals out, there is nothing worse than being starving hungry, having little time to cook and now having a clue what you are going to make.

Beans:lentils

Meal plan like a goddess: I like to meal plan on a Sunday and then bulk cook – cooking 2-3 meals in one hit works for me as it means it can all be done in a hour or so, I do all the mess, chopping and clearing up at once and can stock up my freezer too. For example today I have made a large batch of minced beef : half for a lasagne, half for the freezer, then a chicken soup using the chicken carcass and some roasted vegetable pasta sauce. So I have meals for Mon, Tues and Wed then on Thurs we may eat a meal from the freezer and Friday is a relaxed affair in our house so may be baked sweet potatoes with tuna and salad. If you ned some help there are 2 meal planners you can download here.

Meal Plan 1.2.15

Step away from the chocolate cake: Snack instead on proteins (nuts, seeds, yoghurt, hummus, egg muffins) and fruit/veggies. It can be hard to break the habit but it will make you feel better. Find a system that works for you – make up snack boxes ahead of time, buy in ready made snack boxes, bulk bake healthy snacks such as healthy oaty bars or my banana muffins. For that sweet treat switch over to a little bit of dark chocolate, you won’t eat as much of it and it is packed with antioxidants.

almond heart

Say goodbye to the caffeine and sugar rush club. It can make you feel better initially but it really doesn’t give you long lasting energy or health. Eating protein and low glycaemic index foods such as oats will lead to you having more sustained energy levels, more stable mood and will help regulate your appetite.

Pilates with Priya: herbal tea

Sleep is queen bee. Having had 2 babies who did not sleep well I know what a nightmare sleep deprivation is. Literal torture, your brain doesn’t function properly, your appetite steps up a gear, you are cranky and still have a whole day to get through. Find a way to get some sleep in, see if you can take it in turns with your partner or have a family member help in the day so you can nap. That magical word, nap!

Wine o’clock. Maybe this should be whine o’clock?! You know that 5/6pm moment when it’s all just too much and you wish bedtime would hurry it’s ass up? That’s the point I want a glass of something. I don’t see anything wrong with a glass of wine now and again, but it’s remembering that it is also a toxin and when your body is trying to recover you don’t want to overload it with other work to do. So enjoy that glass of wine, but don’t go OTT.

Relaxation Time. Now this I struggle with. Somehow, building in regular time for you to unwind and relax is vital. When your stress levels are high you respond to things differently. Try using a meditation app such as Headspace, go swimming, get your nails done, read a new book, go for a walk – whatever you can manage. Just do something that calms, chills and centres you.

Pilates with Priya: Take time to look after you

Mummies, you are amazing. Your bodies are amazing. Go love them, nourish them and enjoy your babies.

Look out for my next post on postnatal nutrition – the micro’s and macro’s.

After Baby it is time to Nourish YOU.

Being a mum is amazing, it teaches you so much about yourself, it challenges you the furthest you have probably ever been challenged. There can be moments of joy, fear, hilarity, excitement, frustration and annoyance all in one hour. Your little ones are the most amazing gift and a true miracle to watch them grow.

Pilates with Priya: Newborn Baby in sling

So it is not surprising that in the midst of all the hard work of mummy hood that YOU, the mummy, can be the one that gets forgotten. Perhaps you don’t have time to eat properly, you aren’t getting proper sleep, you don’t have the time to look after yourself and there is very little You time.

The problem is your body is in recovery. For 9 months it has carried and nurtured a growing baby. That’s a lot of work. Your body has provided nutrition, your muscles have been stretched and strained by carrying the extra weight, your breathing has even adapted and your blood flow. Your hormones have been altered. Then you have given birth. No small feat, in fact a massive achievement and a massive ordeal for the body to then recover from. Mums are expected to spring back to full form in a  matter of weeks – but it can take the body a good 9 months to a year to recover nutritionally, hormonally and in strength.

So how can you help yourself?

Nourish yourself with nutritious and delicious food. It can feel like the last thing you have time to do but the inside of your body is your powerhouse. If you are not sustaining yourself then you will not be able to look after anyone else well.

almond heart

Base your meals around: good lean protein sources, wholegrains and fruit and vegetables. Plan your meals out, there is nothing worse than being starving hungry, having little time to cook and now having a clue what you are going to make.

Meal plan like a goddess: I like to meal plan on a Sunday and then bulk cook – cooking 2-3 meals in one hit works for me as it means it can all be done in a hour or so, I do all the mess, chopping and clearing up at once and can stock up my freezer too. For example today I have made a large batch of minced beef : half for a lasagne, half for the freezer, then a chicken soup using the chicken carcass and some roasted vegetable pasta sauce. So I have meals for Mon, Tues and Wed then on Thurs we may eat a meal from the freezer and Friday is a relaxed affair in our house so may be baked sweet potatoes with tuna and salad.

Stop the chocolate cake: Snack instead on proteins (nuts, seeds, yoghurt, hummus, egg muffins) and fruit/veggies. It can be hard to break the habit but it will make you feel better. Find a system that works for you – make up snack boxes ahead of time, buy in ready made snack boxes, bulk bake healthy snacks such as healthy oaty bars or my Cocao Power Balls. For that sweet treat switch over to a little bit of dark chocolate, you won’t eat as much of it and it is packed with antioxidants.

Cocao Power balls text

Move away from the caffeine and sugar rush club. It can make you feel better initially but it really doesn’t give you long lasting energy or health. Eating protein and low glycaemic index foods such as oats will lead to you having more sustained energy levels, more stable mood and will help regulate your appetite.

Sleep is the queen. Having had 2 babies who did not sleep well I know what a nightmare sleep deprivation is. Literal torture, your brain doesn’t function properly, your appetite steps up a gear, you are cranky and still have a whole day to get through. Find a way to get a decent nights sleep in, see if you can take it in turns with your partner or have a family member help in the day so you can nap. That magical work, nap!

Wine o’clock. Maybe this should be whine o’clock?! You know that 5/6pm moment when it’s all just too much and you wish bedtime would hurry it’s ass up? That’s the point I want a glass of something. I don’t see anything wrong with a glass of wine now and again, but it’s remembering that it is also a toxin and when your body is trying to recover you don’t want to overload it with other work to do. So enjoy that glass of wine, but don’t go OTT.

Relaxation Hour. Well you may not have an hour, but building in regular time for you to unwind and relax is vital. When your stress levels are high you respond to things differently. Try using a meditation app such as Headspace, go swimming, get your nails done, read a new book, go for a walk – whatever you can manage. Just do something that calms, chills and centres you.

Pilates with Priya: Take time to look after you

Mummies, you are amazing. Your bodies are amazing. Go love them, nourish them and enjoy your babies.

Look out for my next post on postnatal nutrition – the micro’s and macro’s.

Exercises for combatting rounded shoulders.

Shoulders are one of my picky points. Why? Well firstly because I have had to really work on mine. They have always been a sticking point for me, I remember a Pilates teacher walking down the road with me once saying “Shoulders down” every 2 steps! Carrying, feeding and rocking babies always affects my shoulders and upper back. So I guess you could say I’m a bit picky about shoulders as I know how much it poor posture in this area can affect you.

I would encourage you to look in the mirror at your posture, side on and front on.

1. Are your shoulders level?

2. Are your shoulders rounded?

3. Can you slide your shoulders further down in your spine, so are they too far up towards your ears?

4. Do you stick your ribcage forward? (Ladies, no boob thrusting is needed!)

Here are some exercises to help you strengthen your upper back and focus on your shoulders.

Really good if you sit at a desk for some time and know your shoulderes are suffering. Also brilliant for mums who are feeding, carrying, rocking babies and babywearing.

3 Moves to think about with Diastasis

 If you have abdominal separation, or are pregnant, here are 3 moves to stay clear of…
1. Sitting up from Lying
It’s such a simple everyday move but sitting up in bed is something to modify. Why? It puts pressure on your rectus abdominus or “six-pack” muscles. These muscles you want to look after. They have to stretch and make room for your growing bump and can separate. This can be a normal part of pregnancy but also something you can help lessen the risk of. Avoid any exercises like sit ups or curl ups or sitting up from lying on your back will help with this.
2. Lifting heavy weights which puts strain on your back, core and can affect your posture.
This can be hard to avoid if you have another young child. Try training them to walk or use a scooter more. Bring in the idea of sitting down for a cuddle rather than walking around holding them. I still have to carry my toddler but he now goes in a sling on my back which helps my posture and distributes the weight more evenly.
Lifting also puts extra pressure on your pelvic floor which is already working harder than normal.
3. Sitting in a bucket seat in the later stages of pregnancy.
Sitting on a sofa or almost any comfy chair can lead to your pelvis being tilted so you are not seated in the best position for either your lower back or to allow your baby to descend into your pelvis. Sitting on an exercise ball or a high backed chair will help you sit up tall so that baby can get into position easier.
Diastasis Recti

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.

The-Core-300x294

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.

The why and why knot of slings.

We first discovered slings when Kezia was about 3 months old. I had one given to me whilst I was pregnant but it was a ring sling, which I just couldn’t work out. Then I ended up with a high maintenance baby who needed holding a lot, feeding a lot and needed to be upright. Suddenly slings became a necessity. Since then slings have become items that I love, they mean I can hold my baby close enough to kiss and yet have both of my arms free. I’ve always found that slings soothe my babies, they love being in the sling as they can see more, be held close and can poke me 😉 My personal favourite sling for front carries is a woven wrap as it is supportive and versatile.  I love the Mei Tai for back carries and for keeping tied on when out and about so I can slip the toddler in and out as needed.  I found out recently that baby wearing can burn an extra 16% of calories too, so an added bonus if you are looking at losing the post-baby weight.

Pilates with Priya: Baby in sling 1

Pilates with Priya: Baby in sling 1

Here are my top tips on slings:

Check to see if you have a sling library and advisor in your area. In Southampton we have a fabulous Sling Sling Meet. This meets twice a month, you can go along to get advice, try out a sling, make sure you are wearing it properly and borrow a sling for a month. A truly fabulous resource.

 

Newborn babies’ have a C-shaped spine, a good sling should allow them to remain in this rounded position and not slouch down when asleep. The fabric shold come up high enough to provide head support.

As with most things in life there are good and bad slings. Meaning there are slings that hold your baby in a good position and some that are not good for baby’s posture and specifically hip development. Forcing the hips into a stretched out position too early can lead to hip dysplasia. You want your baby to have their legs in a “froggy” position or M shape when in a sling, much like the fetal position. Their bottom should sit lower than their knees to allow for the balls o f the hips to sit in the sockets. This takes the pressure off the hip joint. Check that your sling allows this and doesn’t cause the baby’s legs to dangle down, unsupported.

Look out for second hand slings on preloved sites and ebay, you can save a fortune. Also check out you tube for great videos on how to wear your sling, I’ve learnt so many different carries this way.

Be very mindful of your posture when using your sling. It is very easy to let your shoulders round forward and and your neck jut down. This will lead to neck and shoulder ache and will not help with healing a diastasis. You need to focus on your core when using a sling, as when you think about it you are lifting something! So you need to think about  your posture and core. Focus on standing tall, lengthening through the crown of your head, bring your shoulder blades down in your back and lifting through your mid back without pushing your ribcage out. Draw in your lower abdominal and lift your pelvic floor, holding a medium contraction in these muscles. If you get tired then rest. I found a few positions where I could prop myself up on the sofa or bed and have a nap with baby sleeping in the sling!