As a pre and post-natal exercise specialist it is my job (or at least I see it that way!) to check the condition of each new clients’ deep core muscles and pelvic floor strength. This assessment tells me exactly where to start with our training journey together and if further assistance may be needed, in the way of a women’s health physiotherapist.
Why am I writing about the pelvic floor when there are other fitness tips I could be sharing? Because I passionately believe that people are greatly undereducated in the role of the core and pelvic floor. If your pelvic floor is not functioning well, this can and does massively affect one’s confidence and overall sense of self. We’re talking about a matter of continence and confidence. — Imagine having the constant worry that if you laugh, cough or sneeze you will not be able to control ‘down there’ and leak a little/pee yourself. This is a regular occurrence for many, because these natural functions of the body put pressure on the core and pelvic floor. If your pelvic floor muscles are weakened for whatever reason, this can easily happen. Many women I have spoken to nod their head in recognition of this and think it’s just normal after having a baby. Well listen up all, you CAN change this.
The pelvic floor comes under a large amount of stress through pregnancy and giving birth. NOTE; NOT just vaginal birth but caesarean deliveries too. Believe me, I know from having a caesarean myself. It isn’t just at this time though; also during the menopause, post hysterectomy and similar invasive surgical procedures. Men can also suffer from the side effects of a lack of conditioning of these deep, internal muscles e.g. from acute IBS or digestive issues as well as heavy weight training.
I have a great book called ‘Pelvic Floor Secrets’ by Jenny Russell, which I have not yet finished but have already learned a great deal from the first half. This information benefits both my clients and me, therefore I recommend this book to anyone experiencing/familiar with sub-optimal pelvic floor function.
Another useful bit of advice is to really think about your breath. Focus on what you feel internally when you exhale deeply. Whether you can feel it or not, (this will come if you continue to practice) this action connects to the deep core musculature and pelvic floor.
I am no longer surprised, yet still disappointed to hear from the new Mums that I train, that in their post-natal check up, they have been given the go-ahead to exercise with no actual physical ‘check’. As a result many women are sent away ready to train without knowing that they are already starting on the back foot. Pelvic floor and core connection and re-strengthening is fundamental before doing sprints/burpees or whatever high impact exercise one wants to do to help shift excess fat. Not only will results be hindered, but these problems left untreated could cause further damage if expert advice is not sought. I’ve seen too many ladies with abdominal separation, and continence issues training unwisely (for healing their body after giving birth), so please speak up if this is you, so you can feel better in more ways than one!
Alcohol has a two-fold negative effect on our ability to lose fat:
1. Alcohol is highly calorific and easily over-consumed. Compare its calorific value with the other components of our diet: Alcohol is 7kcal/g, fat is 9 kcal/g, both protein and carbohydrate are roughly 4kcal/g).
2. The simple presence of alcohol in your system has a hugely negative impact on your ability tometabolise fat. Period!
This was illustrated by a study where 8 men were given two drinks of vodka and lemonade separated by 30 minutes. Each drink contained just under 90 calories. Fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink.
The reason why alcohol has this dramatic effect on fat metabolism has to do with the way alcohol is handled in the body. Rather than getting stored as fat, the main fate of alcohol is conversion into acetate and the presence of acetate in the system puts the brakes on fat loss. The greater the quantity of alcohol, the greater the quantity of acetate created, the less likely fat is metabolised.
In other words, your body tends to use whatever you feed it, and after a time becomes adapted to the macro nutrient intake. Unfortunately when acetate levels rise, your body burns the acetate preferentially. So the body simply burns the acetate first, this basically pushes fat oxidation out of the metabolic equation.
To lose weight you must be using a combination of effective training with effective nutrition.
Key points for weight loss:
1. Healthy eating
The main principles you should follow are:
- eat fresh produce as much as possible, not pre-prepared meals, to avoid hidden salt, fat and sugar
- eat lots of fresh vegetables every day for a range of vitamins and nutrients
- drinks lots of water and herbal teas to help flush out toxins and aid fat loss
- eat a good source of protein at every meal to promote lean muscle tissue
Those are the dos, and the don’ts are:
- avoid added sugar and be watchful of eating more than one piece of fruit a day
- eat fruit within 30 minutes after a workout
- steam, grill and bake your food where possible as opposed to frying
- if you can’t resist eating bad things, don’t keep them in the house!
- if you are a parent, the kids’ leftovers don’t have to be eaten by you.
… Sound familiar?
2. Weight training.
Weight training makes your muscles ‘calorie hungry’ so the muscles burn up calories, even after your training session. Long slow distance on the cardio machines is not going to help you in the same way. You are better off doing a circuit of exercises, working big muscles groups, alternating lower body then upper body with little rest in between. This will involve strength training, cardiovascular work and endurance also.
3. Intervals/HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
This method is not only vastly more time efficient but produces greater results in fat loss and maintaining muscle, as opposed to working at a moderate pace for longer. Start off by stepping out of your comfort zone a little then build the intensity over time. Don’t suddenly sprint if you’ve not done any before! Intervals involve short bursts of fast, hard work e.g. rowing or running and then slowing down to recover for a short time then sprinting again and so on. It can be tough work but extremely rewarding for your visual results, your heart health and for boosting your basal metabolic rate!
If you honestly think you’re doing all these and are puzzled, perhaps you have reached a plateau. It’s important to remember that if you’re training regularly (2-3 times a week) you need to change your exercise programme every 6-8 weeks in order for your body to adapt and respond. If the body gets used to the same exercise for 8 weeks plus, you’ll begin to notice very little change as opposed to when you started. Keep it fresh!
In today’s world, stress management can be a serious problem. Financial difficulties, major life changes, as well as your day job can sometimes make you feel overwhelmed, irritable and anxious. If not managed well, stress levels can creep up on you and fall out of control.
Exercise is key in not only preventing but also reducing many types of illness, as some of you will have already discovered. Many of my clients feel entirely different after 60 minutes of training; whether they’ve simply got the blood pumping and taken their mind off the day’s concerns or done some boxing and hammered their stress out on the punching mitts.
As we know, physical training can help you fit into that brave outfit, give you a firm and shapely bottom but it can also really transform your confidence and change how we perceive ourselves. Whatever training method you choose; exercise will help reduce your stress and getting those *endorphins pumping.
For those of you who know the word but not quite the full meaning: *‘Endorphins are compounds that activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.’
Many people don’t realise the effects of stress on the physical body. The stress hormone cortisol is released and if that energy doesn’t go somewhere e.g. running for your life or a dynamic exercise session, it is often stored around the middle as fat. Stress generally leads to the desire for comfort food and drinks like sugary, fatty foods and alcohol so this also contributes to a larger waistline. Be cautious of letting things get into a negative cycle, as the long-term impact could be more serious than you think.
It can be hard to train when you’re stressed and not ‘in the mood’ but I assure you, it will only HELP YOU FEEL BETTER. Internally, your body will be thanking you as well as your mind feeling soothed. It may not shift a problem altogether but at least it will help you breath through the tension to a better state of mind, giving you a different, more positive perspective.
If you’re short on time then simple breathing exercises can also help a great deal with relaxation. The effects can be profound; depending on how much time you spend on it (and sometimes, how much you believe that it helps). I was asked at a Post-Natal Depression Group that I recently talked at; how to prevent/soothe a panic attack or similar? My advice is to focus solely on taking deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Also try an audible sigh, letting out all the air inside you while releasing tension and calming the mind. Think about your ribs expanding sideways with long, deep breaths and then contracting as your diaphragm deflates.
About five years ago, I read a book called ‘The Power Of Now’ by Ekhart Tolle, which was pretty life changing for me. It really helped me to worry less and I therefore became happier as a result. I literally remember the feeling of lightness I had while reading and learning from Tolle’s teachings. Previous to reading the book, I concerned myself, more than necessary, with the past and future. I was too busy ‘fantasising’ about the past and future to think about and truly enjoy the present moment. … Do you do the same? If so, or even if you just need further enlightenment, why not give it a try.