Pregnancy

The Combined Importance of Your Core and Pelvic Floor

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.

DSC_3525Why 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!

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Safe and Effective Exercise in Pregnancy

As featured in the August 2013 issue of Zest Magazine

So you and your bump want to do some exercise? Here is how to keep mummy and baby happy and healthy during each stage of your pregnancy. What is most important during pregnancy is that you listen to your own body and trust your intuition. Below are some great exercise tips, but every baby is different and so is every pregnancy. What might be right for another mum-to-be may not work for you. No two pregnancies are the same and how you feel can also depend on if it’s your first baby or not. I would always advise seeking out specific antenatal classes or a fitness professional that specialises in pregnancy exercise, as you’ll get far greater benefit.

Enjoy the process, learning more about your body and keep a positive attitude towards yourself as you and your baby grow together!

First trimester

  • In your first trimester I advise doing functional, low-impact circuit training e.g. squats, middle row, lunges, bent over row as well as core exercises.
  • Start with this and then lower the intensity as you progress, your baby grows in size and your energy levels may vary.
  • Exercise like this will help to set you up with a strong and efficient body. You will be primed to burn fat more effectively than long cardio sessions, and to offset excessive weight gain. Your circulation and lung efficiency will also improve which will benefit both you and your baby.

When doing bodyweight or resistance training, exhale on exertion (generally on the upwards movement) e.g. standing up from a squat, pulling a dumbbell upwards in a bent over row. Doing this switches on your core and pelvic floor muscles, doubling the benefits. Integrating breath with the movement is highly effective and is used in Pilates and antenatal yoga classes also. Learning from a specialist how to contract and also release the pelvic floor will help you have greater control for pregnancy and the birth itself.

Second trimester

  • As your baby grows, you will want to focus on keeping strong for everyday tasks, like lifting heavy shopping/children, as well as promoting good posture, therefore helping to reduce back pain and other complaints.
  • Yoga is fantastic for increasing your fitness in a stress-free, low impact style workout. It also helps in building strength while shaping and toning your muscles, improving posture and building self-awareness and relaxation.
  • Treat yourself to a one-to-one session with a specialist antenatal yoga teacher. This will provide you with tailor made sessions for you and your changing body. Investing in this and getting all the attention to yourself will allow to really reap rewards from your practice.

Poses such as downward facing dog are excellent for strengthening the arms and legs whilst stretching the hamstrings, calves, chest, the arches of the feet and the hands. It is also known to ease stress and improve digestion. Arms binds and chest opening poses will help to reduce tight chest and shoulder muscles and strengthen the back.

Third trimester

  • As you get heavier, begin to focus on the remedial side of physical activity. Buy yourself a ‘Grid’ foam roller, which is a great self-massage tool to release tight muscles using light pressure on key areas e.g. piriformis (muscle in the middle of your buttock), calves, thighs, upper back. You’ll even get a bit of a workout for your arms doing this as you have to support yourself while rolling. Bonus!
  • As your centre of balance shifts with your growing tummy, take time to walk slowly, treading softly through the feet, becoming more grounded as you do so. This will help to improve your sense of balance.
  • In the third trimester, you can still do gentle training but just take longer breaks in between exercises and keep hydrated.

Again, listen to your body. Focus more on pulling exercises than pushing. While cradling and feeding your baby the shoulders can be drawn forwards and upper back begin to round. Therefore pulling exercises like a middle/high row, lat pull down, bent over row will strengthen your back and open up the chest, bringing you more upright while reducing shoulder and neck tension. Add relaxation/meditation and gentle stretching into your day. Never underestimate the power of what a few minutes of calm can do for your body and mind.

Tips:

  • Avoid lying on your back for long periods as the weight of the baby can put pressure on one of the major veins, causing reduced blood flow to the uterus.
  • Swimming is excellent during pregnancy, as you can enjoy feeling weightless.
  • A hormone called relaxin is released into the body to promote joint flexibility in the hips and areas that adapt to make room for the baby. You may become more flexible but take care not to over extend, especially in stretch sessions or yoga class. Avoid workouts with stop-start, jerky or bouncy movements such as squash, as the relaxin makes your ligaments stretchy and joints looser, so you are more prone to injury and falling over.
  • Get into the habit of getting up from lying down with care, by rolling onto your side, pushing up to sitting, kneeling first (or legs over the side of the bed) then standing up as you exhale.
  • Do not exercise if you are experiencing Braxton Hicks in any trimester.
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