fitness

How does your movement practice serve you?

When clients come to see me and they want to start progressing their strength and build on what they learn in class I always suggest doing some work at home.  Fairly obviously most people don’t have time or the money or the energy to come to a class daily and I don’t think that would be great for you anyway.  What I do think helps is chipping away at strength foundations every day if that’s possible for you. I definitely don’t mean for an hour every day, and I definitely don’t mean an intense session more than 3 times a week, maybe even less. 

What to consider when starting/committing to a movement practice:

1) Know Yourself! Personally I really struggle with high intensity exercise - maybe I used up all my intense sessions when I was rowing and doing CrossFit and I’ve got none left now? If you respond well and feel great after intense sessions, that’s great, monitor the best response you get from your body with how many per week suits you - 4 may be too many and leave you depleted, 1 may be too few as it may make you feel a bit sluggish in each session. Again this is my personal experience:  I do respond well to strength workouts, I am slightly hypermobile so I need more strength than anything else (hence Pilates and not yoga for me). Some women come in and talk to me saying they do circuits or running or something similar and feel a bit wobbly and are in pain afterwards, or drained and exhausted but don’t recognise this. At the time I was doing it, Crossfit was not a good workout system for me, I would get constantly injured and feel sore and depleted for days after each session.

2) Does your routine serve you well? If you are recently post-natal or coming out of the pre-school years and now wanting to focus on yourself, monitor how your pelvic floor, abdominals and any shoulder and back pain responds to the new exercise/movement regime. If you are in pain or have issues with leaking or a pooch tummy, don’t accept this as your new normal or just how it will be because of having babies, your movement practice should serve to strengthen and benefit you, helping you to build foundations in the right way, not in a more depleting way causing any further issues. If you start leaking, feel more weak in your centre, have lasting shoulder, neck or back pain and aren’t able to move well in your daily life, take some time to think about your movement practice and whether there might be something there that isn’t working for you.

3) “Listen to the whispers so you don’t have to hear the shouts”!!  After years of struggling to find the right way, I’ve built, over time, better foundations, which I continue to work on all the time: breathing, pelvic floor awareness, rib mobility, spine elongation, glute strength, and now I can build overall strength and dynamics on top of that. Take care not to go in hard straight away, getting over enthused by being unleashed into the world of movement after feeling like your body belongs to someone else for a few years. I totally understand the thinking, it feels so good to move, but this is also a moveable feast, your response to movement will change daily, weekly, monthly and so some exercise will suit you one day and feel all kinds of wrong the next. Of course our menstrual cycle affects that, as well as the physical demands we have from others day to day, as a woman ending her child bearing life phase and moving on to the next we also have influences from post-birthing and feeding hormones as well as the coming peri-menopause symptoms. You may have to become more aware of your needs and responses as you go on.

4) What to do and how often? My personal commitment and what works for me is to do a max 10 minute glute mini workout often in front of the TV in the evening or between working on admin stuff during the day and then 2-3 longer workouts like this one ☝🏼 each week. I’ll do my rehab stuff as often as possible too (there’s always something needing doing) and I run with my dog, as long as I’m not injured, twice a week - this is often a walk and not a run, always on trails and hilly or rough ground. This works for me as I know I can fit in at least 2 longer sessions each week on days that I work less, and I know that if I don’t do some extra glute work through the week, my hips and back get achy and tired, and I need the correct support from my core to be able to move, sit while working for long periods, and do my job. The running happens if I can because I might as well use the time I walk my dog to do a bit of extra sweating. I put no pressure on myself with this, running is not my natural thing, but I do love the enjoyment of moving faster than walking, sweating and pushing myself a bit.

When you are looking at this you may think, “oh I could never do something every day” or “I could never do 2 longer sessions, I just don’t have the time”, so this is where you look at what time you do have, what you’d really love to do, who you could ask to support you to be able to choose that option (see previous blog post) and maybe what you might have to give up to make that commitment. Often if we look at it, there are slack times in our day when we don’t need to spend half an hour scrolling Instagram ( yes, me too, it’s a sap!) or an hour watching TV in the evening - actually a useful time to consciously move. I’ve had good responses with women willing to do a short circuit while cooking dinner in the evening - the trick here is being prepared so you’re at least in comfortable clothes ready to move when you have the opportunity.

5) Values - in the end your choice of movement comes down to your values for yourself. Where do you want to get to? What does your future look like and your ideal week of movement entail if time and money were no object? Moving in a nourishing way is a show of self-love, loving yourself enough to honour the adventure that you and your body have been in through your life, showing yourself how brilliant you are for housing, nourishing and nurturing another human and giving yourself the space to rebuild with all that you have experienced inside you now.

Have you found your way with your workout/exercise/sport/movement routine? Are you struggling to work things out? Do you want help and to find a way?

As a post-natal corrective exercise specialist I see women 1-1 in both my studio in Sussex and online from anywhere in the world, get in touch to chat over your needs and how I can help you.

All that junk!

Fergie working it with Will.i.am in the “My Humps” official video

Fergie working it with Will.i.am in the “My Humps” official video

So many songs have been written about the shape of a woman’s derriere we can be reminded fairly frequently that having some “junk in your trunk” is a good way to go.  Whether your butt is big or small the most important thing is that the muscles within work really well as those muscles are pretty central to everything else that happens in the body.  As a Mum the tendency is for our butt muscles to sag (let’s face it, everything else is!!) and “Mum Bum” becomes an actual reality, often accompanied by low back pain, pelvic floor weakness and posture changes through the rest of the body.  Now I don’t care what your butt or mine looks like, what I care about is that the flat look indicates underused muscles and when your buttocks are underused your whole system is not working cohesively - your buttocks are 3 set of gluteal muscles, plus a number of deep hip rotators in the pelvis most recognisably, collectively called your “glutes” and they attach in and across the pelvis and out to the hip joint, also connecting with the fascia (connective tissue) of the quad, hamstring and hip flexor muscles and upwards they connect with the fascia of the lower back, core system and large shoulder organising/moving muscles of the lats.  Plus very importantly when in comes to the movement Mums do and need to do on the daily, the glutes/deep hip rotators are completely connected with the pelvic floor - tight glutes = tight pelvic floor / weak glutes = weak pelvic floor.  In general terms we know that all muscles in the body are connected but the glutes/buttock muscles drive movement up into the trunk and upper body and down through the hip, knee and into your ankle.  So if you have a weak ankle that often rolls, look to strengthen the glutes, and if you have a clunky, hard to strengthen shoulder, look to work on exercises that strengthen both the glutes and shoulders together keeping in mind the fascial connection between the 2 areas.  

When it comes to the pelvic floor and the glutes connection, there are 3 things you can consider:

  1. How do you stand?  The standard playground posture for Mums is hips swayed forwards, knees locked back and ribcage dropped back and down - when you’re tired and this is your 4000th trip to the park that week you go into energy saving mode which means hanging off your hips.  The problem is to do this posture your glutes stay squeezed on all the time and they are not those sorts of muscles, they don’t like being switched on all the time so they get weakened by holding that position.  When we stand with hips pressed forwards it also means the pelvic floor is locked on and unable to relax or contract. 

  2. How you use your glutes.  As I’ve said above, the most important thing with the glutes is whether you are “switching them on and off”. Your glute muscles work best - and that means support your body and help it function well - when they go from some stretch to some contraction.  To really wake the glutes up we need to stretch them in all directions they can go: twist, lengthen and flex, and then contract them in all ways.  During strengthening exercises and movements we need to set the body up so that the pelvis is in a “neutral” position to be able to help the glutes lengthen and then work and we work the whole buttock muscle group in 3 dimensions as frequently as possible - think of the actions football and rugby players do around a pitch: side to side, sprinting fast, jogging slow, one leg standing, jumping and diving.  I’m not saying that’s the only way to get good working glutes, but if you only work your muscles by going forwards to stand/sit, walk, occasionally jog and also stand with poor posture, your glutes are not going to be working optimally.

  3. Glutes = pelvic floor. If you go to squat, sit on a chair or the toilet, walk up stairs, bend down to load the dishwasher, pick up toys from the floor, or go to pick your kids up you are using your glutes/pelvic floor over and over again.  As we now know from all the above, we want our glutes to work well when we do use them so that means going through the squat movement with a fairly “neutral” spine, hinging at the hip joint instead of tucking the pelvis under (which would be the pelvis moving rather than the hip joint) and then lengthening through the back of the legs and glutes while you bend down/squat/sit which gets the glutes/pelvic floor in the right place to work strongly as you stand up.  This is especially important if you are holding a load - a large, screaming toddler for example - as you don’t want your pelvic floor to be in a weak position causing leaking, or for it to tighten up too much as a reaction to poor patterning so while the pressure builds up in your abdominal cavity it presses down on your pelvic floor causing you to be susceptible to prolapse.

If you have low back pain, can feel tightness or weakness in your pelvic floor, or get aches and pains in your hips, knees and feet, making glute strengthening (with the right form) a priority will be a major part of your rehab, preferably under guidance.

Breathing for mind and body!

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When it comes to breathing in running it would seem simple enough that you just breath and your breathing gets bigger as you need more oxygen through exertion.  However, how many times have you got a stitch, felt some weakness in your pelvic floor, or felt that you don’t have enough breath left in you to keep going?  These are all symptoms of a problematic breathing pattern and you can do something about it really easily.

Why is breathing correctly so important? 

  1. Full breath = more oxygen - pretty obvious but the more of your lungs you use the more oxygen you get in and so the more your muscles have available to use up.  Often I find runners will breath into the upper part of their lungs and use their shoulders to heave their upper ribs up and down which creates a shallow, short breath, this is fine if you’re sprinting shorter distances but not if you’re running a 10k or marathon.

  2. Diaphragm and Pelvic Floor (PF) need to work together.  Your diaphragm is a large sheet of muscle sitting and curving with the base of the ribcage and attaching into your spine, and your pelvic floor is a set of different muscles that all sling like a hammock between the bony parts of the base of the pelvis and spine.  The pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm mirror each other and work most effectively and completely when they mirror each other exactly both in alignment (being over the top of each other on the same plane) and movement pattern.  When we breath out the diaphragm draws up and this is mirrored by the pelvic floor drawing up, and as we breath in and the diaphragm comes down opening the ribs out to the sides, the PF also draws down between the bony landmarks of the pelvis giving a feeling of expansion or release.  In this way the PF works in the most effective way, allowing for the management of pressure in the abdominal cavity - if your PF and diaphragm work in opposites to each other (with the PF pushing down on the breath out) then the pressure in your abdominal cavity is increasing and pressure going into the PF can be hard to manage possibly resulting in PF dysfunction, leaking or potential to prolapse.  

  3. Breathing from the base of the pelvis helps to connect with the lower abs as well as reducing pressure in the abdominal cavity.  Place one hand on your lower abs, and one hand on your upper abs and then breath heavy enough to be able to feel the movement of your belly while your breathing.  As mentioned above, it’s important for your PF to move down during the breath in and draw up on the breath out, you want to feel that the hand on your lower abs moves before your hand over your upper abs, drawing inwards.  The cue I use is “breathing out from the base of your pelvis”.  When you do this you are helping to manage the pressure in your abdomen again so that it doesn’t get pushed out to the wrong places (forwards or down) and helps your PF to connect with the lower part of the deep abdominal muscles below the belly button.  

  4. Reduce strain on the shoulders.  As mentioned in point 1, runners often breath by heaving their shoulders up and down, by the end of a run you may find you have neck and shoulder aches and strain which can be quite tiring and require you to do something to soothe your aching shoulders!

What’s the solution?

  1. Think of breathing 360 degrees all the way round the base of your ribcage imagining your ribs are like bucket handles lifting up and out to the sides, so you are not just breathing to the front but sides and back of your ribs as well.  You need to also think of feeling your ribs expanding out to the back of your body as well so mobility in this area is important - how do you get that?  More back body breathing of course!

  2. When you’re at rest get used to practicing the movement of your PF and diaphragm so that they move synchronously up together on the breath out and down together on the breath in.  When you feel you’ve got that well practised, use the same breath pattern in all strength exercises you do and then also when you are moving dynamically.  Running might be the last step in that progression particularly if you’re having difficulty with it.

  3. As in step 2 practice breathing from the base of your pelvis when at rest, then when doing strength exercises - supine lying, on hands and knees, sitting and then standing would normally be the progression for this as standing is the most complicated, but not always with all people.  Then progress to dynamic movement, always feeling the breath from the base of the spine.

  4. If you are doing all the above you will be focussing on breathing down and low which is great and will release the strain on your shoulders.  Think of your shoulders as an American Football players shoulder pad frame that sits on top of your ribcage, unconnected to your ribs and so you are able to breath underneath your shoulders without involving them.

I hope all these points help you to breath with more control and more comfortably, able to run for longer and potentially faster!  

Let me know what you think, if you have any questions and if you have tried out these points and have any comments.

Not just a spare rib!

Today I've been inspired by chats I've had with a few of my clients about how important the position of ribs is for working your abs more efficiently which relates to your posture and how you use your whole upper body especially in weightbearing but also in any lower body work to be able to align well for efficient movement and use of the connection between upper and lower body (pelvic floor and glutes most essentially).

In this video I talk through why rib position is so important, how to think about visual cues for correction, and ways to help your body work effectively over time to get stronger over time.

Let me know any comments or questions you might have, I hope you find this interesting.

Day 23 - Morning wake up with some cows!

Saturday, Day 23 - I decided today that training in the dark just wasn’t all that lovely especially not with the rising evening damp and the cold creeping in even as I moved.  So when I got up (woken by the Ginger Nut needing a wee of course), I threw on some shorts and a top and went to a little bit of space in the field next to our campsite which has some logs and a tiny bit of flat ground to play around on.  The cows looked at me very curiously the whole time, but I guess by the time I started on the circuit and was making huffing and puffing noises they thought I was one of them!!                                         

As I was at least a day behind on the schedule to complete all of my 12 week programme in 26 days, I chose to do the pilates and strength sessions from Week 11, and the circuit session from week 10 one after each other.  A nice mobile intro in the pilates, a pre-activation strength session and then I’m nicely warmed up for the circuit.

The pilates session focussed on a mid-range flow of movements starting from standing, going through down dog/plank positions, and then onto all 4s and finishing with side-lying glute work.  The initial flow in standing is the signature Garuda pilates moves which I find hugely beneficial for mobilising a tight and uncomfortable mid-spine/ribs, and therefore ideal for a 15 minute flow when waking up, it’s then brilliant to challenge the whole body all together to bring everything right in and re-connect.

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The exercises in the strength and circuit were:
Strength:
1) Down Dog scap press - in a dog position, shrug shoulders up to ears and then squeeze them back down to mid back
2) Single leg deadlift - stand on one leg, balance extending other leg up behind, core and all squeezed in to middle, then stand quickly with drive to upright
3) Forearm donkey kicks - down on elbows, kick 1 leg up keeping it bent in same as start position
4) Bench straight leg kickbacks - kneel on bench with one knee and both hands, other leg straight down to floor, kick that leg back until it is horizontal with spine

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Circuit:
1) Push-up with alt toe touch - do a push up and each time touch outside of one foot with hand
2) Alt side lunge to jump - side lunge, then back to centre and jump up both legs, then swap sides
3) Side plank with knee tucks - side plank on your knee, then extend your top arm and leg, then pull elbow and knee to touch in front of you then extend back out - repeat either for half the time or do 5 on each side before switching
4) Ski mogul switch hop burpees - start facing off at an angle, hop switching direction 3 times, on 3rd, stay and hands down to floor, feet out to burpee and back in and jump, then do the switches again ending up facing the other way next time you do the burpee.
5) Glute bridge with alternating overhead reach - a normal glute bridge, with one arm reach overhead and to the other side of your body, come all the way back down before repeating and switching arms.

The rest of the day was spent with the kids messing around in the little stream at the campsite, building dams, chasing fish and making potions - I sunbathed, read my book, drank tea (then wine) and ate biscuits - bliss!!