post-natal wellbeing

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.

What do you really need ... and how to get it

Image courtesy of: Catie Atkinson, Spiritysol

Image courtesy of: Catie Atkinson, Spiritysol

Writing this from my breakfast table on the terrace outside the lovely holiday house we rented in Tenerife, its a funny thing to be thinking about “needs”.  This particularly phase of life is pretty near perfect - husband around for a whole 8 days, plenty of sunshine, kids happily playing safely and we have miraculously found somewhere with 2 other children the same age as ours for them to be entertained by.  However, the reality is this escapist week is the tonic to our full tilt lives, with my husband commuting for nearly 4 hours each day, me teaching 16 classes a week plus all the extra admin and life stuff, and our kids doing after school activities on all but 1 weekday.  I have had a few new clients recently coming in talking about how they’d like to be doing more to help themselves get stronger, but they just can’t find the time, or my client who hasn’t had a full nights sleep in 4 1/2 years whilst her husband has not helped out.  One of the most powerful tools I learnt that helped me break through the cycle of needing - feeling unfulfilled - feeling resentful - expressing anger - was the realisation that I could ask for what I needed and those who were able to support wanted to help.  Most of the issue as a Mum who has her finger on the pulse of everything in the household is that we don’t let go easily.  Think of the last time you went out for a bit and left your partner in charge - did you micro-manage the entire time so they had food, things to do, washing already done and clothes already laid out?  Or did you just leave the house?  For those with little kids I suspect the answer is the former, I know I wasn’t alone!

Asking for support with what we need is a fundamental change of tack for a previously independent woman who didn’t really need someone else’s help just so she could go to do some food shopping alone, or buy a nice top for a party so she felt good about herself.  I believe learning how to express what we need and want can change our own lives and of those around us.

I learnt through the One Of Many coaching system that writing a “needs creed” is the first step, so here I am passing that tool on to you. 

Write out a list of all the things you need/want/desire  - anything and everything from water, fresh air, daily movement, a massage, an evening out with girlfriends, a good book, 8 hours sleep, going for a walk by yourself, regular sex, an evening spent talking with your partner, individual time with your kids, going to see a therapist because you need some extra help, getting a cleaner etc etc.  You can write as much as you can possibly think about and in no particular order to begin with.  Then divide your list into “essential needs”, “wants” and “desires” - your essentials are those things that you would not feel complete and fulfilled without, for example, it might be essential to you that you are able to take one evening a month to chat to or connect with your best friends in some way and without that you’d feel adrift, or moving in your most nourishing, chosen way at least 3 times a week otherwise you’ll feel sluggish and foggy.  You shouldn’t feel that anything is a luxury and not really a need or that you feel selfish writing these down - if you feel that is what makes you, you and you wouldn’t feel your whole self without it then it’s a need.  Your “wants” are things that are slightly down on that list, for example, a new top to help you feel better about your breastfeeding boobs, or a massage once a month, these are things you can get by without but you may spend your time feeling resentful if you are not able to make room in your life for them.  Your desires might be things that are visions for the future, or wants that you have for the way you will be living.  Not “once I lose 5kgs I will ...” but things like “I need 8 hours sleep, our baby hasn’t slept through yet, I don’t think it’ll happen tomorrow, it might take a while, how do we get there?” Aim towards the positive desires rather than negative outcomes - I want to feel healthier, not I want to be slimmer - then your goal orientation will always be positive rather than negative.

Once you have your list, the fun begins, this is where you get to involve others.  Write next to each need/want/desire what that looks like to you - eg. Water - 6 pints every day (especially if you’re breastfeeding), sleep - in bed by 9:30, lights out at 10pm every night, movement - that yoga class you love every Saturday morning, or that online workout programme you’ve been considering that’ll cost £20 a month.  Then work out who can help you with this and ASK them.  Sleep is the most fundamental, important and potentially contentious one here, if you are up in the night with babies, up at the crack of dawn with them as well and then have to entertain them during the day and your partner comes home at 8pm preferring you to eat together when he/she is back, and then he/she will watch TV and chat with you until at least 10/11pm and so you don’t get into bed until 11:30/12pm, this is a pattern that is not serving you.  You and your partner have different needs, and whilst I sympathise with wanting to connect together at the end of the day, there are other ways to do this other than eating late together and going to bed late together.  Talk to your partner about what you need “I need to get more sleep, I’m so tired, and feeling depleted” then show them what they can do to help “I would love it if you could help me by encouraging me to go to bed at 9:30pm, it would help me feel so good and happy” and how this could work “I would like to eat dinner with the kids so that I’m not eating late, then I’d love to sit and chat about our days when you eat later on” then check in if that could work for them “what do you think, how would that work for you?”

No-one would refuse you this, the people around you want to help, would love to facilitate an easier life for you, and need the specifics - no more assuming they will “just know” or wondering why they can’t just tell what you need!  Do you need time to go to a class each week? Who can help - a Mum friend, a neighbour, a relative, your partner - you never know until you ask, try it out, adapt as you go along, you are not alone.  It does take a village to raise a child, sometimes it’s not obvious what that village looks like, or who is in your particular village, and sometimes you need to build it, but it’s there.

All that junk!

Fergie working it with in the “My Humps” official video

Fergie working it with 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.

“Something’s got to give"

This week a client messaged me to say she had loads of work to do, and then used the phrase “Something’s go to give” so she was cancelling her class with me that week.  When I next saw her and we talked about it she said she’d had to cancel her swimming lesson that week too and that her 4 1/2 year old had had a terrible fortnight of poor sleep since the clocks went back too, while furthermore she said he has not slept through the night yet in his whole life, and she has been up with him every single night, her husband only did 1 night when their son was 18 months old and that’s it.

It got me thinking about why the answer to the problem of terminal exhaustion, work overload, and taking the brunt of the emotional load of the household is to drop what nourishes you and makes you feel like you - why is it not “please can you help me” to a friend, or “can you give me some extra time today by taking the kids in” to your partner?  Why is it that what gives is us? We have to be the one that yields to others, that bows to the pressures of the household, and capitulates without question.  I’m not suggesting we should never yield and should make our lives even more complicated by continuing on with all the plates we have to spin just so we are not conceding to others, however, we would have a greater sense of wellbeing if, as a result of asking for help and support now and then, we were able to have 1/2 hour of breathing time to do nothing, to keep consistent with our movement and self-care practice or take some time in nature to nourish our senses mindfully.  

I have seen and taught too many women over the years who have come to class literally on the edge, tense, exhausted and anxious, who burst into tears when they can’t understand instructions about exercises because their brains just can’t take one more thing.  These are women who have full time jobs and babies and toddlers to care for then something has tipped them over like managing their baby starting at nursery, a child with allergies having reactions, their partner away on business for 2 weeks, or a sick parent some distance away.  At times like that we need to be prepared to reach out, to have a friend, colleague or relative that we have set up in better times to give us support.  Try them out on easier occasions with plenty of notice, see how it feels to ask for help and their reaction to being asked, you can then create a network - a village to help you spread the burden when the proverbial hits the fan.

flower crown.jpg

You are the wonder woman who keeps the house together, don’t take that lightly, think as if you are the Queen, all those in your realm would do everything to keep you/The Crown working well for many, many years.  Wear that crown with honour your majesty!

How not to hurt yourself when you run!

I hear from many women (myself included at one point), that they are worried about running because they don’t trust their pelvic floor, or they can’t run very much before it all going a bit pear shaped.  I get that, I wasn’t sure my pelvic floor would hold either, but now I know that you can start running whenever you like or whenever you need to without worry because if you set yourself up well you’ll be using your body efficiently so your pelvic floor will be in the right place. 

“But surely my pelvic floor is always in the same place, how can it be in the right or wrong place?” - ah well that’s the thing, the way we stand, walk, go up and down stairs, get out of a chair and run can all influence whether our pelvic floor is in a position where it can do it’s job well or in a position that there’s not a hope in hell it could hold on and so most likely it won’t!  So let’s set you up right and then off you go!

  • Ideally I would have you take a photo of yourself side on so you can see the curves of your spine - if not a photo, at least stand side on to a mirror and take a look.

  • Our spine has natural curves from the joint between our skull and neck curving slightly forward, the area around the back of our ribs curving slightly back and then a low curve behind our pelvis which curves forward again.  In some people these gentle curves can become exaggerated and a head forward posture leads to an increased upper back curve and increased lower back curve to balance all the way through.  In others the spine can be very flat through the upper half and with a steeper curve in the low back to compensate.  In others, and this is more common in post-natal women, the curve in the low back travels up to behind the belly button and either their butt sticks out or, more commonly they tuck their bottom under to compensate for the excessive curve higher up.

  • So when you look at your spine, what do your curves look like?

  • When you’re standing, walking, running and all the rest of your daily movements you want to think about keeping your ribs connected to the pelvis at the front.  In 99% of my clients we focus on ribs down - this is through expanding your back as well as connecting through your front.  So when you walk and go to start running keep your ribs dropped down so you have that connection and control set up right.

  • Then check in with where your pelvis is, if it’s stuck out you’re going to have problems with the impact of running on your low back, and if it’s tucked under - surprisingly common! - you’ll have problems with your pelvic floor struggling to hold strong enough with the weight of your trunk going down through your pelvis. Start from the ribs and then you may find the pelvis stacks correctly underneath.

  • What about your head?  Remember your head is pretty heavy, if you run with your head stuck out forwards that’s going to increase the slump down through your upper back and make it heavy to keep picking up each step - like holding a bowling ball in your arm all the time!  So keep your chin tucked slightly and back of your neck long so your head and ribs are all in a line.

  • As you start to run, make sure you drive your legs back out behind you each step instead of scooting your feet forwards.  It helps if you start from where your foot lands - make it mid or fore foot instead of heel which means you are best to strike the floor almost under your body rather than out in front.

  • Last thing - arms - do they swing across your body or do you use your arms forwards and back like pistons to help propel you.  If you are doing the cross body swinging thing you are potentially lacking mobility in your upper back to get enough counter rotation to your pelvis - ie. your pelvis and ribcage should rotate opposite to each other each step - but if you don’t get enough of this then your arms have to swing to get more momentum.

Having someone take a video of you running is a brilliant tool to help you learn.  You often find that what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing are a world apart from each other and seeing yourself can help you close that gap.

Don’t be afraid to run, here’s my top 3 tips for starting out:

  1. Go by feel not distance, speed or what your technology says

  2. Walk then run, walk, run, walk, run - slow to a walk when you feel your alignment (all those points above) is failing to hold.  There’s only any point in running while you’re doing good technique rather than ending up in a sloshy mess at the end.

  3. Breath into your ribs to the side and back under your shoulders - more of that in the next post - not by tightening your neck and dragging your shoulders up

Have fun, running is a brilliant way to get some headspace, take an easy amount of time out to do something for yourself and most importantly enjoy spending time in nature whatever the weather. I will post more soon about conditioning exercises for running so you can make sure you’re strong enough all over to keep going.

Happy Running!