women’s 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.