This is old news. I did a post about it on Facebook a while ago after I saw this photo on Instagram:

e56a76_9566c3186c1d489d84322aae3bfc7950

But despite the fact that a lot of fitness professionals spoke out against it, I still see it happening.

I’m talking about #noexcuses.

I’ve just seen this picture being used to promote a local gym to mums:

e56a76_416388a09e064b36b1662f739f432af8

And that’s why I’m writing this blog.

In all honesty I think (hope) they were just using it because of their creche, to say ‘that’s one barrier to your gym attendance that we’ve removed.’ But that’s not what the picture says. The picture takes her body, and says ‘what’s your excuse?’ Are we seriously going to pretend none of us has a valid ‘excuse’ for not looking like that?

Well here are what I think are 6 perfectly good reasons for not having visible abs.

1. Not wanting visible abs.

This may come as a shock to some, but not everyone wants a six pack.

Having goals is great. But having abs is HER goal, and there’s no need to judge others because they don’t live up to it. They’re not the be all and end all. They will not bring you happiness. They are not necessary in order to look attractive.

2. Not being a fitness model.

These women get paid to look like this. Well done to them for all the hard work, but for the rest of us, who don’t get paid, and may even have other jobs that take up our time, it’s not such a priority.

Also, the fact that they were fit before they had children makes things a lot easier. Are we really going to turn around to the mum who hasn’t done a workout in years and say, ‘hey, this mum who has 10 years training experience got her figure back in 6 months, what’s your excuse?’

3. Having a life.

Yes, I could exercise more and eat less, but having body fat low enough to show your abs has trade offs. Those trade offs for me include less time with my children and feeling more stressed when I am with them as I struggle to squeeze in a workout around running a house and a business.

This doesn’t mean I don’t exercise. I train, I stay fit, but my goals at the moment are health related, I’d rather not waste time and energy worrying about a few pounds or inches here and there.

4. Not having obsessive/ disordered eating habits.

Otherwise known as having a healthy relationship with food.

This means when you have to consume food outside your own home it comes on a plate in a restaurant/ cafe, not in a Tupperware box filled with chicken and broccoli from the steaming marathon you had on Sunday evening.

And you don’t feel guilty afterwards.

See here and here for a couple of examples of the damage competitive fitness can do to your relationship with food.

5. Genetics.

People come in different shapes and sizes. Some people are naturally slim and can quite easily get visible abs. For others it just isn’t going to happen. So let’s stop this message that certain physical attributes or body types are better than others. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to others.

6. You don’t need a fucking excuse.

You’re an adult. Not a child turning up late for class. You do not answer to the gym police about your appearance.

Are you healthy? Happy? Then good for you.

Stop worrying about the rest.

e56a76_238011450bc645f98ae0043796750d2f

As a trainer, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to post these ‘no excuses’ pictures. I don’t want to tell women they should look a certain way and I don’t want to play on their insecurities to get clients. I want them to learn to be happy with their bodies and to stop comparing themselves to others. To train to feel good physically and mentally, because a happy mum means a happy family!

I started writing this blog because I felt annoyed about the message the fitness industry send out sometimes. Hopefully I’m finishing it on a more positive note.

But even when I’m being body positive, I still feel a bit sad. Because it’s still about bodies.

How we look.

And we’re more than that. If you really want to feel better about yourself, step away from the scales/ mirror. Learn a new skill. Laugh with friends. Develop yourself inside as well as out.

Because your children don’t love you for your dress size or well applied mascara. They love you for the comfort in your hugs and words, the fun you have playing games, the safety of knowing you’re there when they need you, putting them first.

Because you’re a mum. And you don’t need an excuse.

There’s a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest-bathing’, which is about engaging with the atmosphere of the forest. It is shown to help lower pulse rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels.

Part of this response is attributed to breathing in/interacting with chemicals called phytoncides, given off by trees and plants. They’re meant to ward off harmful bugs and rot, but the compound seems to benefit us.

We may not have been forest bathing, but as one mum put it during one of my Stroller Strength classes, ‘it feels good to get outside.’

Fresh air and phytoncides, free with every class 🙂

Click here to find out more about our classes.

I have a friend who went on a silent retreat recently: a whole weekend of no talking, no distractions and lots of meditation.

This sounds simultaneously wonderful and horrendous to me: wonderful because I can’t imagine many things as blissful right now as having no distractions, and some time for myself; horrendous because I would find switching off for that long so challenging.

I don’t know about you, but I find it quite hard to meditate. It’s incredibly difficult to stop thinking. I know the theory- recognise the thought or distraction and then let it go, but it’s quite frustrating to do!

e56a76_8986c8cba0ba4851896c68b0db872f57

 I know, I know, practice makes perfect.

And I will keep at it. But I actually find exercise to be a form of meditation, and I find it easier to lose myself and focus on the moment when training than when trying to meditate.

When running I focus on the way my foot strikes the ground, the way my body moves onto it and how my foot then propels me forward again. I feel how smooth the movement is; am I wasting energy bouncing up and down or can I maintain an efficient forward propulsion? And my breath, the rhythm of it.

I used to throw on my headphones and plod away, enjoying the rush of exercise, the challenge of beating my times, but not always the process itself. Since switching to a forefoot strike and becoming aware of technique, running has become much more meditative for me.

I had a similar experience with swimming, where slowing down and trying to achieve a more efficient,smoother stroke has kept my mind on what I’m doing in the water, rather than just singing in my head while I notch up the lengths.

e56a76_412a62ed4ccc4f819ef44026162109ad

But what are the benefits of mindful exercise?

Sure, I feel calmer, more relaxed and more clear headed after training like this. And I feel like my movement is more efficient. But what’s the science behind it?

Increased skill.

 Have you seen the video where you have to count the number of ball passes between the players? If you haven’t here it is:

It beautifully demonstrates how we can only really be aware of some of the sensory information our body is receiving. And when we focus on how something feels, that we weren’t fully aware of before, we excite neural activity. This is why, according to Todd Hargrove in A Guide To Better Movement, “focussed attention is one of the key requirements for practise that maximises neuroplasticity and associated motor learning.”

 So to gain the most from practising any skill, you need to be fully focussed on it. This kind of tunnel vision is something top athletes tend to excel at.

Decreased risk of injury.

When we focus on particular sensations in our body we can also improve the sensory information our bodies send our brain. This is kind of important!

Our brain has a sort of ‘map’ of our body, and our nervous system sends it information. Poor proprioreception means the information being sent to the brain is poor, often as a result of poorly facilitated muscles. Think of the difference between someone who closes their eyes and wobbles all over the place and a gymnast who does the same and remains still.

If the brain isn’t confident that a joint is stable, it can restrict range of motion in an attempt to protect it. And if the ‘body map’ in the brain is poor then movement control will suffer. Which means an increased risk of injury!

So to improve your proprioreception, regular mindful movements are best, and ideally they should be complex and novel, as these result in a stronger neural response. Do this by consciously trying to squeeze the muscles you know should be working. Over time it will become more subconscious.

A stronger muscular contraction.

The other advantage to focusing on the muscle being worked is it actually works a lot harder!

This article examines this by conducting a study into the effect of the mind-muscle connection on resistance training. If you’re interested then follow the link for more information, but it shows just how large an effect mindful focus can have.

It’s something I’ve been taught is especially important when coaching kegels, as many women can actually contract the wrong muscles, say the glutes, and not train the pelvic floor effectively. Many Women’s Health Physiotherapists will show their patient a model of the pelvis to aid this with visualisation, and I like to encourage clients to imagine drawing the pubis and coccyx (where the pelvic floor attaches) together.

In this blog physiotherapist and pelvic floor expert Sue Croft describes how effective using the model is, as she can “confirm that I can often feel a stronger contraction on palpation, when the patient views the model compared to not looking at it.”

So there you have it, whether meditation isn’t your thing, or if you’re just not that great at it yet like me, you can still reap some of the benefits by applying mindfulness to you workout!

The final video in my core series for Mums of Steel. Here I talk about alignment and how it can affect the healing of your diastasis recti.

If you haven’t already seen them, here is part 1 and part 2.

For an assessment and programme to help establish optimal alignment for diastasis repair, contact me for your free personal training consultation.

The second in my video series for Mums of Steel, looking at how our breathing technique affects the core. An important part of core training that is often overlooked!

If you haven’t watched Part 1, click here to watch it first.

To make sure your post natal training is on the right track book onto a class here.

To watch the final part in this series, go to Part 3 here, about how your alignment can affect your post natal recovery.

This is the first of 3 videos I did for Mums of Steel about the post natal core, looking at why the core doesn’t mean the abs, and what muscles we should be focusing on.

To watch the next video, explaining the importance of the ‘core breath’ and it’s role in stabilisation, watch part 2 here.

For a bespoke core restore programme find out more about personal training with me.

I don’t think it’s news to anyone that diet plays a vital role in overall health. There’s advice everywhere: what to eat to boost the immune system, boost energy, get healthier looking skin and hair…. I could go on.

Problem is, even though we know a nutrient-rich diet will help our recovery after giving birth, it’s easier said than done!

Yes we want to eat plenty of protein, fruit and veg, and home-made meals. But when I had my first and was exhausted, struggling to breastfeed, and generally overwhelmed, I found it very easy to reach for the biscuits! I had a lazy feeder who kept falling asleep on the boob and got told I had to pump to boost my milk supply. After every feed. In hindsight I’m not convinced this was necessary, or the fenugreek. Did anyone else take that? Seriously, I’ve never been so aware of my own stench before, the stuff oozes out of your pores. And just when your baby is learning to recognise mummy’s smell!

Anyway, up at 2am, feed for 30 minutes each side (as he was such a slow sucker) then pump. So back in bed at 4am, if I’m lucky, to get up again at 5 for a repeat… You’re damn right I had a packet of Cadbury’s Fingers next to me during those night time marathons!

Second time round I was better prepared with healthier snacks on hand, and if I did it again if be even more organised by filling my freezer with ready made bags like these.

But what specific diet tip would I give to new mums?

Bone broth.

Or just broth/ soup. Bone broth is trendier at the moment though (or at least calling it that seems to mean it costs more)!

Most women will get Diastasis Recti (DR) during their pregnancy, and while Mother Nature is fantastic, and it can heal on its own, poor sleep, nutrition, alignment and a lack of muscle tone beforehand can make it harder. For those who haven’t healed by 8 weeks post partum, it won’t heal without specific exercise/physiotherapy  intervention to help (Coldron et al 2008). But to get the best results possible you need to look at stress, sleep and nutrition too. And when I get a client who needs to work on repairing DR, my number 1 nutrition tip is bone broth.

The midline (called the linea alba), which has become stretched as the abdominal muscles have moved apart, is made of collagen. So you need to eat foods that encourage this collagen to repair. (As a bonus this will also let the pelvic floor recover, and let’s face it that’s taken some punishment too!)

The most efficient way to do this is from animal protein, specifically the skin, cartilage and bones, which is rich in gelatin, which is derived from collagen. Broth is the best source of this. It’s not as straight forward as eat collagen and your body will use it as collagen; we don’t absorb collagen whole. Your body will break it down and use it as it needs to. Bone broth has a different amino acid (the building blocks of protein) profile than muscle meat though, and is easily digested and anti-inflammatory. For any vegetarians- yes you can rebuild from plant sources, but the key word is‘efficient’.

The other benefit is that it hydrates you. Water is also an essential part of your recovery and tissue repair, and so many mums end up not drinking enough.

And remember, if you don’t like broth you can use it as a base for another soup, like tomato, or as stock, which is what I usually do, cooking rice in it or adding it to casseroles. Click here for my chicken stock/ soup recipe.

I’m sure you’ve all been told before how great squats are for the glutes, and while the humble squat is an awesome exerise, when it comes to getting buns of steel there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. Here we’re going to show you a few alternatives to throw some variety into your workouts.

But first, a quick look at why the glutes are important.

Yes, there’s the aesthetics. But there’s more to the glutes than that. They help maintain posture, play an important role in reducing the risk of injury (underactive or weak glutes mean more strain on the back, hips and knees), and they help to balance the pelvic floor by keeping the pelvis in alignment. So extra relevent to the post natal woman!

There are actually 3 glute muscles.

Gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. Gluteus maximus works to extend the hip, which is when your thigh moves behind your body, and rotate it outwards.

e56a76_49a1c14035c74db199685703a44e59cd

Gluteus medius and minimus work together to abduct the thigh (pull it out to the side), and rotate it in. Gluteus minimus (2nd picture) sits underneath gluteus medius (side view in the top picture).

e56a76_49895a68396f41e68addb4b5433162c9

e56a76_2644d5d7ab134049bc66aaacf6411f44

Here are 3 great exercises that really hit these muscles!

The Glute Bridge:

Lateral Step:

Glute Bridge with Leg Extension:

The offers mentioned in the videos are valid until 30th April 2015. Terms and conditions apply, please contact me for more information or visit the personal training page.

 

I don’t think any mum has ever looked back at the first year of her child’s life and thought, “I wish I’d done more cleaning. Those dusty skirting boards still haunt me”.

What you do look back at and cherish are those moments when you are in a place of absolute peace; your baby is smiling at you as you lie next to him on the bed, reaching out for your finger, or sleeping on your chest, completely content in the safest place they know. Or when you were just gazing at him in wonder, still amazed that you could produce something so perfect.

e56a76_cc3f59f8b9014a40b65a289fec42e1ad

And he needs you.

He needs you at your best. You may not feel your best; you’re sleep deprived and hormonal. But you are everything that baby needs, you are perfect for him. He doesn’t care about what your tummy looks like.

What does matter is that you don’t feel exhausted from a too-long workout.

That your energy doesn’t suffer any more than necessary because you’re restricting your calories. That instead of looking in the mirror and finding faults with yourself, you can recognise that your body has just grown another human being and deserves to be treated with love and care so that it recovers as effectively as possible.

e56a76_4231ef37ded046f4ad133cd1cc5e5030

Note that I said effectively, not quickly. For some women it may be quick: maybe they’ve followed an ante natal conditioning programme, maybe they’ve just got good genes. They don’t matter: you matter.

Your stomach muscles have stretched and most likely pulled apart. They have to repair and restore function before you can start building strength. If you do too much too quickly, you run the risk of making it worse and pushing outward on the abdominal wall.

And what about your pelvic floor muscles? 50% of women who have had children have some degree of pelvic organ prolapse (Hagen & Stark 2011). Rushing back into impact exercise, or even doing exercises that increase the pressure in your abdomen (crunches for example) put pressure on your pelvic floor muscles.  Trust me, prevention is better than cure, and you want to look after your pelvic floor.

Of course, there’s a reason so many mums overdo it.

They want to ‘get their body back’, lose the extra weight and tone their tummy. And that’s understandable. But the great thing is, the sensible gentle approach is also the most effective- if you rush and don’t allow your core to repair, you’ll be left with a poochy tummy.  And the exercises that are best at aiding this repair are gentle and can be done in as little as 10 minutes a day.

Make sure your exercise is a form of self-care, not a punishment.

e56a76_194c22692bbe4620a2437c2238ed979c

Just because you’re working to lose weight or your tummy does NOT mean you can’t embrace your body now. It has achieved something amazing, and deserves to be cared for, not forced through grueling unsuitable workouts (like a friend of mine did after her first, which she describes here), despite the fact you feel exhausted already. You are not being lazy- you’re sleep deprived!

Remember, your recovery is a process that takes months, not just the weeks leading up to your 6 week check. 100% you should exercise: regular movement is so important and will aid your recovery. But that exercise needs to be safe and effective, post-natal specific, and it doesn’t need to be anywhere near as much as some mums do. You should leave a workout feeling better than when you started it.

So enjoy your baby, and be kind to your body. There’s plenty of time for tougher workouts when you’re fully recovered and getting a good night’s sleep.

I’m going to leave you with a poem by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton that I’m sure you’ve read before, but if this doesn’t remind you to slow down and relax at this precious time, then I’ve got no chance!

BABIES DON’T KEEP

Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.

Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullabye, rockabye, lullabye loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due,
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo.

The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo.
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo,
Look! Aren’t his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullabye, rockaby lullabye loo.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

For information on post natal classes designed with all this in mind learn about my Restore My Core course here.

To find out about personal training, and get a personalised programme to follow at home along with advice on nutrition to aid recovery, click here.

That may sound like a joke that my son made up, but it will make sense soon. Unlike my son’s jokes:

Him: What do you call a man flying?

Me: We don’t know

Him: Me don’t know

Me: ? But it’s your joke.

Him:………..

Me: Fred?

Him: Yes. What do you call a flower eating a flower?

This went on for a long time.

Before we start, I’ll admit now: I don’t like counting calories. This is in large part due to laziness. To accurately track calories I would need to:

  • Weigh every morsel of food I ate. And cooking changes the weight, so I’d have to weigh potatoes after boiling them, for example.
  • Let’s say I’m making a cottage pie. I’d have to weigh and calculate the calories in every ingredient, work out the total weight and calories, and then weigh my individual portion and calculate calories as a percentage.
  • I’d have to research the calories in everything.
  • What if I don’t finish eating my plate? I’d need to weigh the leftovers and recalculate.
  • I need to know my BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) to know how many calories I burn at rest, and workout how many I need each day, depending on activity. To do this accurately I need to have the carbon dioxide and oxygen in my breath analysed. This seems a bit of a faff.

This is a lot of work, and I still wouldn’t be accurate with my numbers. Here’s why…

  • Sometimes a food has calories in it, but we can’t access those calories. For example we don’t seem to fully digest peanuts, pistachios and almonds. A study found that the “average” person receives just 128 calories per serving rather than the 170 calories “on the label.”
  • Some foods require more energy to digest them. Proteins can need 10-20 times as much energy as fats, but this loss of energy is not accounted for in food packaging.
  • Sometimes our immune system has to get involved to deal with potential pathogens. We don’t know how many calories this would involve, but the rarer the meat, for example, the more pathogens.

e56a76_6f1594c4f36a47aaa0b1989bc5c13b8f

  • The more processed the food is the easier it is to digest, so again we use fewer calories digesting it. People eating wholewheat bread received 10% fewer calories than people eating white bread in this study.
  • Genetic differences in us. If 2 people did manage to eat 2 identical potatoes, they wouldn’t get identical calories from them. Just like we vary on the outside, we vary on the inside. Russian intestines are 5ft longer than those of Italians. (I love this fact for some reason. I found it in this article, along with a lot of the other facts used in this blog.) In the same way we have different numbers of enzymes, and those with less lactase will extract fewer calories from milk than someone who isn’t deficient.

And our body’s handling of calories goes beyond digestion.

In The Lean Muscle Diet Alan Aragon writes: “a hungry guy might put away a million calories in a year. The daily average would be 2,750 calories, but nobody eats the exact same food every day. The number will probably fluctuate by a couple hundred calories a day, with a little more on weekends and holidays and a little less on weekdays. And yet, the average American gains less than a pound over the course of a year. Think about that: a million calories, spread over 365 days, and by the end of the year your body has probably stored just 2,000 of them. Your body is really good at keeping you in balance. The size and shape you are now is the exact size and shape you’ve conditioned your body to maintain.”

Put another way, Rudy Leibal, a leading obesity researcher, says “we don’t think body weight can be consciously regulated.”

In Diet Recovery Matt Stone agrees: “It can’t. In fact, a 70-year old person with 70 pounds of body fat has stored only one peanut per day more than they have burned. No one can control a process so precise. It’s like trying to increase your oxygen levels by breathing more.”

So, counting calories accurately is impossible, knowing your precise BMR is near impossible, and the body doesn’t allow you to control it that closely anyway as it’s trying to maintain your current weight.

And yet: counting calories works.

Weight Watchers, IIFYM, you name it. If you track the numbers and create a calorie deficit you will lose weight.

But what happens when you stop?

Some people may be happy to track every morsel of food that goes into their mouth for the rest of their life, but for most people, their diet has a finishing line, a weight loss target. And then they stop, and return to old habits, and I hear again and again, “I did a diet and it worked, but then I put the weight back on, so I’m going to do it again.”

A diet only has only worked if it has worked FOREVER! If you’ve regained the weight, then technically, in the long term, it hasn’t been successful.

Because people fall back in to their old habits. And that’s the key word here: habits.

If, instead of following a regime in the short term, you can successfully change habits for the long term, you will, gradually, lose weight and keep it off.

I’m not saying pay no attention to how much food you eat; portion control and selecting foods that make you feel more satisfied and so likely to eat less is one example of a way to monitor total calorie intake without calorie counting. I’m not even saying never count calories. I would happily support and help a client monitor their calories if this was the best way for them. Some people have no portion control and seeing the numbers can help bring that in to check. But there are other ways, and it must be done alongside efforts to change eating habits and restore a healthy relationship with food. Forever.

What’s that? Oh go on then, one more.

What do you call a man with a ladder? Ben.

If you have any comments or jokes for my son, I’d love to hear them.