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I get asked about swimming quite a bit, mainly whether it’s safe when you have diastasis recti, but I’m going to cover pregnancy as well as postnatal here, so I’ll start with that.

Swimming During Pregnancy

 

Swimming can provide relief from aches and pains often experienced during pregnancy, relieving the pressure of your bump by supporting it, and taking the strain off your back.

It’s also great for improving your circulation which is sometimes affected during pregnancy, because of all of the hormones running around your system.  The pressure of the water on your veins and arteries actually stimulates blood flow and can reduce swelling you may be experiencing, say in the feet or ankles.

A workout and relaxation all in one!

 

A trip to the pool also gives your muscles a great workout!  Water offers 12 times the resistance of air, and your deep abdominal muscles get in on the act too, as they help stabilise the pelvis in water.

The rhythmic action of the stroke can also be quite relaxing, as can the feeling of weightlessness.  For baby, the soft muffled sounds created by the water induce a feeling of calm and tranquility for him/her too.

Which stroke is best?

If you are experiencing any pelvic pain during pregnancy, I’d suggest that you avoid breast stroke leg action.  Even if you don’t suffer with SPD now, I’d be mindful of how you feel, and avoid kicking too hard/ agressively. Keep the kick narrow, and avoid a wide ‘froggy’ breast stroke kick.

I personally found freestyle/crawl a lot more comfrotable when pregnant, but I know not everyone is confident with this, and it can be quite tiring.

As a guide, on a scale of 1-10, you shouldn’t exert yourself above a 7 when pregnant. This means out of breath, but not uncomfortable: you should still be able to talk and hold a converstation (albeit a panting one)!

I’d also recommend buying a pair of goggles so you can swim with your head down, because this puts less pressure on your back.  Swimming with your head out of the water causes the pelvis to drop and accentuates the increased curve in the lumbar spine.

Swimming With Diastasis Recti

 

Ok, postnatal now. The question isn’t so much “is it safe”, as unless you have pelvic pain or a back problem, the risk of injury is low. It’s more can it worsen your diastasis, or prevent it from healing?

Firstly, people worry that being horizontal could put a downwards pressure on the abdominal wall. However water creates a hydrostatic pressure, and when you’re horizontal in the water the pressure from the water below (which helps give you buoyancy) will apply some compression to the abdomen.

There’s more to consider though, and your alignment in the water (or your technique) is really important too. If you have your head out of the water the whole time, then you’re arching your back (which may be sore) and stretching your abs. It flares out the ribs, which I see a lot in postnatal mums and you’re better off avoiding.

Let’s look at the 2 most popular strokes.

Breast Stroke

So if you’re going to swim breast stroke, head down (as in looking at the swimming pool floor) and in the water with each stroke! I can’t really go into technique much here, but if you watch Michael Phelps here, he actually keeps his back fairly neutral. Most of us don’t manage quite such a neat stroke though!

Also- if you still have any pelvic pain, the points above apply and I’d avoid breast stroke.

Front Crawl

I still find there can still be a flaring of the ribs, as when I swim in busy lanes I have to look up to see if anyone is in front of me. This arches my back a little and flares my ribs. I have to be VERY mindful of my technique to avoid it- again keep your gaze on the pool floor. Let’s look at Phelps again (may as well learn from the best!) and see how flat his body and spine is.

Keeping your hips up and kicking from the hips, using the butt muscles (instead of kicking from the knees) helps too, with both speed and glute strength (important for a healthy pelvic floor).

I also have to focus to keep my shoulders relaxed, and not up around my ears! Tight neck/ shoulders is common with my clients, so you don’t want to make that worse.

Core Strength and Shoulder Mobility

 

You also need to consider your flexibility. Lie down and reach your arms in the air.

swimming postnatal exercise watford
Then let them fall behind you.
swimming postnatal diastasis watford

Does your back arch and ribs flare out (as I nicely demonstrate and highlight with my snazzy editing skills)? If so then there’s a good chance that when you swim and reach in front, you’re doing this too.

If you engage your core can you lift your arms without arching your back (again demonstrated by me below- my ribs have dropped down and my back has a gentle curve,rather than a larger arch)?

swimming postnatal engage core

You need to engage your core to do this. Be honest with yourself, can you do this while you’re swimming? You might be better off working on increasing your core control before you get back in the pool.

The other thing that might be in issue is shoulder mobility. If your arms won’t fully reach up or flop to the side, you may need to increase your flexibility in that area first too.

postnatal swimming watford personal trainer

Breathing

No breath holding (this applies to pregnancy too). When your head is under water exhale, then inhale when out. Holding your breath places pressure on the core and floor.

Core Connection

If you’ve done some postnatal core training and can engage your deep core and breathe diaphragmatically, then that really will help. Personally I would work on that postnatally before getting in the pool. This way you’re controlling your core, controlling your spine and rib position, and minimising any pressure on your diastasis.
Swimming is a very repetitive movement, and you don’t want to be doing it in a way that repeatedly puts pressure on a tummy that needs to heal.

The Take Home

Swimming isn’t necessarily bad for diastasis, but it depends on your technique!

Ultimately, if you feel swimming makes you feel a bit human again, gives you some time out, and you feel better for it, then GO FOR IT!

BUT, if you have a large diastasis, or one that isn’t healing, maybe consider this could be a factor. Think about your technique, and it might be that you need to take a break for a bit whilst you work on restoring it.

While the sun was shining I got in the garden and filmed a couple of workouts to share on my Facebook page.

2 speedy circuits, postnatal and pregnancy friendly (bar one exercise when you’re final trimester, and provided no SPD), one for the lower body and one for the upper.

They’re time-lapse ones, to keep it quick for the sake of social media, BUT I’ve written up the circuits in this blog, with real time video demos of the exercises linked, so you can try them at home. All you need is a resistance band, but they are inexpensive and so versatile it’s worth getting one.

Here’s the type I use (I haven’t actually got this one as I buy long rolls and cut them out as I get through so many, but with most brands medium is an appropriate strength, and 1.2 metres is long enough.)

 

Postnatal and Pregnancy Lower Body Workout

Banded Side Steps x 20 Use a mini band as in link here or you can use a long resistance band as I did in the time-lapse video. Stick your bum out in a mini squat position and take 20 steps, 10 in each direction. Works the butt and outer thighs.

Banded Squats with Pulse x 10 Inhale as you lower, exhale as you pulse and rise. The band adds extra resistance, the pulse is HARD, but if newly postnatal or very pregnant a squat without the band and pulse is better, as in the video here.

Deadlift with Band x 10 Keep ribs over pelvis throughout, inhale and push your bum back, exhale and rise, driving the action with your glutes.

Reverse Lunges x 20 Alternating. Inhale and step back, dropping down so your knees are at 90 degrees. Exhale and return to start.

Banded Leg Extensions x 10 each side Hands under shoulders, knees under hips. Wrap the band more glutes! No need for the band if you’re pregnant or newly postnatal (and is too much strain for a larger diastasis), and final trimester this will start to get too hard even without the band, so you can do it sliding your leg back whilst keeping your toe on the floor, then skip it completely.

Repeat circuit as needed!

 

Postnatal and Pregnancy Upper Body Workout

Pulldowns x 10 Sorry no video for this one, but detailed instructions: hold resistance band overhead. Exhale and bring your arms down to the side of your body with a 90 degree bend at the elbows, with the band behind your back. Inhale and return. Engage core to keep ribs down (rather than let them flare out). Good for the back and shoulder and chest mobility.

Chest Press x 10 Exhale as you straighten the arms, inhale as you bend them. Aim to bend the elbows to 90 degrees, forearms parallel. Works chest, triceps and shoulders.

Open the Door x 10 Exhale as you open your arms up, inhale as you return. Works deep shoulder muscles and opens shoulders, good for posture.

Pull Aparts x 10 Keep ribs down as you exhale and pull the band apart. Keep shoulders relaxed, slide shoulder blades together. Great for the back, shoulders and posture.

Bent Over Row 10 Keep a neutral spine‐ this means not letting your back bend forwards. Bicep Curls 10 No video but very simple! Stand on the band with arms straight and exhale as you bend your arms.

Overhead Tricep Extension x 10 each side Keep your ribs over pelvis‐ there’s a temptation to let your back arch here! Exhale as you straighten your arm.
Repeat circuit as needed!

 

These are pregnancy and postnatal Safe, BUT Stop anything that causes pain, and book into see a Women’s Health Physio‐ many do packages with a pregnancy and postnatal appointment. All exercise carries a risk of injury, so consult your doctor before starting anything new

“What’s the best exercise for toning my tummy?”

I probably get asked this question more than any other. Which is understandable- I remember how weak I felt in the months after giving birth, and looking down at a tummy that didn’t look like mine anymore!

Your postnatal core isn’t the same as your pre-pregnancy core. For a start it’s about 10x more amazing because it’s just grown a baby. So let’s give it the love it deserves!

Which means not rushing things for a start. The pressure to ‘bounce’ back can be immense, and I don’t just mean physically. Emotionally it takes time too, to adapt to your new role as mummy, yet new mums are up and about so quickly.

And this can affect how well you core recovers. Nutrition, rest, stress, all of this helps early healing. Check out how new mums get treated in some cultures!

But when you are ready to start exercising it can feel like there’s a huge list of what not to do, and not much guidance on what you can do! The go-to exercises for ab toning, like crunches, are no good, and running shouldn’t be rushed.

There are SO many fantastic exercises you CAN do though! Here are 5 here to get you started.

 

Just remember that these are for progressively strengthening your core. I always work on breathing technique with postnatal clients before any exercises- it’s vital you get this right to get the most from them, especially if you have diastasis recti.

And when it comes to that postnatal bulge, it could be a case of weakened muscles that need gradually strengthening, but if there’s a layer of fat on top then you’ll need to look at your nutrition, and I always recommend walking for postnatal clients too (it’s massively underrated).

1. Heel Slides

These are great for the early postnatal period when you’re just returning to exercise. It’s about finding and connecting to your deep core muscles, (not your abs) as you stabilise your pelvis while applying a very gentle load to your core. Building this base is the first step towards a more toned tummy.

There are a few variations on this exercise, and for some clients, including those with a larger diastasis, I give a slightly different version to this where you keep your heel on the floor and exhale through the entire exercise, however for most of my postnatal clients this is the one we start with.

2. Bridge

Love this one! For many ‘core’ means ‘abs’ or six pack, but the core, as well as including muscles much deeper than the abs, is about all the muscles around it too, and how well they function as a team.

So here we’re hitting the low back AND the butt, which work together. Plus, if you nail the breathing you’ve got the deep core involved too.

Again there are variations, but here I’ve added a ‘squeeze’ with a pilates ball to give the pelvic floor some extra work.

3. Straight Arm Pulldown

Love this one too! Since we spend the vast majority of our days upright, it makes sense to do some exercises that way! This is another one that I use in the early postnatal period for connecting to the deep core muscles and perfect for moving from the mat to standing work. It applies a gentle load to the core, which means enough to stimulate tissue regeneration and help heal diastasis without overdoing it and making it worse.

Really try to focus on the exhale, and getting a good 360 expansion (read this blog if that doesn’t make sense) on the inhale. Alignment is really important too- ribs over pelvis, no arching the back or thrusting your hips forwards here!

4. Half-Kneeling Push

So this is a fantastic exercise when it comes to getting ‘bang for your buck’. When you’re short on time (as most mums are!) this works the core and the chest, triceps and the split stance engages your legs and butt as they stabilise your pelvis.

With your shoulders relaxed, and wrist, elbow and shoulder level, your push forwards and exhale. The pressure of the band pulling you backwards engages your core, and you can add a twist which mimics how we tend to actually use our core: pushing a door open, playing tennis or boxing for example, we twist.

I wouldn’t start with the twist, but build to it. However this can be adapted to suit nearly any level, by adjusting the resistance from the band. You can keep it incredibly light so as not to create too much pressure (which we don’t want when you first return to exercise after baby) and focus on the deep core connection, then build to a much stronger band to really tighten the muscles around your waist.

5. Birddog

This is such an amazing core exercise (when done properly). It works your entire torso and pelvis as you use your butt when you straighten your legs AND your upper back and shoulders to stabilise your arm and shoulder blade!

PLUS the ability to co-ordinate your opposite arm and leg (like when you walk or run) is a really important movement pattern. There’s a reason we learn to crawl before we walk- it develops the necessary co-ordination, stability and strength. So this is becoming quite a trendy exercise- check out this Washington Post article about how crawling is the new plank!

Unfortunately I see this done badly a LOT. Remember to keep it SLOW and straighten your leg from your hip using your butt muscles, NOT arching your lower back (although yeah I’m sure it does look more sexy in an Insta post). Also try to avoid shifting your weight side to side too much. This gets easier with practise as it requires using your core more, but the pole on my back in the video is to demonstrate alignment and gives me feedback so I can feel any weight shift or postural changes.

This really is deceptively hard though and NOT one I use on clients with a very large or soft diastasis- the pulldowns, bridges and heel slides are a better place to start, then progress to this.

For more advice download my 10 Tips for getting back in shape after having a baby.

Disclaimer: consult with a medical professional before making any changes to your exercise routine, especially if you haven’t done any restorative postnatal work- be sensible about what you attempt! See full disclaimer here. If you’re unsure whether any of these are suitable then please see a postnatal qualified instructor or a Women’s Health Physio, or comment below and I’ll do my best to help.

 

postnatal fitness workouts

I’m often short on time. My clients are often short on time. So being able to create a workout that makes the most of the little time we have is a basic requirement for me!

So I’m going to share with you the basic template I use to create most of my programmes. It’s simple, has the potential for loads of variety, and gives you ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of what you get out of each exercise. Basically, you’re maximising the little time you do have.

How?

Because the 4 moves cover your whole body. They use big movements, which means more muscles involved, more work done in a shorter space of time, and more calories burned.

It’s suitable for any goal.

The variety I said you can get from this means that you can tweak it to suit fat loss, improving strength, work up a sweat doing some cardio: all you need is some imagination! You can use it at the gym, or at home with no equipment.

And even when I’m creating a longer workout, these 4 exercises usually make the base of that workout, and I build from there, adding some extra moves in.

So what are the 4 moves?

  • Lower Body Push
  • Lower Body Pull
  • Upper Body Push
  • Upper Body Pull

What exactly does that mean?!

An exercise using either a pulling or a pushing action. (I’m hoping the upper/ lower body part makes sense!)

So an example that is suitable for postnatal clients (click the exercise name to see a video demo):

  • Squat (lower body push, pretty much always a squat variation, of which there are LOADS!)
  • Bridge (lower body pull- generally speaking if it makes your butt burn then it’s a lower body pull.)
  • Wall Press Up (upper body push- works your chest)
  • Wall Angel (upper body pull- works your back)

As you can see, the pushes and pulls work opposite sides of your body.

Do 10-12 reps (or 30-60 seconds for the wall angel) and complete it as a circuit, 3-4 times. That’s about 15 minutes, and for really time-pressed clients, they can do 1 circuit every time they get a spare 5 minutes (this one’s low intensity, so I don’t worry about a warm up like I would on harder workouts).

I want to get a bit sweaty and feel like I’ve had a workout.

Let’s take the same postnatal template, and tweak it.

All you do is head to the park, complete the circuit then add a power/ hill walk before the next circuit. If you have a baby in a buggy, trust me, this is hard.

This is suitable for when you’re postnatal or pregnant (even with diastasis recti, although then it would be unloaded and you’d need to be assessed to check you’re controlling the exercise ok) , but because these exercises are slightly harder technique-wise it’s not one I usually start clients on.  Because you’re adding resistance here it can be challenging for any level- just add or remove some weight! If you want some more postnatal core exercises you can read this blog though.

I’m not postnatal and want to push myself even harder.

Great. So many options for you! I’m going to throw some equipment in, but basic stuff you can buy to use at home.

The caveat here is that you do need to be taught to perform the swing. This is an ADVANCED option that I use, but I’ve included to show you just how hard this workout can get, especially if you have a little equipment (and all of these moves can be made harder still)!

For this one I quite like to break it down into a superset. I use these a lot with clients and on the Restore My Core programme. A superset is 2 exercises, and you go back and forth between them. So exercise 1a and 1b you go back and forth 3 times, then the same for 2a and 2b.

Obviously with the more intense workouts you need to throw in a suitable warm up and cool down before and after, but I really hope this gives you an idea of how easily you can create a workout, and how you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to improve your fitness.

Disclaimer: consult with a medical professional before making any changes to your exercise routine, especially if you haven’t done any restorative postnatal work- be sensible about what you attempt! See full disclaimer here.

I think every client who comes to me wants a stronger core, and this is where we start. It really is a simple step. Or at least it sounds simple. In reality, it can be pretty hard to master, at least when you’ve just grown a baby!

I’m talking about breathing correctly.

Correct breathing technique is one of the tips in my guide to kick-starting your postnatal fitness, and it’s one of the first things I look at with postnatal clients, before starting any exercises even.

It might seem silly, and you’re thinking “but I feel so weak- I need to get working, feel my muscles again!”

And I get that. But if you don’t get the breath right, you won’t be getting the most out of your exercises.

Let’s start with the core itself.

I’ve explained it in this video, and if you look at the image below, you can see how the muscles of the abdominal wall and the back form a cylinder, with the diaphragm (that’s the main muscle used for breathing) at the top, and the pelvic floor at the bottom.

postnatal fitness

These four elements work together, and when one isn’t functioning properly, it affects the rest of the team.

Before you read any further, try something for me: place one hand on your ribs, thumb to the back and fingers to the front, and the other hand on your tummy. Take a few breaths- what can you feel moving, what’s happening?

Here’s how they should be working together.

postnatal core fitness

As you inhale, the diaphragm moves down, the pelvic floor lengthens, and the abdominal wall (and trunk in general, the low back opens up as well, which isn’t shown here) expands. The rib cage opens up in a 360 degree action too.

Here are the ribs in action:

You should hopefully feel a softening of the tummy and pelvic floor as this happens.

As you exhale the diaphragm rises, and the pelvic floor and abdominal wall naturally tension. You may even feel your low back joining in on a more forceful long exhalation.

How is this relevant to getting a flatter/ stronger tummy?

 

Because so many people have poor breathing technique. Especially new mums. Having your tummy muscles stretched and a baby’s butt pushing into your diaphragm for months will do that. Here are a few of the problems that I come across.

Mistake Number 1- Belly Breathing and Diastasis.

 

Diastasis Recti is when your abdominal muscles stretch apart during pregnancy. Once the baby is gone and the pressure stretching them removed, they should move back together again over the next few months.

But sometimes the pressure isn’t removed. If you’re a belly breather (think BIG expansion of your tummy every time you inhale) then that’s pushing on your diastasis every time you take a breath. Which is about 20,000 times a day. Not good.

Mistake Number 2- Sucking It In.

Holding in the abs. How many of us are guilty of that? In a world where we’re continually informed that a flat tummy and six pack= sexy, it’s tempting to do!

But if your tummy’s sucked in, where’s that pressure going? Down on your pelvic floor, or up on your diaphragm. The whole mechanics of your core is altered.

Strong abs do NOT = functional. You need them to be able to move with the breath. Permanent tension is not practical, and can result in back ache as your low back muscles over work too.

So let it go!

Had to be done!

Mistake Number 3- Shallow Or Chest Breathing.

 

Booby breaths as I like to call them. Think heaving bosoms in corsets. This often goes hand in hand with the sucking in, but many take heavy chest breaths, where the ribs go up as you breath, rather than out. It’s usually a tense and shallow breath, which means the core will not be effectively loading and unloading, so not making the most of your exercises. And think how relaxing a good deep breath is- you’re not getting that release if you’re stuck shallow breathing! If you’re shoulders rise when you breathe in- you’re doing it wrong! Remember- 360 expansion.

Now let’s try connecting to your deep core as you breathe.

 

With one hand on your tummy, one on your ribs, inhale, and try and feel a 360 degree softening in your belly and your ribs open up to the sides. Feel your pelvic floor soften and lengthen.

Now exhale for an 8 count, like blowing bubbles (I get the Restore My Core mums to actually do this!)- can you feel a tensioning in your tummy and hopefully pelvic floor?

personal training core

You might only feel your chest at first. After giving birth, regardless of the type of delivery, nerves can be affected, so this, plus the load carrying a baby placed on you, means this connection to the breath can be lost.

Bring your attention to your tummy and pelvic floor, and take your time.

Here’s a live facebook video I did on this, exaplining how you can practise correct breathing technique (it’s live so forgve me for forgetting to mention- as you inhale try to feel your pelvic floor lengthen, and rise as you exhale):

It takes practise, and there are also certain releases (such as massage, or some self applied techniques that I teach on Restore My Core) that I find very effective in helping to release and open up the rib cage and low back.

Hopefully you can see that even if you do the best exercises in the world to heal a diastasis, if your breath is putting pressure on your abdominal wall all day long, they won’t be effective.

To get a strong core you HAVE to start with the deep muscles. Once they are well co-ordinated, THEN you can start working on your abs.

But only when the inner unit is stabilised! Which means the diaphragm, pelvic floor and deep core working together on every breath.

Once you’ve got the hang of this head to this blog for some postnatal core exercises to get started on, and you can also download my 10 Tips for getting back in shape after having a baby.

We all know we should make fitness and healthy eating a priority, but in real life preparing nutritious meals that children will actually eat, and finding time for exercise, is easier said than done!

Balancing everything is not easy, so to help you get more active as a family this summer, I’ve compiled my top 10 ways to exercise with your kids.

There are many activities you can choose from, so you can try them and find what that your family might want to continue doing.

Depending on the ages of your children you might be more restricted as to what activities you can do, however most of the ones we have selected and be enjoyed by most ages.

1. Post Meal Walks

This is a simple and effective way to spend time together as a family and is very easy to complete! You don’t have to be very coordinated or require any special equipment. The reason I have suggested ‘post meal’ walk is this is great time to walk off your meal and reenergise yourself. It’s a great way to connect as a family and feel more refreshed.

2. Bike Rides

family fitness cycling

This can be enjoyed by all ages. It doesn’t have to be a 10-mile ride anywhere extravagant; a simple ride around your neighbourhood would be ideal. A great way to increase your fitness and tone up your legs too!

3. Roller Blading

This might seem a little odd however it is a great way to get fit and have some fun at the same time. I would suggest finding an appropriate location, as you want it to be fairly flat with as little traffic as possible. There are indoor places you can do this too – however as its summer it would be great to get outside.

4. Old school games, stuck in the mud, tag etc.

These games are classics and you can never get too old for them. They are still fun whether you are ‘it’ or you are being chased down. Great for fitness and dynamic movements, which keep you on your toes.

5. Bootcamp/Obstacle courses

If there isn’t one of these in your local area for you can enjoy, you can make your own! You won’t need a lot and it will be part of the fun (and exercise) to put it together! Old tyres, logs, things to climb, and running between objects will give you plenty to be getting on with! I’d suggest Aldenham Country Park play area for anyone local.

6. Canoeing

family fitness rowing

This might be something to do with your older children or if your kids are strong swimmers. A very strenuous and exhilarating sport to try. This is something that will require planning and will cost more than a bike ride or playing in the garden. This could be more for a special day out to enjoy as family to mark the day.

There are lots of water sports available at Rickmansworth Aquadrome, or head to Hyde Park and get to work on a row boat or pedalo!

7. Colour Run

colour run

Watford Colour Run at Aldenham Country Park

This is a great way to have fun and do something good. Entering a fun run together means you have a reason to train and a date to aim for. You can raise money for charity and get fit at the same time – win win!

And Park Run at Cassiobury Park is every Saturday, so you can get in some practise together too!

8. Rock Climbing

family fitness climbingIf you head outdoors for this then it’s probably another special day out to have as a family, which is quite vigorous. This would be for older kids as it can be quite dangerous and you would need to have some lessons or at least have some guidance before going out alone as a family.

However The XC in Hemel Hempstead is amazing, and do groups from ages 3 up. I’m about to get trained to become rope competent so I can take my eldest and we can climb together!

9. Ball games

Rounders, tennis, badminton and cricket are all traditional games you can enjoy as a family. Ideal for BBQ events to get everyone involved in too. Great for coordination and fitness, lots of fun as well as team building.

10. Gardening

Something that can be done without getting out of breath. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s easy! Crouching down planting flowers or digging up weeds is hard work and you will definitely feel in the next day. The best thing about gardening is you can see what your hard work has achieved! Children can be given their own area to grow food, which will also help with healthy eating!

Whatever you do try to make it part of the family routine- a 2013 study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health showed that children were physically fit when they perceived at least one of their parents to be physically active. So walk instead of using car, and make visiting the park or going for a bike ride the norm in your household.

There are plenty of suggestions here to choose from and I would love to see pictures of you and your family getting active this summer.

Are there any other activities you think would be great?

Is getting active as a family important to you?

Comment below with your thoughts, as we would love to hear them.

I’ll cut to the chase: most of us suck at walking.

In her book Move Your DNA Katy Bowman describes walking as “controlled falling”, in that most of us simply fall from one foot to the next, rather than focusing on using our butt muscles to drive us forwards.

I’ve written about the benefits of walking, and more importantly how much we should be aiming to do, but now it’s time to make sure you get maximum ‘bang for your buck’ from your walks.

Here are some simple stretches, exercises and changes you can make to your walking technique to ensure you’re actually using your glutes when you’re out and about!

Release Tight Hips

Too much time sitting means tight hips. When we sit our legs are lifted in front of us, and these muscles at the front of the hips can get tight. This means when we walk and we want our legs pushing off behind us, the tightness at the front can restrict that.

Here’s a simple test to see if you have enough mobility for your bum to effectively pull your leg back.

Lie face down on the floor. When your pelvis is neutral (which is where it should be) then your pubic bone and the two most prominent, forward boney points on the side of each pelvis should all be level. So when you lie down you should feel an equal pressure on all 3 points.

You should feel your pubic bone pressing into the floor, and if you look down from where it's labelled 'iliac crest' to where it ends, you should feel the 2 bony points on either side there too.

You should feel your pubic bone pressing into the floor, and if you look down from where it’s labelled ‘iliac crest’ to where it ends, you should feel the 2 bony points on either side there too.

Keep your head down, and lift one leg off the floor, using your glute muscles. How high can you lift your leg? Does the pressure on these 3 boney points remain the same or does your pubic bone lift up? Do you have to work your stomach muscles to keep it down?

Ideally you want to be able to lift your leg behind your body without having to work to keep your pelvis level. If you do, then when you walk you’re likely to compensate for this tightness by arching the lower back instead.

Stretch your hip as in the video below. Make sure you keep a neutral pelvis- squeeze your glute to almost tuck your bum under, and make sure you stay upright, rather than leaning forward. Raising your arm to bend slightly takes the stretch a little deeper. Hold for 30 seconds, or until the stretch eases off.

Strengthen Your Glutes

Follow this with some exercises to strengthen your glutes. This blog includes some simple exercises to help build strength for running, and they are equally useful for walking.

Do You Wiggle or Waddle?

 

So you’ve stretched your hips and strengthened your glutes, and you’re using them to drive yourself forwards. But what other bad habits might you have?

Have you ever noticed how some people are ‘bouncy’ walkers? They waste energy going up and down using their lower leg and toes. Or how about a sexy hip wiggle? Some yes, but if you look like you’re on the catwalk, not so great for your joints. Those side steps and 1 leg squats in the link above will help keep you strong around the pelvis.

Or maybe you’re a twister? Holes in your socks under the balls of your feet? Again, limited hip flexibility can lead to twisting your pelvis backwards and forwards, and therefore twisting your foot too.

If you don’t believe me, have a play with this brilliantly hilarious walking analysis lab. I’m not convinced of it’s accuracy, but it does nicely demonstrate the wiggle I described above. I think my favourite is the light, sad female.

Go Minimal!

Your choice of footwear has a huge impact on how you walk. As this picture shows even a small heel can alter your whole body’s alignment. This means joints getting more wear and tear and muscles not working at their best.

heels walking alignment

So a flat shoe is advisable, with a flexible sole because reduced foot movement will also affect how your muscles are loaded. If you wear orthotics then this blog has loads of useful information (even if you don’t, the tips on footcare and shoes are still worth a read). Ideally barefoot style shoes like Merrell Vapor Glove, VivoBarefoot or Vibrams are best, but if you’re used to something more supportive then the book Whole Body Barefoot is all about transitioning to minimal footwear.

Vary Your Terrain

So much of our walking is on flat artificial surfaces. Including a variety of gradients in your walk challenges your muscles in different ways. For example walking uphill requires more flexibility in your calf muscles, and works your glutes more, and the variety means less repetitive strain on your body.

Uneven terrain is good too, especially if you’re in minimal shoes. Walking over lumps and bumps is good for the feet and more challenging to the body than a flat surface, meaning a better workout!

barefoot walking

Uneven terrain and barefoot- mega workout for her legs here!

Get off the treadmill

When you’re on a treadmill the belt carries your foot back for you, reducing the work for your butt muscles and increasing the work for the muscles at the front of your hip, which have to pull your leg forwards. This is the opposite of what we want, especially if you’ve spent too much time sitting at a desk or in a car!

If you do have to use a treadmill, make sure it is on an incline of at least 1%, to force you to push off a little and challenge the glutes.

And regardless of where you are, try to walk through the whole foot with a smooth rolling movement. Keep your head over your shoulders, rather than projecting it forwards (or looking down at a phone), and your arms should have a smooth swing, pushing back more than forwards.

For more specific exercises to help improve your flexibility, strength and posture, find out more about personal training.

Probably not. Most of us don’t. Cars, the convenience of online shopping, the weather, it all means we don’t get as much time walking as we should.

Yes, walking. What did you think I was talking about? Ok I’m sorry, but it’s not easy making a blog on walking sound exciting.

walking benefits for the pelvic floor and postnatal

Because most people don’t think of walking as exciting.

It’s not a sexy form of exercise. You don’t see people boasting about their walking personal best like a runner does, or the killer spin/ Insanity/ whatever class is on trend and torturing you right now. (Sorry, I shouldn’t say that, I used to teach indoor cycling and don’t really consider it torture. Not once you’ve got used to the seats at least.)

But walking is the most underrated form of exercise.

And we really don’t get enough. One study found 80% of adults didn’t even manage to take moderate exercise 3 times a week, and just 25 minutes of brisk walking a day can add up to seven years to your life.  (ok, this is getting a bit boring now; no more health stats).

Walking is a fundamental movement of the human body.

As well as not doing enough of it, a lot of what we do is poor quality walking (I’ll talk more about this in my next blog), and it has so many benefits. I cannot emphasise enough how awesome walking is.

Walking works your pelvic floor

The pelvic floor loves movement; a sedentary lifestyle is one of the worst things for it. Watch this to see how regular walking engages your pelvic floor:

It gets those glutes working!

Too much sitting results in weak, ineffective butt muscles. Walking is a great way to strengthen them. Walk, and walk often, making sure they’re engaging properly. Make sure you’re pushing back with them, not just flopping forward from one leg to another. Have a feel- place your hands on your buttocks and see if you can feel them tense up as you land on each leg (don’t worry, this won’t look weird at all), then try and drive your eg back and use them to push yourself forwards.

Walk your way to more vitamin D

Not all walking is created equal, and walking on a treadmill is NOT the same as getting outdoors (more on this in the next blog). And when you’re outside, you get your daily dose of vitamin D. A LOT of adults are deficient in this, and interestingly it’s been linked to pelvic floor dysfunction, so yet another benefit to your pelvic floor!

Walking is fantastic postnatal exercise

It has none of the risks that some exercises (such as running) carry for vulnerable joints and pelvic floor muscles, when done properly uses a huge number of muscles, and it is one of the few exercises that is easily done with baby. In fact it’s great for babies to get outside, and increased sunlight has been linked to better night time sleep for them!

Add to that reduced stress, especially in natural settings, the chance to think (or not think if you need a bit of mindfulness), the benefits to the glutes and pelvic floor- this is why daily walking is part of the homework for mums on Restore My Core.

It’s easy to fit in

It’s so easy to spend your day rushing around and busy, but never really moving. A lot of people struggle to find the time to go to the gym or follow a more structured exercise routine, but it’s so easy to fit in some walks. Because walking serves a purpose: getting from A to B. Even if it’s just parking a bit further from your destination, start to build a bit more ambulation into your day.

How much do you need?

This depends on a bit on how much you’re getting now (I feel like I should be able to slip some puns in here). As with any exercise, build up slowly. But looking at how much our ancestors walked is a good guide to what we should be capable of.

In her book Move Your DNA, Katy Bowman says anthropolgists estimate hunter-gatherers walked about 1,000 miles a year. That’s 2.75 miles a day. BUT, this mileage wouldn’t have been broken down that neatly. There would be short walks spread throughout the day, along with days of very little walking and days with much longer walks.

The odd longer (10 mile) walk means you develop the strength and endurance in your muscles. The regular short walks mean you benefit from regular boosted circulation (‘feeding’ your cells and removing waste products) and regular breaks from too much sitting and all the negative adaptations that can bring.

10 miles might seem intimidating.

But how about signing up to an event like our local Starlight Walk? It’s 13 miles, but you’re raising money for a good cause, and there’s plenty of motivation and entertainment on the night. Something fun to aim for is the perfect excue to get started!

Next time I’m going to tell you how to pimp your walk (yep, still trying to make it sexy) and get the most from your daily amble. Because a lot of people are doing it wrong.

Not all walking is created equal, but with a few tweaks to your route, and the right stretches and exercises, you can make sure you maximise the benefits next time you head out for a stroll. Sign up for updates here to make sure you don’t miss it (and grab a couple of freebies while you’re at it).

The 6 week postnatal check- that’s when you get the all clear and it’s back to business as usual, right?

That’s how I remember feeling anyway, and from my experience training new mums, I know I’m not alone.

I remember sitting there and asking, “So I’m ok to go back to exercise now?”

And I got lucky, because my GP said yes, but advised that giving birth means my body had been through some big changes, and 3 months would be better, to really have time to recover.

That, plus having a baby who didn’t sleep well, plus geting mastitis at 3 months postpartum, meant that I didn’t get back to training as quickly as I had planned. Which probably saved me from doing myself some harm.

Because although I’d been a personal trainer for 7 years, I didn’t have any postnatal qualifications at that point, and the general message I’d absorbed from the media is that if you’re in good shape you should ‘bounce back’.

And I was fit, so I should be fine. In fact, because I worked in the fitness industry I felt I should be seen to recover and get my fitness back quickly, and I was very fortunate to have a doctor who gave me some good advice (and to be too exhausted to argue with it)!

Because The 6 Week Postnatal Check Does Not Mean You’re Ready To Exercise!

However, this hinges upon what your definition of ‘exercise’ is. Because I could also say you don’t need to wait 6 weeks before you exercise.

The problem I come across is that many doctors aren’t specific about what they mean by exercise. So while they’re thinking a few walks and pelvic floor exercises would be good, I know a lot of women will be thinking ‘back to my old workout routine.”

What Happens If You Do Too Much Too Soon.

Even though you might feel ok at your 6 week check, it takes so much longer than we realise to recover from childbirth. Then there’s the pregnancy hormones, lack of sleep and breastfeeding to consider. I’ve written here about postnatal recovery already, and the potential consequences of too much exercise too soon, and this blog is a must-read example of what happened to one mum when she returned to exercise too quickly.

Your Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor is the area that often pays the price if you overdo it, and unfortunately this is one of the things your doctor probably doesn’t tell you.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse is when 1 or more of your pelvic organs (bladder, rectum, uterus, intestines even) move out of place, and prolapse down into the wall of the vagina. I had 2 children, did my ante and post natal exercise qualification, and still hadn’t heard of this. (I’ve since studied both pregnancy and postnatal exercise to a higher level to rectify the gaps in the fitness industry’s basic training!)

And I really wish GPs, or even the hospital/ homebirth team, would give new mums some information on this AS STANDARD! Because prolapse can have such a huge impact on your life, I’m sure a little information would lead to a lot of mums making far more sensible decisions.

Diastasis Recti

This is something else that I really wish GPs would check, but generally they don’t. I can count on 1 hand the number of mums I’ve met (out of 100s) who have had their diastasis checked at their 6 week appointment. For more information about what exactly diastasis recti is, read this blog, but it’s another biggie in that if it isn’t healed, you’re at a higher risk of injury or pelvic floor problems if you do too much too soon.

doctor 2In fact, I don’t know about you, but my 6 week checks have been a quick blood pressure check and then asking what contraception I was using. In case the 6 week baby wasn’t enough!

In many cases the check up is more about the baby than the mum, and even though one of mine was a seperate appointment than the baby check, it still didn’t go anywhere near as deep as it should. The only way to know for sure what’s happening with your pelvic floor is too see a Women’s Health Physio (if you’re local to me I recommend some here).

So What Can I Do?

I said before that you don’t have to wait for 6 weeks until you exercise, and you don’t. But I’m talking about exercise so gentle you may not even think of it as exercise.

You’re advised to start your pelvic floor exercises (kegels) as soon as you’ve had baby, and you can start doing some gentle deep core connection work after a few days. Even with a c-section, you can do these from around 7-14 days. I do this with clients and mums doing Restore My Core, as there can be a loss of responsiveness in those muscles, which needs to be restored.

Following on from this, progressing to glute exercises to promote pelvis and hip stability is also beneficial. This, plus some gentle walking when you feel up to it (and I’d advise a few weeks rather than a few days for that) can help in a number of ways:

Faster Recovery Post Birth

The pelvic floor exercises will increase circulation to the area, helping to heal any tears, and both the core and floor work will help your nervous system to re-connect to these muscles.

Healing Diastasis and Preventing Incontinence

The right exercises, especially those that involve the deep transversus abdominis and pelvic floor, will help to heal diastasis recti. And pelvic floor exercises will help you regain control if you’re suffering from any leaking post-birth.

Reduced Pain

Having a stronger core will help take the pressure off your back muscles, which have to pick up the slack when the rest of the core isn’t functioning properly. Some gentle stretching and release work can help with this too.

The best course of action is to follow a specific post natal restorative programme, such as Restore My Core, but to learn more now you can download my 10 Tips for getting into shape after baby. And remember- the most important thing in the early postnatal period is rest, and when you do start exercising it should make you feel better, not worse. If you feel fatigued after you may have over done it. Listen to your body, and take it slowly.

So, you’re ready to get started. You’ve read my last blog about how long you should wait before running after baby, and it’s time to run.

Running is a great form of exercise- it’s free, and anyone can do it, anywhere. But it’s an advanced exercise. Your feet will hit the floor about 1500 times per mile: that’s your body weight plus the extra g-force, and if you’re carrying any extra pounds then that’s pretty intense.

I can’t remember where I heard this (I definitely stole it from somewhere!), but it’s so true:

training running

So Let’s Make Sure You’re Ready!

I don’t just mean make sure you’ve recovered from giving birth. I mean let’s get your body ready to cope with the stress, and get better results when you do run. Here are 5 tips to get you ready.

1. Incline Walks.

I know, I know. You want to work. Really feel like you’ve built up a sweat, get that kick that only running gives. And you will. Seriously. Hiking up a steep hill is hard work, and it’s perfect for preparing to run.

More so than walking on a flat surface, a good hill will get you using your arms and rotating your body, just like you do when you run. This will help your running technique. It requires loading and control on one leg, like running, but without the impact. And all this means you’re integrating your core and building the strength needed to run.

So if you haven’t yet, spend some time doing hill hikes before you start the running regime.

2. Build Your Butt!

The bum, or glute, muscles, are important for a number of reasons: 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.

Those hill walks will do a great job of getting your butt working, and here are a few exercises you can start doing right now to work on your glute strength. Click here to find out where to buy the minibands.

Kickbacks.

I love these because you’re standing up and on 1 leg, so it engages your core too. This exercise really focuses on making sure you get a good extension behind your body. So many runners just fall forwards from one leg to the other, rather than using their glutes to propel themselves forwards.

Side Steps.

These work the butt muscles at the side of the pelvis, so help to keep it stable when you’re on 1 leg. Having strong muscles on the outside of your hip helps to keep your knees in line and prevent injury.

1 Leg Miniband Squats.

A lot of people struggle to keep their knee in line when they stand on 1 leg and it moves inwards instead of staying in line with their toes. This is a corrective exercise where you use the band to pull on the working knee: the muscles on the outside of your hip have to work harder to fight this pull and keep your knee from moving in, thereby getting  better at doing this, even when the band isn’t there.

3. Breathing

How you breathe has a huge impact on your core and pelvic floor. I explain how in more detail here, but essentially your diaphragm (your main breathing muscle) and your pelvic floor work together, along with your core. If this system isn’t functioning properly you increase your risk of incontinence when you run.

A really important point here is to make sure you’re not tensing or pulling your tummy in while you run. It’s not always easy to do- when you’re working hard it’s difficult to stay relaxed. I see a lot of runners with tense shoulders, jaws or fists, and tummies can tense up too. This interferes with the natural movement of the core as you breathe and puts more pressure on your pelvic floor.

4. Alignment

This links to your breath- you need to keep your ribs over your pelvis so that your diaphragm and pelvic floor are in their strongest positions. ribs over pelvis

You also need to keep your pelvis in what’s called a neutral position. This means your bum shouldn’t be tucked under and your back flat (more about this here), but untucked so there’s a slight curve in your low back. If your bum is tucked under then your pelvic floor is left in a weak position and you’re at risk of- you’ve guessed it!- leaks. The butt exercises above will help with this too.

5. Reduce The Impact.

As with anything, build up slowly. Start with slow, short jogs or intervals, where you jog then walk, jog then walk. This gives your body time to adapt and get stronger, so you’re less likely to suffer the result of your pelvic floor giving way as a result of too much, too soon.

Other key things to bear in mind when planning your run:

Running surface.

Grass, gravel and sand will all reduce the impact on your joints and pelvic floor. Try to avoid alwasy running on the pavement.

Reduce your stride length.

A long stride will lead to a heavier landing on your heel, and more impact. Take smaller strides and land with your foot under your body, rather than out in front.

Avoid downhill running.

Downhill running tends to result in a heavier landing and more impact, so try to stick to flat surfaces, or walk down hills.

Vary your workouts.

Include other forms of exercise in your routine to give your body a break. Cycling and swimming are great pelvic floor safe cardiovascular workouts, and a good resistance programme will complement your running, as will yoga or pilates.

If you still feel you need help getting fit to run then personal training can help, giving you a programme to build up to running again, or to complement your existing running routine. If you’d just like a chat about where to go next with your training, or what help you might need, then get in touch here.