Welcome to the WellMom Client Spotlight, Jenn Chandler! Jenn became a WellMom distance training client about halfway through her second pregnancy. She feels her workouts helped her mentally and physically during her pregnancy and expedited her recovery after delivery. She continues to train with me today, and she’s getting stronger all the time! Way to go, Jenn!
Mom to Jack (4) and Max (6 months)
What motivated you to work with WellMom? What goals did you have?
When Jack (baby #1) was a born, I remember thinking, “wow, I never realized how physically demanding having a newborn is.”My back, neck and arms were sosore from nursing, lifting him and carrying him (and his gear). For Max, (baby #2), I was nervous about being physically strong enough to keep up with a very active toddler AND carry around a newborn. Plus, I worked out regularly during my first pregnancy with Jack; with Max, I did little beyond chasing a toddler and walking the dog. I just felt sort of “blah” from not having a good exercise routine. I happened to see Chris’ interview on ARLNow and, on a whim, emailed her.
What are your accomplishments since working with WellMom?
Compared to my first pregnancy with Jack, I was not nearly as sore right after Max’s birth or the first few months after he was born. Even towards the end of my pregnancy, I always felt strong and energized after my workouts. They were a great mental and physical boost. I can now do 20 real push ups on my toes, and I’ve moved from 8 lb weights to 15 lb weights for some exercises! Overall, I feel stronger and just more fit.
To what do you attribute those accomplishments?
I really attribute those to having a good relationship with Chris andstaying consistent. I do distance training with her where she emails me a full workout, with links to video clips for new moves, every Friday morning. As I’ve told her, I always get a little excited AND a little terrified to open that email every week and see what she’s cooked up for me. I can do the workout whenever is convenient for me and then report back to her. Chris knows how to push me without overdoing it and has always been great about offering modifications, especially towards the end of my pregnancy.
What goals do you have moving forward?
(1) Be able to consistently do 25 push ups on my toes; (2) Be able to crow pose in yoga (a move I’ve never been able to get); and (3) Get back into running shorter races and eventually run another marathon before I turn 40.
What health and wellness advice do you have for other moms based on your personal journey?
Figure out an exercise routine that works for you. And then stick with it, even when it’s hard or not super convenient. I look forward to my hour workout from Chris every week. And even when I’ve had to start and stop the workout because of a fussy baby, I’ve always felt great after powering through.
We’ve all been there. We know we SHOULD be making our way to the gym to exercise, but we just can’t muster the motivation. Scrubbing the dishes sounds like a more attractive option. Though, of course, parking ourselves on the sofa sounds like the best choice of all.
As a mom or mom-to-be, you probably feel this way more often than you did during your child-free days, when pregnancy and the demands of motherhood weren’t further sapping your energy.
Here are five strategies to get you moving when exercising is the last thing you want to do.
1. Lace up your kicks and see what happens.
Inertia is a powerful thing. The longer we sit around, the harder it can be to get up. Can’t talk yourself into a CrossFit workout? Put on your shoes and take a walk outside. Keep your goal modest – maybe just once around the block. If you’re someone who needs a destination, plan to walk to get the mail or grab a few groceries at the store. You may find that your energy levels pick up the moment the fresh air hits you. And now that you’re out there, maybe that one trip around the block turns into four. Maybe you get really motivated and power walk or find your way into neighborhoods with a few challenging hills (can you say, “interval workout”?). Maybe I ride by on my bike and see you doing push ups next to your stroller. 🙂
2. Get a workout buddy.
Often finding the time for exercise comes down to accountability. If you know your girlfriend is waiting for you at the gym, you’re much more likely to show up than you would be if you were going on your own – especially on those low energy days. Plus, it can be hard to find time to spend with friends, so working out together provides an opportunity for much needed time for yourself and away from family.
3. Remember you don’t have to “kill it.”
If you get to the gym and you still don’t have energy for that 60-minute spin class, don’t sweat it. Make today a light day. If a yoga class is available, take that. Or create your own workout: go low intensity on a piece of cardio equipment for 20 minutes; follow that with 20 minutes of low resistance weight training; complete your workout with 15 minutes of core work to strengthen your TVA and your pelvic floor (e.g. kegels). Our bodies actually do BETTER if we combine intense exercise sessions with light ones.
4. Carve out time when you know your energy levels are highest.
People in general, and expectant moms in particular, have natural highs and lows during the day. If you’re expecting a baby and are experiencing stereotypical morning sickness, plan to work out later in the day when you’re feeling better. Are you more of a morning person? Set an alarm and get that workout in before the kids get up.
5. Reward yourself.
And no, I don’t mean with Oreos (sorry!). Treat yourself to a pedicure or a new article of clothing if you fit in at least 10 exercise sessions during the course of the month. Need a more immediate reward? How about a nice hot bath after your trip to the gym? Or enlist the help of your spouse or partner, and ask for a foot massage to reward your hard work!
And if you just can’t do, be kind to yourself. Obviously you shouldn’t ALWAYS give into inertia, but sometimes rest is truly what you need as a busy mom or mom-to-be. Rest up today, and give it your best shot tomorrow.
Winter Mom Camp started this past week, and core strength is a big focus in my Gentle Class. While critical for everyone, core strength is especially important for pregnant and postpartum women since pregnancy and delivery wreak havoc on these muscles. Many of the moms in my Gentle Class recently delivered, and I started class with a discussion of core strength that I’m sharing with you today, along with a breathing exercise that’s foundational to a tone core.
Those looking to strengthen their core muscles often turn to exercises that target the rectus abdominis (the “six pack”), like crunches. But TRUE core strength comes from an entirely different set of muscles, including the diaphragm, transversus abdominis (TVA), pelvic floor, and multifidus. We might call this group of muscles the “inner core” or “inner unit.” You can think of it as a rectangular-shaped cylinder that sits in your abdominal cavity with the diaphragm on top, the TVA in the front, the pelvic floor at the bottom, and the multifidus in the back.
Arguably the most important of these muscles is also the most overlooked: the diaphragm. It’s a parachute-shaped muscle that attaches to the bottom of the lunges. When we breathe with our diaphragm, the muscle contracts and descends into the abdominal cavity. This creates pressure in the abdomen because the pelvic floor, multifidus, and TVA eccentrically contract as the diaphragm descends. I find the image of a french press useful here. The diaphragm is like the plunger on the top. When you breathe in with this muscle, it’s like pushing the plunger down.
Core strength comes from this pressure created in the abdomen, pressure that the diaphragm sets in motion when you inhale. The pressure stabilizes the spine and provides support in your everyday activities, whether you be walking, climbing stairs, carrying children or groceries, or lifting weights in the gym. Moreover, every time you breathe with your diaphragm, you’re also strengthening the other three inner core muscles because they eccentrically contract in response to the movement of the diaphragm. That’s why the diaphragm is foundational for core strength.
Sounds simple, right? Just breathe your way to a strong core. Well, yes and no. The problem is most people DON’T breathe this way. I often have clients practice this type of breathing, and many lack access to the diaphragm, at least at first. Instead they are among the many “chest breathers” out there: they breathe in and out, but the breath gets stuck in the chest, rather than traveling all the way down to the pit of the belly as it should. If the diaphragm doesn’t descend fully into the chamber, it doesn’t properly pressurize, increasing your risk of lower back pain.
To gauge access to your diaphragm, try this exercise. Assume savasana pose, lying on your back with your arms and legs extended. Then place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Soften through your abdomen and take a deep breath in. Imagine that your abdomen is like a vase, and the air is like water. As you draw your air (the water) in, allow it to fill the pit of your belly (the bottom of the vase) first before rising up to the top. You’re doing it right if you feel the hand on your belly rise first and the hand on your chest rise last.
Practice that every day for the next week, aiming for fuller and deeper breaths each day. This will set your foundation. In my next post I will describe other ways to further strengthen the muscles of your inner unit.
And by the way, there’s still ONE spot left in Mom Camp’s Gentle Class. It’s perfect for pre- and postnatal moms, those with exercise limitations, and those who are new to exercise. Would love to have you there!
Today I’ve got an update on my pooch. And that’s the belly pooch we’re talking about here, not the “bow-wow” kind of pooch.
Last I wrote, I was diligently doing my core training in an attempt to close the diastasis responsible for the belly bulge that remained after the birth of my second daughter in July. If you missed that post, definitely check it out for background information. There’s also a lot of good information there for you if you find yourself with an unwanted pooch.
When we left off, I was four weeks postpartum. My belly had shrunk considerably from delivery, but a noticeable pooch remained:
And now here’s four weeks compared to ten weeks:
And remember, ALL of these photos are taken with my belly completely relaxed. No false advertising here by drawing in my abs. (Read my last post if you want to hear me get on my soapbox about THAT topic 🙂 ).
Now, I didn’t take belly shots before my pregnancy, so I can’t compare the 10-week photo to a pre-pregnancy baseline. But my memory tells me that while I’m still not quite back to pre-pregnancy belly flatness, I’m certainly close.
And what about the diastasis? Unfortunately, a non-trivial gap remains. Depending on the time of day when I do the measuring, I can still fit more than two fingers into the space between the two sides of my abdominal wall. But the WIDTH of the gap is only half the story. The DEPTH of the gap also tells us something about the severity of the diastasis. My gap is considerably more shallow now than it was after delivery. This suggests that the linea alba – the fascia that joins the two sides of the rectus abdominis – is much stronger than it was before.
I’m now 16 weeks postpartum, and I’ve been continuing twice-daily exercises for my TVA. Although I stopped taking the belly shots, here’s a fun photo of me and Lily at 13 weeks. I’m very happy with how far I’ve come!
No, I didn’t get a puppy. I’m talking about my belly pooch.
After giving birth to my first daughter, my belly returned to its normal flat self almost immediately, so I was a little disappointed to find that a bump remained after the recent delivery of my second daughter. The bump was present despite my having done everything you’re supposed to do to avoid it, including staying active during pregnancy with a focus on strengthening the inner core.
I’m quite thin, and excess belly fat was not the explanation. Diastasis recti, or the separation of the rectus abdominis (i.e. your “six pack”) into left and right halves, was the explanation.
We’re going to talk more about that, along with other changes that take place in the few weeks after delivery that help explain why you might still look six months pregnant after having your baby. I’m also going to show you a series of belly pictures taken over my first four weeks postpartum to help illustrate these changes.
Before we look at those pictures, I feel compelled to note that I did everything to make them look as bad as possible: I took profile pictures; I wore a tight, white camisole; I completely relaxed my belly. I also took all the pictures in the evening, a time of the day when I’ve noticed that my belly is particularly distended. I say this because it bugs me when I see other women post misleading pictures. They will provide views of their bellies with their abdominals tightly drawn in, and they will look pretty darn good. They will look something like this:
Looks pretty good, right? That’s me at three and four weeks postpartum, drawing in my belly. It’s even more impressive with a frontal view and some skin exposed. Here’s me again at four weeks postpartum:
Unfortunately these pictures are dishonest. Here’s what I look like at those same points in time with my belly relaxed:
If you ask me, I still don’t look too shabby, but the pooch remains.
So the moral of the story is this: if you see a fitness mom trying to sell you a flat belly after baby by providing a view with her abs drawn in, be skeptical. It’s probably false advertising.
Ok, so now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s look at an entire series of unflattering (but honest!) photos over the first four weeks after delivery:
Belly Shrinkage during First Four Weeks after Delivery (Abdominals Relaxed)
Woah! Pretty cool, huh? One thing that you should immediately notice is that my belly shrinks significantly at first but then more gradually. That’s because of uterine involution. At delivery, your uterus is at least 500 times larger than it was before you conceived, and it takes a while to shrink back down. The rate of involution is greatest in the days immediately postpartum and then begins to slow, with the uterus returning to its normal size in about six weeks.
But uterine involution is only half the story. By the second week postpartum, the uterus is considerably smaller and has returned to its original location in the pelvis. Yet as you can see, I still have my pooch at week two. That takes us back to the diastasis. Let’s talk a little more about that.
When the two sides of the rectus abdominis split, there’s nothing to hold the contents of your abdomen in, so they pop out. Most of what protrudes are your intestines, so if you have a diastasis, you may notice that your pooch is larger if you’re constipated or experience gas.
To correct the diastasis we must strengthen the transversus abdominis, or TVA. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the TVA lies beneath the rectus abdominis. While the muscles of the latter run vertically, the muscles of the former run horizontally, acting like a corset to pull all four side of the body together. If we tighten the corset by strengthening the TVA, we pull together the two sides of the rectus abdominis.
As noted above, I HAD been diligently doing my TVA exercises while pregnant, so what gives? Why did I still have the diastasis? Was there something else I failed to do to avoid this fate? Did I do something I shouldn’t have done?
Unless you consider having a second baby a mistake (I sure don’t!), there was nothing I did wrong. Diastasis recti is simply more common in subsequent pregnancies than the first one. Everything had been stretched out before, so things stretched more easily the second time around. It’s kind of like how you tend to feel pregnant faster with your second pregnancy than you did with your first. As a friend of mine once said, it’s like your body saying, “I know what to do!”
Having multiple pregnancies is just one risk factor. Others include having a c-section, having a large baby, and carrying in the front. I had a vaginal delivery, and although I had a 7 lb 5 oz peanut, I carried her WAY in the front, leading my husband to refer to my belly as the “torpedo” (Thanks, babe. I love you too). So make that two risk factors for me: second baby and torpedo.
Although I can’t prove it, it stands to reason that my diastasis would have been worse had I not done the TVA exercises while pregnant. And these exercises remain the key for correcting the separation now. Every day I collectively spend 25-30 minutes strengthening the TVA. Depending on my schedule, I’ll either spend ten minutes on the exercises three times/day or 15 minutes twice/day. I can’t precisely tell you how much of my progress is due to time and how much to the exercises, but I can say with certainty that my TVA is much stronger now than it was when I started doing them one week postpartum.
So what exactly are these exercises? Pelvic tilts (both with and without heel slides) are definitely one of them. If you don’t know what those are, check out my earlier blog post that provides instruction. If you’re looking for other ideas, I’m currently taking new clients, both in-home and distance-based. I’d love to work with you!
The WellMom blog has been a little quiet for the past few weeks, owing to the arrival of our second second child on July 12! Today I thought I’d share our birth story with you.
My due date was July 21, so I was surprised to find myself feeling unusual contractions around 11:30 pm on Saturday, July 11. I was getting ready for bed when I noticed that the Braxton Hicks contractions that I had become so accustomed to feeling were coming with much greater frequency. However, they had no discernible pattern, with some as many as five minutes apart and others as few as two minutes apart. Flummoxed, I called my doula. “Could it be false labor?” I asked. She was likewise mystified, yet we both remembered how quickly my labor progressed with my first daughter, Siyona, and neither one of us wanted to wait too long and me give birth on the side of the road en route to the hospital! I telephoned the midwife on call at the hospital to seek her advice. She said it sounded like early labor but left it to me to decide if I wanted to come in right away or labor at home for a bit longer. While Neil (loving husband) and I talked it over, the intensity of contractions began to pick up, so we decided to go in. We called a good friend to come over and sleep on the couch and be there in the morning to care for Siyona; when he arrived, we were off.
We checked into the hospital around 2 a.m. At this point, the contractions intensified to the point where it was difficult to talk through them. By the time we got upstairs to my room, each contraction stopped me dead in my tracks. I found that the best position for me to labor in was seated on the edge of the bed with my arms draped over Neil’s shoulders, as I did my best to breathe and relax through the contractions. A feeling of nausea signaled transition, the last part of active labor before the pushing stage begins. The contractions then became even more severe. After a very short period of time, I felt the baby descend into my pelvis and the need to push. I remember exclaiming, “My water is about to break!” After just a few pushes, break it did. At this point I was laboring lying down on my side on the bed. Just three pushing contractions later, the baby arrived at 3:10 a.m., weighing 5 pounds and 7 ounces. We’re old fashioned and opted to keep the gender a surprise, and the next thing I remember is the hospital staff asking my husband to announce the sex. In the short pause between hearing those words and my husband’s reply, I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t care.” And in that moment I knew it really didn’t matter to me whether we had a boy or a girl, just as I had claimed countless times during my pregnancy whenever people asked me which I preferred. Then came Neil’s reply, “It’s another girl!”
We spent just 36 hours in the hospital, just long enough to finally decide on a name for our beautiful baby girl: Lily. For the past three weeks, we’ve been adjusting to life as a family of four. Help from family and friends has greatly aided the transition. I’ve been amazed at my pace of recovery. I was almost feeling back to my old self when we checked out of the hospital! I attribute this to a combination of good genes (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and staying active throughout my pregnancy.
Here are some pictures of me and my girls during our first week together. Enjoy!
Taken very shortly after birth.
Me and my girls at the hospital.
Siyona may look thrilled to be a big sister, but this was moments before she started pushing Lily away saying, “Off!” My hand is there to catch Lily!
I also mentioned that you can enhance the core work in this pose by very consciously drawing your navel in towards your spine to engage your transversus abdominis (TVA) and by lifting your pelvic floor. Today I’m going to explain why the TVA and pelvic floor are so important and show you how to perform this exercise.
When you think of your “core,” what muscles do you imagine? Your “six pack,” perhaps? If you do, you’re not alone, but you’re also incorrect. When we talk about core strength, it’s the deep muscles to which we refer, including the diaphragm, TVA, multifidus (deep spinal muscles), and pelvic floor. These four muscles create a rectangular-shaped box inside our abdomen with the diaphragm on top, the TVA in the front, the pelvic floor on the bottom, and the multifidus in the back.
Maintenance of intra-abdominal pressure is the key to core strength. When the core is functioning properly, the diaphragm descends into the abdominal chamber when we inhale; this creates pressure in the abdomen, much like a we would pressurize a plunger cylinder by pressing on the top of the plunger (I find the image of a french press useful here). The TVA, multifidus, and pelvic floor work in concert with the diaphragm to help create and maintain that pressure, by naturally engaging as the diaphragm descends. Weakness in any one of these four muscles compromises the ability of the body to maintain this abdominal pressure and stabilize the joints. This leads to a variety of adverse consequences including lower back pain, muscular imbalances, and poor posture, as the body stabilizes the joints in less ideal ways.
Pregnancy and delivery make moms especially prone to core weakness. The TVA becomes overstretched and undertoned as the uterus expands. The growing weight of the uterus puts strain on the pelvic floor and weakens it. Depending on the mode of delivery, moms experience additional trauma either to the pelvic floor (in the case of vaginal birth) or the TVA (in the case of a C-section, which cuts through this muscle).
Moms-to-be can strengthen these important muscles by performing cat cows/pelvic rocking with TVA and pelvic floor activation. As you exhale into cat pose, very consciously draw your navel in towards your spine to engage the TVA and then perform a kegel at the very end of the exhale to engage the pelvic floor. The TVA work becomes increasingly challenging as you progress through your pregnancy because the weight of your uterus increases. You truly are using your TVA to lift your growing baby and other components of your uterus!
Here’s a video of me performing this exercise at 38 weeks. Look closely and you can really see my TVA working to lift the uterus as I exhale; you will also see my uterus descend on the inhale as I lower the weight of my belly back down. Unfortunately, the kegels you cannot see. We will have to save instruction on kegels for another day. 🙂