Yes, it’s simple. Yes, it’s the foundation of basically every function of the human body. Yes, it’s harder than it looks. And, yes, it’s almost always overlooked because of its simplicity; we are already born “knowing” how to do it. Right?
You’d think. But life circumstances often conspire to affect our breathing patterns in myriad ways. Not the least of which is pregnancy and the hormone bomb-drop of the early (i.e. first 12 months) postpartum period.
The good news is we have a *lot* of control over how we breathe. And learning to recognize patterns and their triggers is very valuable information. Manipulating your breathing can prevent/stop/reroute just about any circumstance imaginable. Seriously.
Today, play around with directing your breathing to different areas. Think of, or physically place your hand on, a spot and send it there. It starts out that simple. Can’t do it? Keep creating the intention and keep practicing. You just need to wake up a forgotten skill. Most likely. Barring extenuating circumstances, of course.
Here, I’m playing around with one-sided lateral rib expansion. Fun little party trick! 🤓
I know, I know, there is some lingering upper ab gripping. I am, *we* are, a constant work in progress, should you choose to seek the path of self-improvement. It’s a fun one!
I constantly battle my shoulder joints, have for a very long time. And I’ve been able to cheat and steal my way through mobility and strength deficits. I run, who needs strong arms?! 🤦♀️ But no more.
This year is the year of a strong upper body 💪. So I have enlisted myself in shoulder boot camp and am tackling those winging shoulder blades currently. Our shoulder blades aren’t supposed to look like bat wings in flight, what?!
Here it is, my new “favorite” serratus anterior exercise. I am a big fan of convenience when it comes to fitness because, well, compliance goes way up when it’s convenient. So I brought my gear downstairs while I immerse myself in a bit of shoulder boot camp.
”Oh lookey here, conveniently placed foam roller!” Each time I walked by it I would do 10 reps, set it down and be on my merry way. So that is how you make it work and get it done. Convenience.
This is sped up 2x, so take it slow. Set up like you are doing an awesome plank but on the wall...on a foam roller with a theraband . I like the foam roller at my wrists so I have enough to roll up, use arms to push yourself away to engage serratus anterior and glide shoulder blades along ribcage (no bat wings here!!). Next, engage core by zipping up your abs from pubic bone to belly button, knitting down your ribs with your abs (no #glutesofglory sticking up here!!). Speaking of, engage those glutes to help stabilize pelvis, and go slightly up on toes.
No you are ready. Keep elbows just wider than shoulders and make sure resistance is just enough to get those pec muscles to quiet down. Roll up and reach hands towards the wall (not straight up). If your band hits your face then you aren’t reaching towards the wall. You might need to readjust every few reps as the roller shifts.
When the movement was too hard for me early on I just did an isometric hold in the starting position. I still catch my pelvis wanting to rotate forwards (hence my adjustment on the second rep). So it’s a work in progress. But my serratus are finally waking up! Consistency is key, and for me to be consistent I also need it to be convenient **************************
I didn’t make this one up. The credit goes to what I learned from Dr. Sarah Ellis Duvall and the Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist certification I got last year. To say it has been life-changing is an understatement. So much amazing information, your brain will explode. But in a good way 😎 Click HERE to learn more as registration for the next class starts soon and you can save $150!
What this all boils down to is, be more mindful! Because, sometimes, it’s going to look like ☝️this☝️. And that’s okay!
Notice your habits and if they are not in alignment with your goals, work to change them! With posture it just takes a lot of repetition. These aren't earth- moving concepts. They are simple, actionable things that you can do over and over and over again. Make a sticky note (or 10!) and put one anywhere you look frequently to remind you. If I can help one of you lift and carry better then I am full of joy over here! It isn’t going to be 100% of the time, and likely not even 70% of the time that you’ll have this wonderful posturing. I don’t! You just need to do a little here and a little there, and be more body aware. And it totally helps.
For those of us labeled with various pelvic health ailments, it is scary to read what the interwebs have to share on things like diastasis recti and particularly pelvic organ prolapse. Sure, you need to be more aware and change up a few habits but it is all for the better and will serve you well into old age when everyone else is dealing with overuse injuries from a lifetime of bad posture and mechanics. So, high five to you for taking the first steps!
Good posture and alignment that best suits *you* and excellent breathing strategies will allow you to perform most of what you wish to do. But, obviously, please seek guidance from a qualified medical or exercise specialist who deals with these kinds of things regularly and understands the unique circumstances of postpartum rehab and pelvic health issues. Having a go-to women's health/pelvic floor physical therapist is one of the best tools to have in your lady bits tool box. (Oh my gosh, so many puns in that sentence!)
If you have any questions, please reach out to me and I will do my best to assist you and/or point you in the right direction. We are in this together! YOU are not alone, my friend.
Car seats. Love them, hate them. Have to have them. So let’s carry them better, or just leave it in the car and never carry it around 😎
Yea right...never wake a sleeping babe!
Okay, the first set of pics works best in those early days when baby is lightest. It is that super clever carrying trick that circulated the inter webs in the last few years, with a reminder to do it better. Use those abs! You still have them, they didn’t leave so get your ab work in while also living life! When you stick your pelvis/hip out you are creating imbalances and your muscles will eventually share their unhappiness with you, especially in the back and shoulder. So stop.
Next set of pics is for when baby gets heavier. I once worked with a patient who partially dislocated their proximal fibula from carrying their car seat like this and letting it slam against the side of their lower leg. Ouch! This is much harder but you can switch sides and do so often! Don’t always carry on one side.
The front carry technique is also great for getting in/out of the car. I have used this technique A LOT. Sure it looks funny, but if it helps you avoid all of the pain then so what? Plus, who cares? Do what is best for *you* and don’t carry your kid like a schmo 😎🙌💪
Car Seat “Kettlebell” Workout!
Okay, it is partially in jest but also just as much f’real. I don’t have kettlebells, nor do I have formal training in them (hence the tongue-in-cheek nature of this, and it totally works!) but I do have a car seat and it’s easy to make heavier if needed. I love being creative and using what I have.
NOTE No. 1: my very critical eye sees *several* technique things I could have tweaked before posting this but I am trying my hand at #workingsmarternotharder . My pelvic alignment and core activation leaves some things to be desired 😎
Back to the workout: my seat is empty and the video is sped up 2x BUT make sure to move slowly and mindfully. Work both sides and pay attention to alignment. Knees over toes is totally okay, just keep knees aligned with your second toe, and keep heels down. Core activated from the bottom up, shoulder blades activated, chin tucked slightly, and use your core to resist being twisted to the side you are holding the seat. Walking lunges would be a fun addition, too!
NOTE No. 2: I wouldn’t recommend that a child be in the seat for this but if they are make sure they are buckled in fully and secured as if you were going to put them in the car 😎 Obviously. An empty seat was weight enough for me today!
NOTE No. 3: if you have a #diastasis or #prolapse make sure you are cleared for these movements and that you are managing internal pressures and breathing well. And, start with no weight and see how it feels for you.
You can probably guess what the next installment in the #holdingyourkidseries is going to be...stay tuned!
Part two of how to hold the heavy things better!
First pic...I see this all. The. Time. I watched one mama carry her kid around like this at the park recently and she even maintained this posturing after setting the kid down 🤦♀️ If I had cards I would have handed her one and told her to call me. It’s never too late to stop; there IS help.
One sided pelvic pain? Weakness in one hip? One sided knee pain? Low back pain? Neck pain? Jaw pain? Trouble contracting one side of your glutes? Leaking? The list is long!
Think of the domino effect of symptoms with the stance in the first pic. I see functional scoliosis and some serious pelvic issues down the road. The hard part with posture is that negative effects can take months or years to bubble to the surface, so it is really easy to brush off. But just like interest compounds over time and becomes a really big deal eventually, so too does the way in which we hold ourselves and move throughout the day.
Once again, be mindful of how you carry heavy loads (kids, pets, groceries, dog food, etc.). Center your weight over both feet (you want your center of mass centered), feet forward, pelvis neutral, core (lower TAs) engaged slightly, standing tall through crown of your head, engage the shoulder blades with a slight squeeze between them, and use those arm muscles! If it’s too much, decrease the load where possible. The nice thing about the kids is that their weight increases gradually enough that you can adapt to the change in load, but it is still work!
You’ve got yourself an isometric strengthening exercise anytime, anywhere! Make it active with some lunges or squats. And you *know* I have thoughts and pointers on that as well... More to come! Until then, hold the heavy things better!
Or, holding any of the heavy things.
If you have a kid (or several) you likely do a lot of carrying of at least one or two of them. Let’s carry our kids better!
First pic is what I see everywhere. Low back pain bonanza! Shoulder pain, hello! Pelvic heaviness, oof. And a bunch of other things. So, let’s use our muscles instead of hanging on our joints. Stand tall through the crown of your head, feet hip width apart and pointing forward, shoulders relaxed yet engaged slightly between the shoulder blades (like you're trying to hold a feather there), and engage your core! Not a full force contraction of your abdominals, but think of it more as a slight drawing in of the lower portion of the deep abdominals (transverse abdominals). As my 23 month old says, “Ta da, Mama!” Go try both out and see what you think. Takes a little more muscle power to do it right but then you’re squeezing in a mini core workout several times a day!
For my ladies dealing with prolapse, tell your pelvic floors “you’re welcome,” for me. Standing like a schmo? Hello symptoms. Do it better and goodbye symptoms. 😘
Today let’s learn a little about diastasis recti (DRA)! Specifically, how to check for it. It is best to get an official diagnosis from a pelvic floor physical therapist but if you are curious about how to check for yourself then here is the easiest way to do so.
Note: it is truly best to check in every position you utilize, and with every exercise you perform just to see what is happening with your abdominal wall.
Lie supine (on your back) with knees extended and abs relaxed. Find your belly button, then raise your head without contracting the abs. Can you feel the margins of your rectus abdominis (the “six pack” abs)? How many fingers wide is it? Palpate above and below the belly button? How far down can you feel it, and how far up toward the ribs can you feel it, if at all?
Next, repeat the same motion but this time begin by firming up your deep abdominals as if you are bracing against someone trying to tickle you. Then lift your head and re-check. Any different? Is it wider, narrower, soft and squishy, firm? Now how far down and up can you feel a separation, if any?
DRA is very common in pregnant and postpartum women but it is not just this population that experiences it. In my clinical experience it has been just as common in men! I am in the habit of checking everyone who mentions low back pain, regardless of gender or childbearing history. It’s an easy check and can help guide rehab and corrective exercise prescriptions.
As always, check with a pelvic floor physical therapist for an official diagnosis. This is meant purely as a fun curiosity check and by no means a diagnosis, but you knew that, right? 😎
Further, more and more literature is coming out revealing that the width of the separation is much less important than the depth of the separation and tension beneath it. Soft and squishy between the two sides indicates weakness of the deep transverse abdominis (TA), even if it is just a single finger width. But some people can have several fingers wide and able to create full tension of the TA when cued, and this is seen as being better than a narrow gap with no tension. Also of note, it is considered an "abnormal separation" when the gap is greater than 2.5 cm or two fingers wide. Why? Who knows. Because if the person cannot create tension in the TAs then 2.5 cm is significant. It all just depends!
*By the way, I had a video that went along with a portion of this post originally posted on my Instagram account, but it requires far more tech knowledge than I possess to learn how to do that here :)
Ab gripping. It is way too common, especially in women. AKA “sucking in.” It is something we do so much that we stop even noticing we are doing it.
Are you doing it right now? Take your had and place it on your abdomen, close to the ribs and gently jiggle the abs. Feel relaxing? Or was it hard to do? Probably gripping. Check out your abdomen in the mirror: is there a cinched in area at about the level of the belly button, looking from the side? Gripping/sucking in. Are the top abdominals more defined than the lower half? Gripping. Can you "zip up" your abs from the pubis/crotch without those upper abs firing? Gripping. Looking from the side, does it look like your lower abdomen sticks out farther than the upper half? Gripping and lower abdominal weakness.
It is constant, long term tension in a group of muscles (usually upper rectus abdominis/"six pack abs" and upper transverse abdominals (TA)) and over time, those muscles adapt to what we ask of them and shorten/weaken so when you go to ask something of them (a heavy lift, core exercises, weight gain, pregnancy, etc.) they have nothing left to give and the pressure has to leak out somewhere, soooooo...yea, diastasis recti (abnormal separation of the abdominal wall) prolapse, leaking of urine or feces, inability to control gas, disc herniations, herniations of the abdominal wall, hemorrhoids, etc. Fun, huh?!
Imagine flexing your biceps muscles all day every day. You wouldn't really be able to use your arms very effectively if your biceps were constantly flexed, ha! What would you expect to happen with those muscles? They would shorten and become very tight. Same idea with your abdominal wall. This sort of abdominal weakness is perfect staging grounds for lots of fun stuff, as mentioned above.
Men, too! Women are by no means the only ones suffering these issues. Men are just as likely to develop these kinds of problems via means other than pregnancy. Obviously :)
If you can’t just relax your abdomen on command (one way to tell you REALLY need this!) then get down on all fours and allow gravity to assist you. Let your belly relax down toward the floor gradually. I know, it feels really weird at first and you will likely be able to feel your body tensing against it, but work through this. Try to keep the shoulders engaged and don’t sink into them. Keep your spine as neutral as you can, trying not to let your low back curve too much. Focus on breathing deeply and slowly, in and out🧘♀️
If you can get in the habit of checking in throughout the day and seeing what your abs are doing (particularly in times of stress) make note of it and try to relax. Hate having your belly "pooch" (terrible word, but everyone can picture it!) out? I get it! But that is what loose-fitting shirts are for in this stage of the game, right?!
All sorts of things improve when we stop holding tension, particularly in our abdomen. Digestion, breathing, stress response, constipation, you name it. Try it out and I hope you find some relief!
Runner, lifter of children, PTA, CPT, PCES, pelvic health zealot