Last time I set out to write something about where I started in my postpartum fitness journey, it turned into more of a mental assessment in goal setting.
THIS time, we’re gonna get down to the nitty gritty. Jumpin’ right in.
WTF Just Happened to Your Body
During pregnancy, your body went through a period of expansion (to over simplify it). Your stomach was pushed OUT and then sh*t was pushed DOWN. During the last month, I know we all remember oh-so-well the feeling of bursting at the seams (moms of twins and beyond are REMARKABLE).
Symptom 1 – pushed OUT = separated abdominals (aka diastasis recti). All women get a degree of this during pregnancy and it’s normal.
Symptom 2 – pushed DOWN = a breach in your pelvic floor. A really big breach… Muscles have been stretched and ravaged.
Bottom line: we just went OUT and DOWN for the better part of a year. Now we need to take time to build the foundations of going UP and IN.
Going UP – the Pelvic Floor
Kegels aren’t just for women. Men can benefit from them, too. Kegels are contractile exercises to do to strengthen the entire pelvic floor – going UP.
What is the pelvic floor? It is a generalized group of muscles that support our pelvic organs, sexual function, and spinal integrity (through stabilization of abdominal and back muscles). Yeah, they’re pretty important, even for you dudes out there who want to get strong.
Every thing I’ve read online and been advised from practitioners told me to find my pelvic floor is by stopping my pee mid stream. (Use this as a diagnostic, not a strengthening tool, because doing this repeatedly while you are peeing can lead to bladder issues.)
Seems easy enough, but in actuality, this approach neglects MUCH of where the pelvic floor is and what it holds in.
Pelvic Floor Anatomy
See diagram below. Yes, we’re gettin’ graphic here! You didn’t expect me to talk about this without some ANATOMY, right?!
See Urethral Hiatus – the little gray oval at the top of the image. That is the area that stopping your pee focuses on when you cease urination mid stream (and the muscles directly around it to some degree).
See the rest of the cool colors of the rainbow on that picture? The teal, the red, the green, the yellow, and the maroon? Yeah, those are all of the OTHER MUSCLES of the pelvic floor that need some love.
So, instead of thinking of kegels as a way of working on where we pee (the front of the pelvis), we need to think of it as the ENTIRE surface of our nether regions. Oh my!
If Not There, Then Where?
Ok, so how do we find this nebulous pelvic floor? Ladies, next time you use a tampon, or just use your damn finger (it’s your body, take control!), squeeze that thing. The best way to characterize the region is the MIDDLE of the under world. (No Kate Beckinsale jokes, please.)
This WHOLE AREA is the pelvic floor.
So now what do we do to strengthen now that you’ve found the damn thing?
Kegels Level 1 – Hold – hold for 10-15 sec. then relax. Do this off and on throughout the day. The goal is 75-100 of these “reps” daily.
Kegels Level 2: The Crescendo – start off easy and then increase intensity of the hold, then slowly release. Think of it like a crescendo ramping up and then back down. We’re upping this goal to 100-150 “reps” daily.
Kegels Level 3: The Ladder – do short, choppy steps up to maximum hold, then short choppy steps back down. Mix these in with the Hold and Crescendo throughout the day for 150-200 “reps” across all varieties.
Try these sitting, standing, at the bottom of a squat. Wherever you want. The possibilities are endless.
You can do all reps in a row. Another option is to do X number of sets for X number of reps, then repeat – up to you and your tolerance!
This is of course, a blanket statement and starting place for most. If you have any special circumstances or issues, PLEASE visit a pelvic floor specialist!
Going IN – Diaphragmatic Breathing
Now the next top, GOIN’ IN. This is the part of pregnancy that is top 3 of most consuming for new moms – are my abs ever going to be the same?! All women have a varying degree of abdominal separation and it’s normal for abs to have separation forever, even after strengthening and doing everything “right”.
How your abs LOOK isn’t my concern. How they FUNCTION is what I care about. There is a general ramping up of abdominal exercises postpartum. Mainly, we want to avoid “coning”, which I will talk about in later posts. What I want to touch on for this post is the awareness that comes from proper breathing.
The diaphragm is located below your heart and lungs but above your abdominal cavity – think of it at the bottom of the ribcage. It’s a muscle that’s largely involved with belly breathing and plays a major role in bringing things back together. There are multiple therapeutic benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing, however, in this post, we are going to talk about this type of breathing for the sole purpose of finding abdominal awareness and strength.
Where Art Thou?
Lay on your back and place your hands on the lower part of your rib cage. With your lower back (lumbar spine) separated from the ground, inhale and push your hands towards the ceiling. Feel the expansion.
Next, deflate the balloon and watch your hands lower back down. The focus would be to eliminate the space between your low back and the ground – aka a maximum contraction. In a more gymnastic sense, this is a hollow body position (rib cage clamped down towards pelvis.)
Can’t find it laying down? Also try this sitting on a chair. Sit with your butt flared back (booty booty) and then exhale, clamping the rib cage down and belly button towards the back of the chair.
This pelvic rock or rotation is an active contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm.
I’m Goin’ IN
So now that you know where it is, what does this mean? Doing these breathing exercises will help bring everything back IN. The connective tissue between your abs has been stretched out over the better part of a year. Now, we spend a lot of time working them back.
Try this out:
Breathe in through your nose – 2-4 seconds.
Hold your breath – a few seconds.
Breathe out through your mouth – 4-7 seconds.
That combo is not only great for contracting these muscles back together, but also has therapeutic benefits for mindfulness, calming, anxiety, sleeplessness, and mental clarity.
Do this WHENEVER you think of it during the day. The goal is to accumulate about 10-20 minutes of “time under tension” during the day. If you’re doing longer breaths, it will take less. If you’re doing the shorter end of the range, you may need to do a few more.
Quality over quantity is the bottom line. Focus on strength and purpose rather than speed.
Now I’m About to Blow Your Mind
Wanna get freaky with it? Do BOTH at the same time!
UP + IN = AWESOMENESS
Maximize your productivity by harnessing the power of diaphragmatic breathing WITH some keegs and you’re GOLDEN!