How To Activate The Deep Core & Pelvic Floor

Happy Monday!! I have been wanting to post about this topic for a while because it is a HUGE part of exercising during pregnancy and postpartum, if not THE most important part. Activating and connecting the deep core and pelvic floor muscles is essential, because if you don’t know how to activate those muscles, how do you plan on strengthening them? It seems like a stupid question when phrased like that, but it’s so easy to just go through exercises without properly thinking about what you’re doing. I know I've done that before!

I often get asked, “should I feel a burn while doing pelvic floor exercises”, and “it doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything, am I doing it right?”, and “should I breathe a certain way while doing these exercises?”. The answers are 1) no, you should not feel a burn, but you should feel a connection. 2) You may not be doing it correctly. You won’t get breathless or feel muscle fatigue, but again, you should feel a connection, and 3) YES! You should absolutely breath a certain way! The information below should answer these questions a little further, and hopefully help you effectively work the pelvic floor and reap the many benefits that it brings!

***I plan on posting a video to demonstrate this, but HERE is an amazing video of a 39 week pregnant woman properly activating her deep core.

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WHAT IS THE DEEP CORE:

All of the deep core muscles function together, and everything is connected. EVERYTHING! The main muscles to know are:

Pelvic Floor: This is a hammock of muscles that connect the pubis bone at the front to the tailbone. The pelvic floor supports the bladder, reproductive organs, and bowel and forms a figure 8 around the urethra, vagina and rectum. They also work with the multifidus and transversus abdominis to stabilize the spine, pelvic joints, bladder and uterus properly.

Transversus abdominis (TVA): This is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and wraps around the abdomen between the lower ribs and top of the pelvis. It acts as a corset that holds everything together.

Internal Obliques: This muscle is a little closer to the skin than the transverses abdominis, and supports the abdominal wall.

Multifidus: This muscle is located around the back of the spine, and functions together with the transversus abdominis & pelvic floor muscles to stabilize the low back and pelvis.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT:

Strengthening the deep core muscles through movement and exercise improves overall strength, energy, decreases low back pain, hip pain, neck pain, and incontinence, minimizes diastasis recti and prolapse, and sets her up for potentially easier, and quicker labour and recovery– all while decreasing the chances of an emergency c-section.

Most women struggle with at least one of these issues, if not many of them, and properly activating and strengthening these muscles during and after pregnancy can help minimize, and sometimes even prevent these problem. That’s huge!!

STEPS TO CONNECTING DEEP CORE MUSCLES:

1. Relax the deep core muscles on the inhale. You should feel a heaviness, and a pressing down sensation. If it helps, it’s the same type of relaxation you make while urinating. If you are unsure what it should feel like, trying sitting on a stability ball. You can actually feel the relaxing of the deep core and pelvic floor muscles this way!

2. Exhale to initiate light contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. This is a LIGHT contraction. You don’t want to grip the muscles, or strain in any way. Particularly make sure you aren’t contracting the glutes. Imagine you are lifting the muscles all the way to the top of your head, and really focus on lengthening. **Tips on how to lightly contract are below!

3. Once you have contracted the pelvic floor muscles, move into the exercise. This is why each exercise should always be done slowly and intentionally. Breath out and relax the muscles - then inhale, connect the deep core and pelvic floor muscles, and do another rep.

4. You want to breath diaphragmatically breathe throughout each exercise by inhaling out to the sides and back of her ribcage, and then exhaling as you lightly contract the pelvic floor. Feel the lengthening as stated above while also adding a light wrapping “down and around” of her lower ribcage. **I will do a separate post about this later.

TIPS FOR ACTIVATING DEEP CORE & PELVIC FLOOR:

This sounds incredibly confusing at first, and honestly feels very foreign. It can also be mentally draining too because it’s a lot to think about while also trying to exercise. I get it! The best thing to do is practice this before exercising. Take a few minutes to work on feeling these muscles and activating them. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at sensing them, and the easier it will become. Practice, practice, practice!

The most difficult part is figuring out how to lightly contract those muscles, especially if you’ve just learned you even have a pelvic floor!

  1. When making that light contraction, think about lifting up a wet towel from the corners. You want to pull the muscles together, and then up. Imagine you are lightly zipping up the pelvic floor, and really think about lifting up the way to the top of the head. That lengthening is key!

  2. Avoiding sucking the belly to spine. This is a VERY common tip I see on Instagram, but it restricts deep core activation and proper breathing. It also puts force on the pelvic floor and hinders posture.

  3. Lengthen tall through the torso and top of the head to positively affect posture and deep core strength. This also stimulates connective tissue which wraps around all of the muscles, and is what brings the abdominals back together.

Pelvic Floor Workout

Happy Monday!! I post a lot of pelvic floor workouts on my Instagram, but I wanted to post a little workout, along with some images, on my blog today!

These exercises help build new connective tissue, which is crucial for a strong pelvic floor and deep core. They rebuild the connective tissue between the abdominals, and bring them back together (or minimize the separation during pregnant). They are SUPER important if you have diastasic recti. They also reduce lower back pain, hip pain, and neck pain during and after pregnancy. They minimize incontinence which is the most common postpartum issue. They help the body recover better after delivery, and actually help you during delivery! Needless to say, pelvic floor work is very, very important and very beneficial!

***please excuse my very serious face in these pictures haha. They were taken for a project and the images are much, much smaller haha *face palm*.

PELVIC FLOOR WORKOUT - repeat 3-4x

  1. Glute bridge marching x 24-30

  2. Reverse plank heel slides x 16-20

  3. Zippers x 24-30

  4. Stability ball wall squats x 10-12

  5. Stability ball hips thrust x 10-15

GLUTE BRIDGE MARCHING

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REVERSE PLANK HEEL SLIDES

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ZIPPERS

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STABILITY BALL WALL SQUATS

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STABILITY BALL HIP THRUSTS

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One Week Postpartum

I was going to try and get a post up every Monday, Wednesday, Friday still, but it's Thursday and I'm just writing my first post for the week.

EL. OH. EL.

I wouldn't say I'm "busier" than before, but I simply don't want to rush around getting stuff done. All I want to do is hang out with Piper, and soak up every second of Jack's newborn stage. That's the most important thing right now, and I am in absolute heaven over here. 

Piper is down for her nap though, and Jack is snoozing on my chest (letting out the cutest snores), so before I hop into a much needed shower, I wanted to recap on this first week of my postpartum recovery!

1-5 days postpartum

1-5 days postpartum

I feel like I have to state that this is MY postpartum recovery. There is no set "normal" recovery that every woman follows. We are all different people. We all went into pregnancy in different physical shapes, with different genetics, had different activity levels during pregnancy, different approaches to eating, different babies, different hardships during pregnancy, and different deliveries. There are a lot of factors that go into it! I had NO idea what to expect after having Piper, and it was honestly all quite surprising going through it the first time. I hope by sharing MY experience, it's not used as a template or a comparison for postpartum recovery, but rather helps prepare you for going through your OWN recovery. Hopefully it isn't as shocking for you as it was for me at first haha. 

**Sorry if this gets TMI. It's hard to talk about postpartum recovery without getting specific though ha. 

RECOVERY

As I mentioned in Jack's Birth Story, my doctor had to do a very fast episiotomy at the end of labour to quickly get him out. She did an awesome job with stitching me back up, but it was a second degree tear, meaning the tear went deeper into the muscle beneath. I felt SUPER sore, and was super swollen (from the pushing as well), for about 4 days after delivery, and standing up/sitting down didn't feel great haha. There was/is obviously a lot of bleeding too, especially because of the blood thinner shots I have to take. 

Every day I have felt a little better and better, and it's honestly AMAZING to me to think of how the body can recover after birthing a baby. It knows what to do and how to do it. It's so incredible and gives me an even greater respect for my body. I feel SO much better today (9 days postpartum) than I did this time last week. There's obviously still bleeding and discomfort, and it's uncomfortable to walk around for long periods of time, but all things considered, I feel really good!

Full term to 9 days postpartum

Full term to 9 days postpartum

BREASTFEEDING

Breastfeeding has been A MILLION times easier this second time around. With Piper, I had to have pillows set up in specific positions so I could nurse her in one specific way haha. It took me a few months to get completely comfortable with nursing, and I got anxiety the closer it got to each feeding time because it really stressed me out! It was also SUPER painful with her for the first 10 seconds of latching. I don't know if it's because she wasn't latching totally right, or what, but it was hard! Jack has been a master eater from the get-go...literally latched himself a couple of minutes after being born haha. He eats in half the time Piper did, and eats a LOT. It's been much less stressful, WAY less painful, and so much easier. I don't know if it's because it's my second time around and I know what I'm doing, or if it's because he's just a good eater. 

PHYSICAL

How much weight did I gain during pregnancy? Don't care. Am I back to my pre-pregnancy weight? Don't care. As for how I physically look, I'm embracing it and loving it this time around! Of course, I've looked/felt better, but I'm fully embracing this stage and appreciating my body for what it just did for me. With Piper, I didn't know what to expect, and I was honestly surprised when I still looked 6 months pregnant after she came out. I guess you're just used to looking a certain way when there isn't a baby in your stomach, so it's weird when the baby comes out and you're left with a totally foreign body. Now, my skin is obviously still soft and stretchy around my stomach (something you can't really see in a snapshot picture). For the first few days after having him, my whole stomach would jiggle around with each movement and laughter. I got used to this rock hard stomach from having a baby in there, along with the braxton hicks contractions I was having 99% of the day, so it was a weird transition. There's no other word to describe it other than "weird".  My uterus, although not as swollen as it was after he was born, is still shrinking. I still feel contractions from it shrinking, especially when I'm nursing, which apparently you feel more and more of the more kids you have (I don't remember feeling any with Piper). 

I had a little gap between my abdominals (less than 1 finger-width), which is totally normal (you don't want it to be 2 finger-widths apart or more), and it has already pulled back together which is great! Honestly, while my pelvic floor feels MUCH weaker after going through this labour, I can see and feel the benefits of all the exercises I did during pregnancy, along with making an effort to nourish my body well. I don't mean this in an arrogant way AT ALL, but I am so proud of myself because having a healthy pregnancy IS NOT EASY. It's hard! It requires a lot of effort and a lot of motivation. But it's SO worth it! It was worth staying away from certain exercises I knew weren't appropriate during pregnancy, because it protected my core and helped it recover postpartum. It was worth it to keep up with beneficial exercises because it kept my body strong FOR labour and, again helped it recover postpartum.  **You can get my pregnancy workout guide HERE. It was worth making an effort to mostly eat healthy food during pregnancy, because I don't feel like I suddenly have to start doing things different now I am postpartum. I just have to continue with what I was already doing!

9 days postpartum

9 days postpartum

WHAT I'M DOING NOW

I'm still working on fueling my body properly because it makes me feel good, and I know it's good for the milkies. I'm not counting calories, macros, or anything like that. I'm just trying to eat lots of REAL food (seriously, lots of it because I'm STARVING), while making room for my favourite treats still. I am not exercising right now (I have gone on a couple of tiny walk around the block, but that's it because it doesn't feel the best ha). I don't plan on exercising I am cleared at my 6 week postpartum checkup. I think it's very important to fully let me body recover externally and internally first. I will start some pelvic floor recovery movements soon, which is more like basic breathing techniques to help my body recover, but that is it. No belly band, no "get your body back quick" program...just showing my body lots of love and care right now through rest, recovery, and quality food!

I sure look and feel different from MY "old" normal, but I feel so confident in my body, and I am fully embracing this new normal of mine. 

Friday Favourites

Happy Friday!! I feel like a broken record, so sorry in advance, but if you are reading this then I am forcing you to celebrate the fact that THIS IS THE LAST WEEKEND BEFORE BABY BOY COMES!! Three more days! We have some friends staying with us this weekend, and my mum is flying in Saturday night, so today I am putting everything aside, and spending the day focusing solely on my little Piper. We'll be hitting up all her favourite spots and doing all her favourite activities, just her and I. I'm sure she won't remember any of it haha, but I will. 

Before the day gets going, I wanted to share a couple of my favourite things to wrap up the week! Some are new finds that I've been loving, and others are ones I've loved for a while and been meaning to share. HAPPY FRIDAY!!!  

FOUR BEARS

FourBears || goodfortheswole.com

If you follow me on Instagram (which I'm sure you do if you are reading this haha), I posted about the FourBears kickstarter a couple of days ago. I actually found them when I asked about good baby/toddler books that people would recommend, because Piper LOVES reading stories together (I posted all the suggestions people gave HERE). They create personalized children's books based on any family member you choose! I created a book about my grandpa, who passed away a little before Piper was born. It's all about his life and is tailored towards children with cute pictures and rhyming sentences. I think it is such a special and sweet idea and I can't wait for it to get here!

LETTERBOARD

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Who hasn't seen these boards all around yet?? They are everywhere, I swear. I got one from LetterFolk last year, and I absolutely LOVE it (totally recommend because they are higher quality), BUT if you're in the market for a little board (cute for baby update pictures, home decor, recipes, etc.) that won't break the bank, I saw someone post about these on Amazon for $25.99! I love my board, so I thought I'd share this deal!

COCOKIND MATCHA STICK

MyMatcha

I have reeeeally sensitive lips, for whatever stupid reason, and 99% of chapsticks, lipglosses, and lipstick make my lips so cracked and dry. Seriously my lips are ALWAYS dry (no matter how hydrated I am)! It's super annoying. I kept seeing the brand Cocokind pop up on Instagram, and I was drawn to the all-over matcha stick because you can use it all-over, duh. I originally decided to buy one and try it out for under my eyes (it's designed to reduce dark circles which is totally does and it's amazing! I've never been one for makeup, mainly because I don't know how to use it haha, and usually just use mascara and a little concealer under my eyes. Now I just do mascara and put this under my eyes and it's SO much more effective!), but it actually also hydrates my lips and keeps them moisturized without drying them out later! The only ingredients are organic virgin coconut oil, organic beeswax, and organic matcha tea powder and I.AM.SOLD on it! If you're looking for a good chapstick, or something to get rid of under eye darkness/puffiness, try this out! **It would make a good stocking stuffer too!

DRY BRUSH

Dry Brush || goodfortheswole.com

I had never in my life heard of dry brushing until about 3 months ago, and then I saw it pop up more and more. I don't know if it's getting more common, or if it's just because I'm aware of it now, but I decided to buy one a couple of months ago (I got this one for under $10 on Amazon) and I love it! I'm not very good at remembering to do it every day, but I've been doing it about 3-4x a week now, and it really has made a difference in how my body feels! 

Dry brushing your skin stimulates the lymph nodes, removes dead skin, invigorates the body, boosts circulation, and is S0 good for digestion! You know that feeling after you got a deep tissue massage, and your body is kind of tingling a bit from all the blood circulation? That's how it feels afterwards! It's really energizing and my body feels so relaxed, yet weirdly more awake. I'm trying to get better at self-care, and doing small things for myself that are also beneficial, and this is a new habit that I love!

FAVOURITE PREGNANCY EXERCISES #3

Favourite Pregnancy Exercises || goodfortheswole.com

I posted some other favourite pregnancy exercises HERE and HERE, and wanted to share a couple more exercises that I have loved incorporating throughout this pregnancy!

Bird Dog + Arm Weights

Bird dog is one of those exercises that is SO beneficial during pregnancy because it activates your inner core muscles (the abdominal muscles that are safe to work during pregnancy) and strengthens the pelvic floor - aka helps prevent diastasis recti, reduces postpartum incontinence, and aids in postpartum core recovery. It seems like such a simple basic move, but it's one I ALWAYS incorporate into my routines. I've liked adding a little extra somethin', somethin' to it though and doing some arm workouts while holding the bird dog position. This not only works your arms as well, but it's adds a little more instability which is great for making the inner abdominals work a little more! Some arm workouts I like adding in are rows, kickbacks, and flys. You can see an example HERE

Wall Sit + Leg Lifts

Wall sits are great for working the lower body, and a great option for pregnant women because it is low impact on the joints but, you guessed it, adding some instability in there will activate the transverse abdominals (those inner core muscles I mentioned). Holding the wall sit position, and alternating leg lifts is a great way to hit those muscles, while also working other areas of your body in a safe way. Win-win! You can see an example HERE

Friday Favourites

Happy Friday!!!!!! We're going to Newport for a week with my family tomorrow, and, as the kids would say, it's gonna be LIT! Today I'm doing tons of laundry, packing up, running errands, getting in a sneaky workout, making snacks for the road, trying to get some work done, all while watching the little tornado (aka Piper). We'll see how that goes. 

On that happy note, here are some favourite things I've discovered as of late:

LITTLE POPPY CO

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I'm sure a lot of you already know about Little Poppy Co, but if you don't, let me enlighten you. They're a bow subscription company, so every month they send you 3 new headbands or bow clips (you pick whatever you want) for $11.99. I hate how I always feel like I have to say this, but this totally isn't sponsored haha. Piper's hair is always in her face, so I was looking for cute clips and tried them out! You get 50% off with the first month (I believe the code is BOWS50), and you can cancel or pause at anytime. They have the cutest little patterns and styles!

CARE/OF VITAMINS

For the past few months I've been using Care/Of Vitamins for all of my vitamins each week. They send you a months supply of the exact amount that you need each day in these little packets. Their products are all high quality which is nice because I used to go to a few different stores to get what I needed, and now they're sent every month, and already perfectly proportioned. I take a prenatal, fish oil (I would DEFINITELY recommend both if you are pregnant or nursing), probiotic, and vitamin D (because I am deficient). You can use SWOLE50 for 50% off your first month if this is something you'd find helpful!!

 

STABILITY BALL WORKOUT

I posted on Wednesday about the benefits of using a stability ball during pregnancy, and listed some good exercises to go with it. I feel like a broken record because I always talk about it, but the core and the pelvic floor are SO important during pregnancy and should be PROPERLY taken care of. I posted a stability ball workout video this morning which is hopefully an additional help to fellow pregnant and postpartum women!

 

L'OVED BABY

I was lucky enough to host a giveaway with L'oved Baby last week (seriously, I'm flattered because I love their stuff!!). They were kind enough to offer a 15% discount code as well, which is valid until the end of August! The code is REB15. I hate throwing all this discount codes out there haha because that's one thing I really hate about social media these days - everyone is trying to sell you something. I don't get any kickback from these discount codes, they are simply there if you want them! I LOVE L'oved Baby because their baby clothes are cute and simply, and suuuuper soft. I recently bought THIS and THIS with my code for baby boy!