Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fit Pregnancy Or What?

You know that exercising during pregnancy is good for you, the pregnancy and outcome of the birth. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) even considers it a risk to not exercise during pregnancy.  But what does this exercise thing really mean?

If you are like most women in Ottawa, you have an office job and sit all day long. You know you need to start exercising. So you enroll in a prenatal aqua or yoga or fitness class once a week. Good! Maybe you start walking during your lunch breaks. Better!

So that makes 30-60min of walking every day and 1hour of structured exercise a week. What about the other 23+ hours in the day? Do we really think that 1 hour of exercise can outbalance 23 hours of sedentary behavior? Seems crazy, yet, it’s exactly what we do: Oh, I ate this extra slice of cake while reclining in my comfy chair. I really have to go to that class tomorrow and get fit again.

Fit. Fitness. Prenatal Fitness. There is something wrong with the way we use the word Fitness. According to my Oxford Dictionary it is ‚the state of being physically healthy and strong‘. Being fit for something means `the state of being suitable for something‘. So here it gets a little sketchy. Fit to swim 20 lanes? Or fit to have a pregnancy without back pain? Fit to give birth without intervention? Or fit to be pregnant without walking like a duck.

The achieve this we need to do a little more than this one exercise class once a week. And I don’t suggest you take an exercise class every day. How about just getting out of the chair for starters?

While the positive effects of exercise have been extensively studied and written about, more and more researchers are looking into the other sedentary 23 hours of our day.  What has come to light is that the health outcomes are just as bad – for the non-exercisers as well as the exercisers IF both sit on their butts for the biggest part of the day. It's the sitting that ails us. Thus, we need to be more active throughout the day to be healthy and, naturally, to have healthy pregnancies.

We don’t need fitness in the sense we use the word. We just need to move our bodies.  Throughout the day.  Every day.  And we need to move our body the way it was designed to be moved (excluding all those bad slouchy and thrusty habits).

Maybe you can do 15 push-ups on the edge of the pool during your prenatal aqua class but you know something is missing when you do the duck-walk on your way back to the change room only to notice that your back pain has come back.  Right?!

To Do List:
-get out of your chair every 30minutes and do the calf stretch
-consider signing up for Kangaroo Fitness‘ new prenatal exercise/education class? ( I know, it’s a little bit ironic…..)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Preventing Postpartum Back Pain – Proper Lifting Mechanics

I wrote this article with Jillian (who is a Restorative Exercise Specialist and just awesome) for the fall issue of From Belly To Baby which is a free pre/postnatal mag that comes out every 3 months. I have always loved reading it - ever since I got to Ottawa with my pregnant belly. You can pick it up at some locations in Ottawa or read it online.
And because I like German efficiency, I will just publish it as a blog post.
Here we go!

You say: “I’m starting to get pain in my lower back“. 
Your  doctor/friend/neighbour replies: “Well, you are pregnant. That’s normal. It’s part of the the common aches and pains you get“. 

Pain during pregnancy – and postpartum -  is so common that we mistake the word common with the word  normal.  It is NOT normal.  Our bodies were made to be able to accommodate a pregnancy without aches and pains. Our bodies were also made to be able to lift things (think baby, diaper bag and groceries) without getting a spinal or sacroiliac joint injury. We just have to use our bodies the way they were designed to be used.

Most back injuries happen when we lift things, and new moms tend to lift heavy loads every day. Let’s look at proper lifting mechanics then!  But really the best time to learn proper lifting technique is before you even get pregnant. Don’t worry though, a lot of back pain can be alleviated and prevented by starting to lift correctly right now.

Lift with your butt and legs and keep your lumbar curve. The curve in your lower back is there to absorb loads we place on our spine – our yown body weight from standing and additional loads from lifting.  What we  usually think of as excessive lumbar curve actually comes from what happens further up the spine: from thrusting the rib cage forward.  By maintaining the curve in your lower back and drawing the rib cage down, you get your spine where it needs to be. Bend your knees, but don’t let them drift over your toes: keep your knees over your heels and stick out your butt. Not easy, but the more you stabilise your spine and carry loads with your legs, the happier your back will be.

Lifting While Twisting places much more stress on your lumbar spine and SI joint than lifting with your shoulders and chest in line with your knees and feet. For example, we tend to get the car seat out by facing the car with one side of our body. This ultimately results in an excessive load being placed on the spine from a twisty lift. Square yourself in front of whatever you are lifting and then lift as decribed above, loading your legs and stabilising your spine.

Lifting after C-section, if you have diastasis recti or a weak pelvic floor calls for a lot of caution. Your body’s mechanisms aren’t really working the way they should and the additional load from lifting can place dangerous pressure on your pelvic floor, abdominal wall or even diaphragm. You can control the pressure by learning to check in with your body. Do I feel pressure on my pelvic floor? Do I feel/see a bulge where my abdominal muscles should be? Avoid the activity if you can. If you can’t avoid it, apply the above tips for lifting. Try to use your deep abdominal muscles while you lift. You can counteract the pressure when you exhale and draw belly button towards the spine before you lift. Or sneeze. Or have a bowel movement.

not like this
more like this:
knees over heel, curve in lower back and butt out, rib cage up

Tips: You can reduce some heavy lifting by keeping the car seat in the car and just carrying the baby in your arms. It’s better for your back, a great upper body workout and it allows for the optimal spinal, muscular, and vestibular development of your baby.  Not to mention it’s bonus snuggle time for you and the babe!
When you lift an older child, you can save your back by just reaching under your child’s arm pits and lifting with your arms and shoulders.

The end!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Post Long Weekend Stretching

We just got back from a weekend camping trip with the kids and the canoe. Despite the 4 of us sleeping on a rather uncomfortable air mattress my body feels great - no aches, no pains. Must be from all that bare foot walking in the woods, climbing on rocks, squatting to pee, splashing in the lake and just being relaxed!
Or, now that I'm thinking about it, maybe there is just a bit of a tense trace of that air mattress in my back ....
And just in case you have some aches and pains from the weekend or otherwise, here are two of my favorite stretches.

The first one must be the Calf Stretch the restorative exercise way:
I am using a piece of foam roller sliced in half but a tightly rolled up towel or a couple of books work too. Get the ball of one foot on the item on hand, keep the heel on the floor, place the other foot next to the one stretching. Or behind or in front. Depending on how tight your calfs are.
Make sure that your feet don't turn out and keep your hips square. Try to relax your quadriceps muscles so that your knee cap is released.  Hold it for 30second and work up to holding it for 1minute or longer.

This is just the BEST! And maybe you can feel it all the way into your lower back.

The other one that can even be done while lying in bed is the Crescent Stretch and it stretches the side of your torso (obliques) and you can even get some IT band action if you are lucky.

Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended. Check if your bra line is touching the floor: your rib cage should ideally have contact with the floor (unlike mine in the pic). You can put a pillow or two under your head to help. Make your shoulder blades nice and wide as well.

Then do this: 

Start forming a crescent or c-shape with your body and as you do it focus on getting your hip further away from your rib cage - to really lenghten the side of your torso. 

Then just plonk the outside foot over the inside foot and .... breathe.

Hold both of these stretches for at least 30 secs, ideally for a minute and by all means for longer. And I know it's unnecessary to add but ... stretch the other calf and the other side of your body, too.

Good night!