High-Intensity Workouts Get You Nowhere When Your Core is Comprimised
I’m often asked to identify the best way to get back in shape after having a baby. People often balk at what I say, and then go on to join the first mommy bootcamp they can find.
Most come back to me with their tailbone tucked between their legs, a poochy tummy that hasn’t flattened even though they can ‘hold a plank for three minutes,’ back pain that won’t go away even though they ‘do core exercise 3-5 times a week,’ and leaking urine ‘only when jumping or running or do jumping jacks.’ Get my point?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, mommy and bootcamp do not belong in the same sentence!
Most women who have had babies have compromised cores. During pregnancy your posture changes with the weight of your growing uterus, which affects the position of your pelvic floor.
Your hormones influence the ligaments and connective tissue that support the pelvic floor and internal organs. The abdomen becomes stretched and weak, and the pelvic floor carries an ever-increasing load—and that’s all before the actual birth!
Giving birth vaginally or by caesarean can greatly impact the inner core. The muscles of the core (and by core I mean the deep core – the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, the multifidus and the transversus abdominus) are put to the test, and are often injured or in a less-than-optimal state after you give birth.
Many new moms are left with an unstable pelvis, diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation) and some degree of nerve damage. And yet at six weeks after delivery, a new mom is usually given a ‘green light’ to go back to exercise which, quite frankly, I find irresponsible.
The Wrong Way to Exercise Postpartum
Why do women think the postpartum period is a great time to jump and pound and crunch? Because they want the hardest activity possible so they can lose the ‘baby weight’ quickly, and because healthcare professionals are not advising them about proper recovery choices.
But here’s the deal: the postpartum body is not able to withstand the load of bootcamp-style exercise. And yet so many moms who want to lose baby weight and get rid of their mummy tummy choose bootcamp-style workouts—or worse, CrossFit.
CrossFit is like bootcamp on steroids. It involves daily, high-intensity strength and conditioning workouts, which could include anything from burpees to clean and jerks to pull ups to ‘double under’ jump rope.
CrossFit has become increasingly popular with women in recent years. Now, about 50% of the women who come to me for help with their mummy tummy and/or leaking have either been doing CrossFit for a while or have just started it.
I just don’t get it. Sure, it can help you build bulging biceps and stronger quads, but it is at the expense of your inner core, namely your pelvic floor—your foundation. If your foundation is weak, all the double unders in the world will never make it strong again.
Not Just Ineffective
Diving into these kinds of workouts after birth without first restoring your core is not only ineffective, it can be dangerous.
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles, connective tissue and ligaments that support the spine and pelvis. The pelvic floor…
This is all important stuff, don’t you think? The pelvic floor is your foundation and when it is performing optimally the spine and pelvis are supported, movement is anticipated, breathing is optimized, organs are in place, and there is no leaking of urine.
Many bootcamp and CrossFit exercises unfortunately do not support the female pelvic floor, but rather challenge it to such a degree that it loses the ability to do its job. When you start doing high intensity exercise with an already compromised core (which most people have these days because of the lack of natural movement we do in a day) it loses its ability to do its job even quicker.
Many moms believe leaking urine during a workout is normal, and sometime it’s actually treated as almost a badge of honour, like in this viral video from several months ago.
Leaking urine is NOT normal. It is a very clear indication that something is not working as it should, and the signals will only get louder until you stop and listen to your body and do something about it. High fives and a towel to wipe up your pee is, to me, just not acceptable.
Most women say they choose bootcamp or CrossFit to get stronger. Let me ask you this – is pushing yourself so hard that you lose control of your bladder your idea of building a stronger body?
If you leak, your pelvic floor has lost its ability to control the function of elimination properly. Keep it up and your floor will eventually lose its ability to support the bladder all together and it (yes, the bladder) will start to protrude into and eventually out of the vagina (called pelvic organ prolapse). It may happen gradually, but it can also happen in an instant during exercises like box jumps, clean and jerks, and ball slams.
It isn’t just CrossFit – any activity, movement or exercise that increases intra-abdominal pressure so much, so often, should be avoided. We all need some intra-abdominal pressure for spinal stability, but in a compromised core we lose the ability to manage the pressure, and then well-intentioned exercise becomes a recipe for pelvic floor disaster.
I implore all pregnant women and new moms to choose a safe exercise alternative to bootcamp. Yes, you should exercise after birth, but getting your body back doesn’t mean joining a marathon training group, crunching your way to oblivion, deciding to give Crossfit a try or opting for a local mommy bootcamp class.
The best way to exercise after pregnancy is to focus on restorative core exercise. Let me say that again… Restorative Core Exercise.
The keys to getting your body back in shape are optimal alignment that will allow the core to function properly, optimal breathing to ensure oxygenation of tissues and the correct movement of the pelvic floor, restorative exercise that calls on the deep core team to work together, and gentle stretching to create healing space and promote relaxation and restoration.
The First Six Weeks
I always recommend that women make an appointment to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist at the six-week mark, even if they feel fine. It is important to get your insides checked out so you can catch any concerns early and prevent them from becoming problems down the road.
For the next month I suggest continuing with restorative breathing and walking daily along with an additional four to six deep core exercises. Have your physiotherapist or a trainer qualified in deep core work assess you and determine your ability to start adding on more intense activity.
A great program is the Core Confidence Exercise Program – it is designed for use in pregnancy and postpartum and remember, once you have had a baby you are always postpartum so this exercise program is suitable for every woman who has had a baby, and even those who haven’t!
Good exercise choices going forward are walking, swimming, spinning, and ultimately just sitting less and moving more throughout your day. Take the stairs not the elevator, walk to the store instead of driving, and sit in a wide leg forward bend (yoga pose) position when you play with your kids on the floor.
Use a squatty potty for elimination, put your laptop on the counter instead of on your lap all day—just move and change it up and do different things instead of driving to work, sitting at your desk all day and then going to bootcamp for an hour to try and get fit. It is not how we were designed to live or to move.
Once the core is restored you can gradually add on more intense activity. My Buff Muff Challenge is a great way to retrain the core. From there you can gradually add more load and impact and return to your favourite bootcamp, but if you notice any leaking, any belly pooching, any back pain, or any feeling that something is just not quite right, then you must stop and back it up again with inner core alignment and restorative exercise.
If CrossFit, Insanity, P90X, or another bootcamp are your thing and you just can’t give them up, I strongly urge you to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist and a post-natal fitness specialist to determine if your core is automated and able to withstand the forces of this style of exercise.
No amount of bootcamp will be effective until your inner core is functioning properly and able to withstand the loads demanded of you in these activities. Restore your core BEFORE bootcamp!