Before I was a mom, I was a physical therapist. Although I stopped practicing (that is for another blog), I’ve never actually stopped learning about how the body works. Especially after getting pregnant, so many changes can happen to women physically (and in many other aspects), that I kept up with reading and learning from trusted PT friends on how to prevent incontinence, back aches and overall instability of the pelvic girdle and core. The answer? Kegels and Core Work. Not only after pregnancy, but during pregnancy as well.
Why Workout During Pregnancy?
Someone asked me why they should workout during pregnancy when everything stretches out anyway? The stronger you are before any kind of injury, the hope is that the faster you are at recovering. Yes, I said injury cuz y’all… like the pelvic floor is all types of wrong during and after pregnancy ok? Let’s be honest. The human body is amazing, but women’s bodies are exceptional in a way that their bodies can take on so much change in a short amount of time. So yes, kegels and core work can only help during pregnancy.
Why Kegels and Core Work?
Kegels is a type of exercise that aims to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are tiny compared to the more well-known muscles in the body. However, they are so important to strengthen along with your core.
Core work are exercises that strengthen your core muscles. These include not only the abs, but also the back muscles. Along with kegels, this will help decrease the chances or prevent incontinence, back aches, and overall instability or the pelvic girdle.
How? Think of a barrel. The front being the abs (rectus abdominus), the sides being the abs as well (transverse abdominus), and the back part being all the muscles in your back. Not only do all sides of the barrel have to be strong, the bottom of the barrel – the pelvic floor – also has to be strong in order to hold all it’s contents. Enter kegels and core work =).
How to perform kegels?
Kegels is basically the act of tightening the pelvic floor muscles. It’s definitely not the easiest to get but the easiest way I can describe it is to pretend to hold in your pee. That’s right folks, tighten them muscles. Do make sure you go to the bathroom first and empty your bladder just in case.
Another way to describe it is to pretend that you’re holding a pencil with your vaginal muscles. Please don’t insert random objects in your hooha while doing this exercise.
Another recommendation is, with clean hands, you can insert a finger into your vagina and tighten the muscles around it. This can help you know that you are tightening the right muscles since your finger may be able to feel the muscles tightening.
If you are not keen on inserting anything in your hooha, there is a less invasive way you can do it. When you are still ok to lie on your back (with knees bent and feet rested flat on the surface), place your fingers on your side abs (transverse abdominus). Then perform the kegels – pretend you’re holding in your pee. You should feel a slight movement under your fingers as your transverse abdominus will also contract a little.
When you can no longer lie on your back, sit up straight on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. You can then do kegels in this position.
How to perform core work?
A lot of people think core work is just abs, so they just do sit ups and crunches. But your core muscles also include your back and side muscles (hence, the barrel reference). Even when you’re doing sit ups or crunches, you could be targeting other muscles other than the core (like your hip flexors for example).
The most basic move for tightening your core is to imagine that there is a string between your belly button and your spine and that your spine and tugging on that string and pulling your belly button in. Almost, like sucking it in for pictures ladies! 😉
Now to make it a full core workout, do the above and then straighten up your back – sit up, shoulders down, belly button in, hold it for a couple of seconds and relax. You can do this at the office, or while watching TV. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
Putting It All Together
When you’re going about your day, your muscles are all working together so that you can move about without having to isolate your movements. Same goes for training your pelvic floor muscles and core muscles.
You can do kegels and core training together! Start in hooklying position (on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor). Do a kegel and tighten your pelvic floor, then with that imaginary string, pull that belly button back towards your spine. Shoulders should also be flat on the ground and not shrugged up to your ears – make sure it’s and down – almost as if you’re trying to touch your toes.
Once you master this, you can add more movements as long as you’re doing kegels and contracting your core at the same time! You can incorporate light crunches while making sure the whole “barrel” of muscles are working. It sounds easy, but when you’re trying to contract all these muscles at the same time, it’s actually pretty hard.
How to Progress this Exercise
When you’ve mastered the kegels and core workout lying down, you can move to a sitting position. Sit up straight at the end of a chair, feet flat on the ground, shoulders back and down. Then do your kegels and core tightening, pulling that belly button back towards your spine. Hold for a couple of seconds, relax (but keep your posture), and then try again.
Once you’ve mastered that in sitting, you can add more movements as long as the kegels and core tightening is still in place. You can slowly march in place to work the lower abs a little more. You can bend over forward, keeping your back straight, and come back up to work your lower back muscles a little more. After that, you can even do some biceps curls and shoulder presses. When you’re doing other exercises while keeping your core engaged, you’re actually making that “barrel” stronger.
Start slowly and make sure that your physician is ok with you doing physical activity. Since kegels and the basics of core work are not such a heavy activity, you can probably start on it right away (as long as your doctor approves it). Start with exercises lying down and progress as your body gets stronger and stronger.
Seeking Professional Help
Listen to your body. If you’re still having continued problems with incontinence, back pain, and other instability problems, I recommend going to a Women’s Health Physical Therapist. They are trained to diagnose, and treat you based on your diagnosis. They also have extra tools that you may not have or may not be able to buy to make sure that your pelvic floor muscles and core muscles are engaged.
Please remember, you’re not alone. I know it’s embarrassing to not be able to hold in your pee, or have constant back pain that you can’t function during the day. But know that many others are going through the exact same thing! You can do this! Reach out to friends for support and to professionals for help.
Thanks for reading and hope you have a great rest of the day! =)
(All gifs are from giphy.com)