Kegels and Core Work During and After Pregnancy

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.

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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.

After Pregnancy

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.

Lastly…

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)

My Fitness Journey (Before and After Pregnancy)

My fitness journey is not complete. I don’t think it’ll ever be complete if I want to live a healthy lifestyle. I don’t even really know where to start this. Hmmm.. so I think I felt the most “fit” when I was a senior in high school. I was (am) 5’1 and some change and in high school, I weighed around 105 lbs. At the end of my junior year, I miraculously made the Poms squad without prior dance experience. I secretly think they thought I was a freshman with potential – yay for looking younger! 😉 Anyway, because I was in Poms senior year, I felt like that was the fittest I ever was, we worked out a lot and for the first and last time ever (so far), I had some abs definition haha. My arms were also pretty toned – yay for doing those arms clinics.

College/Grad School

College was different. I didn’t live on campus since I lived nearby. There was definitely a lot of walking, but as far as working out, I wasn’t consistent. I’d go to the gym for maybe a month or two, then not go for months, then go again for a month or two. That cycle went through my whole undergrad. I was also eating whatever I wanted. But when I felt gross, I would crash diet for a month or so until I got back to the weight I wanted, and then would do the whole cycle again. My weight at the end of college was 110 lbs. I guess not a bad weight gain. Yay for good metabolism if that’s even a thing.

In grad school, I worked out a lot less. I would go to the gym in spurts (but not equaling months), then drop off for a long time. I just couldn’t find the rhythm. Then I got engaged during my last year, and that’s when I went a little more consistently. Nothing like a pending nuptial to get someone like me to go to the gym. Went to the gym 2-3 times a week and ate a little healthier. On my wedding day, I weighed 112 lbs.

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Married Life

Ok, so here’s the deal… like I had no set goal after the wedding as far as fitness went. I totally pigged out at our honeymoon and my weight steadily increased. What kept me from going above 120 lbs was the fact that I didn’t want my family and in-laws talking about me behind my back. That, and I was also self-conscious. I refused to buy anything larger than a size 4 at the store.  So I would squeeze into my stretched out size 2 jeans or buy a size 4 and feel slightly guilty for doing so. Please don’t judge… this was my own self loathing… size 4 is fine. It was where my mindset was at the time. I didn’t want to go above that for some reason.

For exercise, I told myself that as a PT, I was on my feet every day working on people. That was exercise enough for me. I would walk or jog on the treadmill once in a while, but again, not consistently.  If there was an event that I had to go on, I would workout and not eat a lot a week or so before the event so I could fit into the dress I wanted to wear. That was pretty much the cycle of my fitness journey then. Before I had my babies, my base weight was 120 lbs.

During and After Pregnancy

When we got pregnant, the first thing I felt, other than being ecstatic about the baby, was relief. I was relieved that for the first time in my life, I wouldn’t have to worry about gaining weight. I knew I still had to be healthy, but if I put on a couple of pounds, I didn’t feel so down on myself. The only exercising I did was walk around the neighborhood with my husband. That’s. About. It. At 41.5 weeks pregnant, I was 160 lbs.

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After my first child, I did not work out for like a year. I was way too exhausted and I didn’t even think about working out at that time. After a year, I went to the gym for a month or so (like 1-2 times a week), and then felt like life was too busy and stopped going. Before my second child, my base weight was 127 lbs.

During my second pregnancy, I felt awful. I was nauseous all the time, and I didn’t want to eat anything. I was also afraid of the swelling that I had during the first pregnancy that I walked a lot during my second pregnancy. At 39.5 weeks pregnant, I was 152 lbs.

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Diastasis Recti

After my second child, I also didn’t work out right away. I found out I had diastasis – recti since both of my babies were on the large side. Click here if you want to know more about diastasis recti. Basically, it’s when the bands connecting your abs muscles rips down the middle and therefore causes your abs to separate, giving you a pooch or a bulge in the middle of your stomach. Yayyyyy pregnancy!

Six months later, I bought a fitbit and tried to just walk 10,000 steps 2-3 days a week. Then I bought an iWatch but I mainly used it for trying to find my phone – don’t lie.. you do that ;-). Thanksgiving 2017 I weighed 130 lbs.

Turning Point

At the beginning of November 2017, I felt sluggish and was feeling pretty down on myself. My primary care physician stated that for a person with an Asian descent with my height, I was basically obese. Great thing to hear from your pcp. I was always tired and I couldn’t stop eating junk food. My favorites were Pirate’s Booty, Sour Belts, and CHOCOLATES. I am convinced that chocolate is addicting because man… I must. have. chocolates.

Since I felt so crappy, I decided I needed to make a life change. I would need to be more consistent with exercising and I would need to curb my junk food intake. But first, I will feast during Thanksgiving… AND I must eat all the junk food in the house. Ha! No, I was not going to throw them away! Hello! I mean I was desperate to get healthy, but not THAT desperate. Give me my booty! Pirate’s booty that is!

I also needed motivation… something that will make me want to keep working out. After a bit of thinking I came up with one.  Every Christmas, we have a huge family reunion and being a filipino – well, Filipina to be exact – came with a certain… what shall I call it… curse? Every time there’s a family gathering, filipinas will always be subjected to the comment “tumataba ka na yata!” which translates to “you may be getting fatter!” Doesn’t matter if you’ve been the same weight year after year, you will not escape that comment. Who knows, maybe it’s a term of endearment? Whatever it is, I made it my goal to not receive that comment.

BeachBody App

None of the things I mention on this blog are sponsors by the way. I am not trying to sell anything. I am just letting you know my journey.

This app was pretty cool because it is full of a variety of programs you can choose from. Yoga, P90x, 21 Day Fix/Extreme, Hip Hop Abs, etc. There’s enough to keep you occupied if you get bored with a program you’re using. I mainly did Total Body Cardio workouts because I felt like I got the most workout from there. So 21 Day Fix/Extreme and Hip Hop Abs were my daily routines. Each workout from the 21 Day series are around 30 minutes and Hip Hop abs would be around 40-50 minutes. I would choose one per day. I would also make it a goal to walk 10,000 steps everyday.

The hardest part for me was the first week. I could barely finish the 30 minute workouts but I mastered walking 10,000 steps by walking on the treadmill while watching TV. I just kept thinking of the phrase “tumataba ka yata” when I don’t feel like working out and it was enough to get me off that couch.

After two weeks, the workouts got easier for me. I also found that I was able to push myself a little harder and sweating more and more as I kept going. I felt that I had more energy during the day and I wasn’t sluggish in the afternoon when I usually would be.

By the time Christmas came, I weighed in at 123 lbs. I fit into my size 4 pants comfortably, and I know for a fact that my chipmunk cheeks looked smaller. I went to reunion confident and proud. And no, I did not get that dreaded comment at Christmas! Woohoo!! I got that comment a month later at another family reunion… when I was 121 lbs.  Ha! Oh well.. what can I do?

Present Time

These days, I don’t work out every day. But I try to work out 3-4 times a week. It’s harder to workout everyday while blogging as well. But this way, I feel like I’m working out my body and my brain. I started to get bored of the Beachbody App a little so I went ahead and tried out Orange Theory. Click here to see my review on Orange Theory. I loved it and now I go twice a week. I then try to do my own workouts twice a week as well outside of orange theory.

My weight fluctuates between 122-126 lbs depending on the time of the month. I still care about my weight but for once I actually feel more confident in my own skin. Yes, there are days when I feel frumpy. There are days when I feel my clothes are getting tighter again. But because I feel like I’ve created some sort of habit in working out, I feel mostly ok. I say “ok” because I haven’t met my ultimate goals – toned arms muscles, and as flat a stomach as I can get with diastasis recti. But I’m happy to be where I am right now. And that, I think, is what is most important when it comes to my fitness journey.

Here’s my progress so far. On the top is myself in October 2017. On the bottom, May 2018. I tried to smile the same way… ha! Yes, I’m wearing makeup in the second picture, but you can’t hide them cheeks.

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My fitness journey continues…

Thanks for reading and have a great rest of the day!

Orange Theory Review

Ok, so after having two children, I decided to get back into shape at the end of last year after I pigged out during Thanksgiving weekend. I had a history of high cholesterol, and currently have diastasis recti from having 9+ lbs babies in my 5’1″ frame. My fitness journey will be captured in a different blog because I have yet reached my goal and I would like to reach it or at least be satisfied with it before I write about it.

I do, however, want to write about a form of exercise that I recently decided to try – Orange Theory. What is it? It’s a 1 hour full body workout routine which targets strengthening, and increasing your endurance. I mean let’s get real, if you’re gonna work out for an hour, you better get stronger and your endurance should definitely increase.  You gotta put in what you want to get out though, so if you ever go, push yourself!

In the facility that I go to, they have 3 sections – treadmill, rowers, and the floor (with weights and steps). They claim that each workout is different from ones that you’ve already done. I have done two full sessions and so far, they have been different from each other. Even the workout on the treadmill varied, and the exercises on the floor varied from one session to the next.

Trainer – yes, there is a trainer that keeps his/her eye on the class. They are responsible for making sure you’re doing the exercises correctly and for pushing you if you need to be pushed and shouting out encouragements. I’m not sure what type of person you are, but I like to be pushed when it comes to working out. Not gonna lie, when the trainer yelled out my name and said “push it Maria!” I cranked up that treadmill pace! When the class is full there’s like 20+ people, so it’s not one on one training. I’m ok with that though because sometimes it’s awkward to have someone watch you all the time. Homegirl needs her space sometimes okkkkaayyy?

How is this different from other workouts I’ve tried?

Well, they give you the option of purchasing a heart rate monitor that then shows your progress (heart rate, calories burned, minutes you’re in aerobic exercise) on a screen in the gym. If you’re competitive, you can see others and their progress as well so you can push yourself if need be.

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At the end of the workout, they also email you your results which is cool to have just so you can kind of compare from your past sessions. (Side note: I also wore my iWatch at the same time and the heart rate and calories burned were way different.  I know my watch isn’t as accurate though because I’ve taken my heart rate in the middle of a workout and they don’t match up at times. So if i’m keeping count of my calories, I would just average out the two.)

It’s also kind of a combination of an exercise class and having a trainer. In a class, it’s mostly you just following the teacher, and a trainer is a one on one type of thing. If you don’t like either because it’s not enough attention or it’s too much attention, then this may be your thing.

Lastly, supposedly you will never do the same workout ever. I’m not really sure if that’s the case, but I guess there are many different types of exercises and ways to do them so maybe that’s not so hard to achieve.

Final Thoughts

I like it enough for me to sign up for it. I definitely got a good workout. I was very sore after the first try. I guess I’ll see if I’m as sore tomorrow after today’s workout. I would agree that it is pretty full body, as well as for endurance (I was on that treadmill today for 30 minutes!) So yes, it’s a good workout.

It’s definitely not cheap though. But after working out at home for 3 months, I needed a change and at least having this breaks up my workout routine so I’m not doing the same 3-4 videos at home. You do get a discount if you work at certain places but it’s still more expensive than going to a gym. You can get offered a month to month basis membership and the price is the same for when you make a commitment for 6 months or more. So ask for that month to month so you’re not locked in just in case you decide you don’t like it.

Finally, I’m a big proponent of keeping yourself moving. I work at a desk all day, so it’s important for me to move move move! (Sidenote: my daughter, Ella, who is 4, started singing “I like to move it move it” yesterday without prompting. I don’t think I have ever sang that to her though… I mean… I wouldn’t be surprised if I did subconsciously… well, anyway, I thought that was funny.) Aaannnnddd on that note, I definitely think trying out Orange Theory is worth a shot. Since the first class is free, what do you gotta to lose?

Thanks for reading and have a great rest of the day!