Walking Alignment Tips For A Strong Core

Walking Alignment Tips For A Strong Core

 

If you’ve suffered from pelvic floor issues or a lack of core strength, you may have already ditched your 3-mile run. But you shouldn’t give up on lacing up your shoes and getting out the door.

Instead of running, try walking. Walking your former running route is a great full body, cardio activity. It also helps create conditions for a healthier core. You read that right.

Walking in proper alignment can help you create a stronger, healthier core. How? Let’s dive in!

 

Why Walk Consistently?

How does walking impact core strength and healing? 

Stronger Glutes and Happy Hips

Walking strengthens the glutes and stretches the hip muscles. (And stronger glutes contribute to a health pelvic floor.) Both of these actions help bring your body into proper alignment. Proper alignment is the key for a healthy core.

Increased Circulation and Healing

Walking regularly increases circulation. Increased circulation can speed the healing of connective tissue and muscles. This is good for both pelvic floor issues and diastasis recti (abdominal separation). 

If you aren’t sure if your walk is aligned correctly, pay attention to the next part of this post.

How to Walk With Good Alignment

I can already hear you protesting. “But, Catherine, I already know how to walk. I learned that ages ago.”

Yes, you know how to walk. What you probably don’t know is how to walk properly. All the time we spend sitting has weakened our walking muscles. Those weakened muscles don’t perform as well as they should, leading to walking with suboptimal alignment.

The good news is that you can fix your walk by becoming more aware of it. After that, you set about adjusting your stride to encourage proper body alignment. Here are four things to look for when you’re walking:

Roll the Foot Heel to Toe

The heel of your foot should hit the ground before any other part of your foot. When you walk, you want there to be a smooth rolling motion from the heel to the ball of the foot and then on to the toes. When you walk, try to notice which part of your foot hits the ground first. If it’s not your heel, make a conscious effort to change your stride and focus on having your heel hit the ground first. The rest of the stride should follow after that.

Use the Foot to Push Off the Ground

In an ideal walk, your foot should push off the ground, not slide along it or shuffle. To achieve this walk, first hit the ground with your heel. From your heel, roll the all the way to the toes. As the ball of the foot and the toes are rolling onto the ground, you should start to push the ground away from you.

Does that sound like what happens when you walk? You may need spend some time noticing how you walk to identify areas that need improvement.

Keep Legs Hip-Width Apart

For proper alignment to happen, your legs need to remain hip-width apart when you walk. But how can you tell how wide apart your legs are? Try this test: Place your feet on each side of a sidewalk crack. Take a few steps forward and notice where your feet go.

If they move towards the crack when you walk, you need to work on keeping your legs at hip-width. If your feet stay an even distance from the crack (or other line), you’re fine.

When you’re testing your stride, be mindful of your foot alignment. Are you turning your toes outward, away from the crack? Your feet should be pointed straight forward and should be parallel to the crack.

Once you’ve determined how you normally walk, find what hip-width looks like for you. Start becoming mindful of what your legs feel like when you walk with them hip-width apart. It may feel strange at first, but keep practicing it.

Move From the Hip (Straight)

In a proper walk, you shouldn’t use your knee to move your leg. Instead, your movement should come from your hip. This is going to sound counterintuitive, but trust me.

Don’t bend your knee and lift your leg when you walk. You should push off the foot and send the leg back behind you from the hip. When you start walking from the hip, you’ll notice a difference. Your knee will feel kind of spongy. There will be a soft bend to it, but there shouldn’t be much force behind the bend.

Pelvis Stays Straight

Once you start walking from the hip, be sure to keep your pelvis from moving. When you move from the hip, you might find that your pelvis rotates with your steps. You end up moving your right hip forward for your right step. And the left hip moves forward for the left step.

The movement in your pelvis isn’t ideal. It doesn’t help open your hip muscles. You want your pelvis to stay straight and allow the legs to extend within the hip.

Eyes on the Horizon

When you walk, look ahead of you. Too often, we get wrapped up in what we’re doing. We tend to look down at our phones, our kids, etc. What we really need to do is look to the horizon. That helps ensure that your body is upright and not leaning forward.

The next time you find yourself looking down when you walk, look at the horizon. You may see something you’ve never noticed on your normal walking route.

Get a Core-Strong Walk

Developing a core-strong walk is all about technique and consistency. It will likely take you some time to identify how to improve your walk. Once you have the problem areas noted, you’ll need regular practice to make your new walk feel natural.

Even with pelvic floor issues, cardio isn’t out of your reach, especially if you develop a core-strong walk.

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

Postpartum Crunches: When and How To Do Them Safely

Postpartum Crunches: When and How To Do Them Safely

If you’ve done any research on postpartum core strength or diastasis recti, you’ve likely seen conflicting information on crunches. 

“Never do them again!”

“They are the only/best way to heal your core!”

Confusing, no? 

Well, like most things in life, the answer to “Can/Should I do crunches?” is…complicated.

So, let’s talk about crunches.

When to avoid them, how to know when you are ready to get back to them, and how to do crunches in a way that won’t damage or re-injure your postpartum core.  

WHEN TO AVOID CRUNCHES

 

A common recommendation for postpartum women is to avoid crunches altogether. 

Where does this advice come from? 

Newly postpartum women often have a separation of their abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) and a lack of coordination and muscle tone in their core/pelvic floor muscles. 

 

Not sure if you have a diastasis? Here’s a self-test video. 

 

This lack of muscle coordination makes doing a crunch with proper technique almost impossible!

Proper crunch technique requires that you engage your deepest layer of core muscles (the transverse abdominis) and your pelvic floor as you crunch. 

 When those muscles are engaged, your core will have a very flat appearance as you crunch (there won’t be any doming or raised area in the middle).

If those deep core muscles aren’t working, when you do a crunch it puts extra pressure on the weak connective tissue of the abdominals (making a diastasis worse) or pushes pressure downward into the pelvic floor muscles (which can contribute to prolapse or pelvic floor dysfunction).

That increased pressure out on the belly is also the reason that, for some postpartum women, crunches can make a pooched belly appearance worse.

So, If you can’t engage your deepest core muscles effectively (the transverse abdominis and the muscles of the pelvic floor), then you want to stay away from crunches until you have better control over those muscles. That will allow you to protect your pelvic floor and connective tissue from the pressure inside your abdomen.

If you know you have abdominal separation or need help getting your muscles firing in a coordinated fashion, Heal Your Core With Yoga is a great place to start with rebuilding those core muscles from the inside out. 

Once you’ve got your deep core muscles and pelvic floor coordinated and strong do you still need to avoid crunches?

No, You’re ready for crunches! 

PROPER CRUNCH TECHNIQUE

Once you have those muscles working, let’s make sure you are doing a crunch the RIGHT way. Poor crunch technique can cause problems!!

The core and pelvic floor naturally engage when you breathe out. So we will use that natural engagement to your advantage! 

 – Lying on your back, breathe in deeply.

 – Then, on the exhale, engage the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis and imagine a corset wrapping around your belly as you lift your head and shoulders off the ground. 

 – When done properly, your abdomen should look flat from side to side. This is a sign that the transverse is firing! 

 

Issues to watch for: 

DOMING: If your belly looks like it is doming (highest in the middle and lower on the sides) this is a sign that you aren’t maintaining transverse engagement (and an indication that you are putting pressure on your linea alba, the connective tissue at the center of the core).

Stop doing crunches until you have gotten the muscles strong enough to prevent doming.

 

PRESSURE IN PELVIC FLOOR: If you feel pressure or heaviness on your pelvic floor as you crunch (or immediately after), this is a sign that your pelvic floor engagement isn’t sufficient for the amount of pressure being placed on it during the crunch.

This could be because your pelvic floor is weak OR it could be that you have an overactive pelvic floor.

Either way, you’ll want to make sure you address this issue before continuing with crunches.

 

So, do you have to give up crunches forever? No! 

You just need to make sure that your body is ready for crunches and that you are doing them in a way that protects your postpartum body. 

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

Core Considerations for Pregnancy

Core Considerations for Pregnancy

One of the most frequent emails we receive is from expectant mothers asking how they can support their core before baby arrives. Whether you’ve had diastasis in a previous pregnancy that didn’t heal before becoming pregnant again, or are pregnant for the first time, here are five things we suggest.

 

 

FOCUS ON THE BREATH

 

The core and pelvic floor muscles contract and relax with the diaphragm (that giant breathing muscle under the lungs).

Starting or maintaining a deep breathing practice in pregnancy can help you maintain core health during pregnancy (and re-establish it faster after the baby arrives!). A huge part of postpartum core rehabilitation involves re-establishing good breathing patterns so why not work to KEEP those good breathing patterns during pregnancy??

As a bonus, deep breathing also helps our back and hip muscles relax (What pregnant woman couldn’t use that?!) If you are pregnant, we suggest doing deep breathing every single day.

As baby gets bigger, it will get more difficult to take full deep breaths because the baby blocks the diaphragm from dropping down fully,  but just do your best.  

 

BONUS: All that deep breathing will also make you feel more relaxed! 

 

So practice deep breathing. Your body and mind will feel better for it, and you will reinforce the strength of your core and pelvic floor. 

 

STRENGTHEN YOUR DEEP CORE

 

 

We also suggest working on engaging the deepest muscles of the core while pregnant (the transverse abdominis). When women ask us ‘can I strengthen my core while pregnant?’ we answer with a resounding yes.

While the data shows that practically all women will have some abdominal separation in the 3rd trimester, you can reduce the severity of an existing gap while pregnant and generally work to improve overall balance and strength of your core during pregnancy.

 

One of my favorite exercises for finding transverse abdominal engagement while pregnant is hugging the baby up and in (watch the video for a demo of this). 

 

Come to hands and knees, and find a neutral spine where you are not sagging in the middle.

 

When you inhale, let the belly relax. As you relax the core, also relax the pelvic floor.

 

When you exhale, gently engage your deepest core muscles and imagining hugging the baby up toward your spine. It’s that simple. 

Breathe in and let everything relax, then exhale and hug that baby up and in again. Practicing this daily helps reinforce the strength of the transverse as baby grows. 

 

Please note: our goal during pregnancy isn’t to keep those muscles rigid or to have a 6-pack. These muscles need strength, but also need to relax/expand in order for the baby to have room to grow. We want muscles that can both engage and relax fully.

 

PRACTICE GOOD ALIGNMENT

 

Proper alignment is extremely important during pregnancy.

Typically, as the belly grows larger we tend to throw our weight forward. This results in weakness in our gluteal muscles and that typical “pregnancy” stance…belly out, large arch in the back and, often, a waddle in the walk.

This alignment strains your core! Your abdominals are already weaker because of the growing baby. When you stand and walk with your belly hanging forward, this puts even more pressure on your already weak core and can make a diastasis worse! Shifting your alignment can help reduce the strain you are putting on your body. 

So what is proper alignment for standing while pregnant?

Back your hips up so they land over your heels. Just the hips, not your whole body. Thighs and hips shift back, and the upper body doesn’t move much. This simple move counteracts that belly hanging forward position and helps turn on the glutes. 

 

 

WALK!

 

Now that you’ve found good alignment…get walking. Walking can help prepare your body for delivery and strengthen your glutes. This will help keep your hips happy and help you hold good alignment (which minimizes strain on your core).

When walking, notice your feet, Try to keep your feet parallel (rather than turned out). This will help keep your hips happy!

 

NOTICE YOUR THOUGHTS

 

Just as significant as breathing and alignment, is your mindset. Our thoughts impact our body in a very real way. The placebo effect works because our mind believes it is receiving healing. 

 

I want you to move through your pregnancy feeling positive and confident in your body’s ability to carry and deliver this baby. Start visualizing, on a daily basis, your body healthy and vibrant through your pregnancy, as you give birth (however that happens for you), and in the postpartum period. 

 

Really imagine your body being whole and well, now and in the future. This visualization work has an impact on the way your body responds to these big events. 

Pregnancy is a beautiful, natural process. AND it creates muscular imbalances in the body. We can minimize those imbalances by being mindful of our thoughts and actions. 

 

 

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

3 Simple Post-Baby Core Strengthening Exercises

3 Simple Post-Baby Core Strengthening Exercises

Post-baby core-strengthening exercise need to be easy and approachable.

Below, I list three of my favorite, easy, post-baby core strengthening moves.

BONUS! the first two can be done immediately after your baby is born (as soon as you feel ready).



These moves target the transverse abdominis muscles, the deepest layer of muscles in our core. 

Post-Baby Core Strength Exercise 1: Lower Transverse Engagement

3 simple core strengtheners

This first exercise is great for when you just had a baby and are spending lots of time lying in bed nursing.

  • Lying on your back, bend your knees, and place the feet flat on the floor.
  • Notice your breath and allow it to deepen.
  • Place the heel of your hands on your ASIS bones (those bones at the front of the hips) and let the fingers rest on the low belly.
  • As you inhale, let everything relax.
  • As you exhale, you are going to imagine your ASIS bones drawing together toward the middle of your lower abdomen to engage your low belly. (Watch the video if you are confused!)

With some practice, you should feel the soft part of your belly (also known as your lower transverse) firm up slightly as you exhale.

You may also feel the pelvic floor engage, co-contracting with your lower transverse.

If you don’t feel that, don’t worry about it. Just keep practicing and focusing on relaxing on the inhale and engaging with the exhale.

Post-Baby Core Strength Exercise 2: Seated Transverse Engagement

3 simple core strengtheners

In the second exercise, we will focus on transverse engagement while seated.

  • Seated on a chair, find a neutral pelvis position where your sit bones connect to the chair.
  • Slide yourself back against the back of the chair so that your core doesn’t have to hold you upright. 
  • Again, we are going to use our breath. As you inhale, let the belly relax.
  • As you exhale, think about those transverse muscles that make up the ‘corset’ of your body engaging which will pull your belly gently inward.. They wrap from the back of your spine all the way to the front. And reach from your ribs down to your public bone.

As they engage, you should feel like you get taller and longer not like you are crouching or crunching.

Finding this feeling can take practice so, give it some time!

Post-Baby Core Strength Exercise 3: 90/90 Breathing and Transverse Engagement

3 simple core strengtheners

For the third exercise, I want you to return to your back. If you have a yoga block at home, grab that and bring it to the floor with you. This Technique is called 90/90 breathing because your legs create 90 degree angles at your hips and knees.

  • Take your legs slightly wider than your knees and internally rotate your legs just a bit. If you have one, take the block between your knees.
  • Now, find your breath.
  • As you inhale, everything relaxes. Try to inhale very deeply to prepare for a nice, long, exhale.
  • As you exhale, draw the pelvic floor up first. Continue exhaling and draw those hip bones together to engage your low belly. Keep exhaling and move the engagement even higher into the middle/upper transverse. Eventually, you may even feel like your upper transverse abdominals pull your ribs down so they come in line with the hips.
  • Then take a deep inhale and relax everything, and begin engaging again on the exhale from the bottom up again. Pelvic floor, low belly, mid belly, upper belly, ending with a big inhale.

If this simple version is very available to you, you can try giving the block a bit of a squeeze on the exhale to increase engagement.

A quick safety note: if you feel any pressure down on your pelvic floor while doing the 90/90, ease up and work on balancing or strengthening your pelvic floor first.

There they are! 3 simple core-strengthening exercises.

Keep in mind…with postpartum core-strengthening there are two factors to consider.

The first is general strength, which we focused on in these exercises today. This creates an excellent foundation for your core-health. However, it isn’t the only piece. If you ONLY focus on core strengthening exercises, your core will only be strong when you do those types of movements. You will be missing a key part of core health.

The second, often overlooked, factor is core function. You want to make sure that your core strength translates to functional movements like twisting, reaching, and bending. Functional strength allows you to move through your day with strength and ensures you don’t damage your core through every day movements.

Yoga is an amazing tool for both general and functional core strength because it takes your body through a full range of movement under controlled conditions.

When we combine these two factors – general and functional core strength – your core will be strong in ANY situation or position you throw at it.

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

How To Ease Into Fitness After Birth

How To Ease Into Fitness After Birth

I often get questions about how to jump back into physical activity after having a baby. Postpartum women want to know: where do I start?

Today, I lay out when to start, what to avoid, and what postpartum milestones matter. Read below or watch the video!

First 6-8 Weeks Postpartum

First thing first: you just had a baby. In the first six weeks after giving birth, rest should be your #1 priority.

Beyond resting, my recommendations for this period are simple. Focus on:
  • Deep breathing to get your breath system working again. (I talk all about that here.)
  • Connecting to your deep core muscles, particularly your transverse abdominals.

From a seated position (or while nursing), first take a breath in and let the belly relax. Imagine a corset around your midsection. As you exhale, feel the corset draw in gently. This should create a feeling of length in the torso. This action helps bring your core muscles back on-line.

  • If you are desperate for some movement, walk!

Walking is low impact and increases circulation (which aids healing). In a perfect world, this walking would happen without holding or wearing your baby. For some of us (like me!) that isn’t possible with a newborn, and that’s ok! But, if you can manage it, walking freely helps bring your body back into proper alignment after pregnancy.

To recap: as you begin to heal in those first six weeks focus on: REST, breathing, core engagement, and walking (if you feel up for it!).

6-Weeks to 4-Months Postpartum

At this point, you’ve had six weeks to heal (and possibly a few weeks longer in the case of a C-section), and your care provider has cleared you for activity. We now enter the six-week to four-month period of recovery.
This period is critical to your post-baby core health. I encourage my students to approach this stage with care and caution.
Elevated hormone levels and muscular imbalances from pregnancy leave your body, particularly your core, in a compromised state.  And doing too much too soon can lead to postpartum issues like diastasis, prolapse, and hernias. This is especially true for a woman who was active during her pregnancy. Her arms and legs are strong. She feels like she can do everything. But her core is weak and cannot support that effort.       My recommendations for this period include:
  • Continue working on the basics.

Engage your deep core muscles regularly and get the breath down. Pregnancy alters the core muscles and breathing system and it takes time to get them working well again!

  • Add in activities that rebalance your post-baby musculature. 

Rebuild mobility in the mid-back. When your back and chest are tight, simple activities, like reaching or lifting, strain an already weak core.

Balance the muscles of the hips. By rebalancing the muscles of the hips, you create a healthier pelvic floor.

  • Keep activities low impact.

Walk, lift gentle weights, gentle yoga (but know not all poses are good for a post-baby body!).

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite yoga postures for this critical postpartum period. Stay tuned!

  • Avoid:

    • High-intensity impact activities. No running, burpees, HIIT, Crossfit. These activities put excessive demand and load on your core and it’s not ready for that yet!
    • Front-loading ab activities. Planks, crunches and all the ‘typical’ ab exercises will do more harm than good.
    • Excessive back bending postures and deep twist positions like you find in many yoga classes.
  Remember, this is a critical period for your body and recovery. You have the chance to create a solid foundation that will allow you to begin incorporating more intense activities in the near future. If you overexert yourself during this period you could end up weaker at six-months postpartum than you were at six-weeks.  

4-Months Postpartum and Beyond

Recommendations become less cut and dry after 4 months. Some who’ve spent the first 4 months building the foundation can safely introduce high-intensity activity at this point. Others would benefit from continuing with lower-intensity activities for longer. This would include anyone who falls into the following categories:

Breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding extends the critical period for your body. The hormones associated with breastfeeding create laxity in your ligaments. In other words, they make you loosey-goosey and create instability in your body. If you are an extended breastfeeder (like I was!) you should approach high-intensity activities with caution until you finish nursing or are down to 2 or 3 feedings a day. After that, the hormones shift and allow more stability in your ligaments.

Natural Flexibility:

If you tend to be a very flexible person, you are likely genetically predisposed to instability. You’re super flexible because your joints are looser. If this is the case for you, you also want to be more conservative in your post-baby movement. You would benefit from giving your body more time to rebuild core stability.

Family History of Postpartum Issues:

If you have a family history of things like hernias or prolapses it likely means you are genetically predisposed to these issues. Again, this is an indication that you may want to give your body more time to build a foundation of stability and strength before jumping into high-intensity activities.  

How to Begin Increasing Intensity of Your Exercise

You’re done nursing (or are down to 1-2 times a day), you’ve mastered deep breathing, and have a solid connection to your deep core muscles. Awesome! Let’s increase that intensity! Here’s how to do it in a mindful, core-safe way.

Start With Lower Intensity.

Your body has gone through a huge transition and you should not jump into any activity at your pre-pregnancy intensity. Start at 50% of your “usual” and see how it feels. If you feel back pain, hip pain, if you leak, or feel like your core isn’t supporting you, those are all signs that you are working beyond your ability.

Short Intervals Are Best.

If you’re getting back to running, don’t start by heading out and knocking out two miles. Instead, try five minutes and then check in. If you’re doing a yoga class, take a break every 5-10 minutes and see how everything is feeling. Again….Does your back hurt? Do your hips hurt? Did you leak any urine? Do you feel unsupported in your core? If you answer yes to any of those questions, your body hit its limit. You’ll want to move to even shorter intervals and spend more time building that foundation. If, after five minutes, you are feeling good and aren’t having any of those symptoms. Awesome! Next time, try 7 minutes and see how that goes. You want to build your intervals slowly.

Check In Frequently!

It’s likely there will be a point at which you will reach the limit of what your body can do in a strong, safe way. And once you hit that limit, stop! That’s your limit, but just for now. You build from there.  

Remember: Start back to your activity of choice with less intensity, shorter durations, and continual check-ins with yourself. The moment you see any signs of disfunction, back off or stop. From there, we continue to build! By respecting your body’s limits rather than pushing through them, you give your core the chance to rebuild it’s pre-baby strength.

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!