Many women struggle with hip pain and pelvis instability post-baby, including SI Joint dysfunction. One cause of this is weak outer hip muscles. Try the simple exercise in the video below called “the hip hike” to increase outer hip strength, make your pelvis more stable, and reduce pain and discomfort.
If your pelvic floor is overactive, your goal is to find ways to release and relax those muscles.
(If your asking…how do I know if my pelvic floor is overactive? Head over to this post for our guide. If your symptoms sound more like an underactive pelvic floor, stay tuned!)
In an overactive pelvic floor, the muscles are chronically active. Often, they are overworking to create stability in your pelvis. This can lead to dysfunction that includes pain, poorly functioning muscles, leaking urine and a variety of other issues.
These four simple exercises can relax and release those pelvic floor muscles to create balance and reduce discomfort.
Happy Baby Breathing.
This simple breathing exercise starts by laying on your back in happy baby yoga position. Take your feet up and grab the outside of your feet with your hands, if possible.
If this position is challenging for you, just bend your knees and grab behind your thighs. This position naturally stretches the pelvic floor muscles.
From your desired position, allow your back and the back of the pelvis to settle down into the floor. Focus on the breath, particularly the inhale, which naturally expands the pelvic floor.
Begin deepening the breath and try to feel the inhale expand and stretch the pelvic floor. Let the exhale be passive (don’t worry about anything happening in your pelvic floor). Don’t worry if you can’t feel the breath in your pelvic floor at first. It can take some practice to get it to work!
Try to do 5-10 of these breaths per day to naturally relax those muscles.
Myofascial Release With A Ball.
Using a ball for myofascial release is another way you can begin to relax and release these muscles. Using a racquetball, tennis ball, or another small ball you have around the house (play with the size and firmness to find what’s comfortable for you), place the ball to the inside of one of your sitting bones.
(Not sure where your sitting bones are? bend over slightly and you will feel two bony protrusions in the center of your butt. That’s them!!)
In this position, the ball will be on one side of your pelvic floor.
If this feels too intense, place a towel or pillow underneath you to reduce the sensation.
With the ball under you, begin to take deep breaths, imagining you are breathing your pelvic floor into the ball. This will massage the muscles, breaking up some of the tension in the pelvic floor.
Stay there for a few breaths, then move the ball slightly forward, still on one side of the pelvic floor, to just behind your vagina.
Repeat the deep breaths.
Repeat on the second side to get into all the deep muscles in this area.
Internal Massage with a Pelvic Floor Massager
An internal pelvic floor massage toolis a device that you insert into your vagina to release both the superficial and deep muscles of the pelvic floor and deep hip.
It simulates the manual release that occurs when a pelvic floor physiotherapist manually releases your PF.
This is a very direct, and effective way to release tension that is chronically held, and difficult to access, in your pelvic floor.
We have a complete guide for Pelvic Floor Massage, including a review of the top pelvic floor massage tools.Click here to read!
Meditationis also an effective way to address pelvic floor overactivity. Typically, women with overactive pelvic floors tend to be more type-A, in general.
Implementing a regular, 10-15 minute daily meditation practice in your day can help reduce the level of tension in your body in general, including the tension in your pelvic floor.
These are four simple ways to help reduce activity in an overactive pelvic floor. By doing so, you can improve pelvic floor function which will allow you to get back to your active lifestyle without fear of pain or incontinence!
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.
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!”
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.
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
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.
Hi there! I’m Catherine Middlebrooks, a yoga instructor and postpartum corrective exercise specialist.
I’m on a mission to help moms reclaim their core and pelvic floor strength so they can get back to the activities they love.