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!

Core-Safe Baby Carrying

Core-Safe Baby Carrying

One key to healing your core after pregnancy is your alignment. I often discuss how three key alignment changes (hips over heels, neutral pelvis, and neutral ribs) minimize intra-abdominal pressure and turn on the deep core muscles.

But for many new moms, a common question arises: how can I maintain alignment and healing while baby-carrying or baby-wearing?

Holding a squirming bundle in our arms, or in a carrier, throws off our posture and strains our core.

So let’s discuss how to do this in the most core-safe way.

How to Baby Carry In a Core-Safe Way

The Newborn days

In those first few weeks, when your newborn has no head control, you’re likely using your hips to support the weight, and rounding over to keep them secure. It’s very hard to maintain good alignment in this newborn stage!

The good news…This only lasts a couple months. Don’t put extra pressure on yourself in those early days.

Once Your Baby Has Head Control

However, once baby has a little more head control and is getting heavier, it’s time to become more mindful of your body position.

Holding in Arms

Our tendency is to throw one hip out to one side (usually the same hip every time) and let the baby rest on the shelf of our hip bone. This position is less than ideal.

It makes it hard to engage our deep core muscles and increases outward pressure on the abdominal connective tissue. This increase in pressure is particularly harmful if you have diastasis- recti or a prolapsed pelvic floor.

We can ease that pressure by keeping the hips square. When you pick the baby up, use your arm to hold the baby (as much as possible) rather than the hips. When one arm gets tired, switch to the other side. You can also take them in front with both arms as support. At first, this feels hard and strange. With time, you will build arm strength and it will become easier.

As your baby becomes a toddler, try to use the piggy-back method when they need to be carried. This allows you to keep alignment and squared hips while giving tired toddler legs a break.

Baby Wearing

For those of you using a baby carrier, here are a few tips that will help you maintain alignment and minimize intra-abdominal pressure.

As soon as baby is big enough, move them to the back instead of carrying on the front. This allows you to use the natural protection of the bones in the back, the ribcage and spine, to avoid straining the core.

If your baby isn’t big enough or isn’t ready to be on the back, make sure that while you front carry you don’t shift your hips forward as you get tired. Instead, lean forward slightly and take breaks often.

Regardless of whether you wear your baby in front or back, makes sure that the straps are fitted properly. You want the baby nice and snug against your body and the waistband snug around the hips. When the straps are too loose, we tend to move into poor alignment to compensate.

In general, make sure you take breaks as often as possible to avoid fatigue in your muscles.

Even though it feels like you will be carrying that heavy child around forever, I promise you, those days will be behind you soon enough! Your core (and entire body) will appreciate the time and attention you put into proper baby carrying during this season of your life.

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!

Two Tips To Stop Pelvic Floor Leaks

Two Tips To Stop Pelvic Floor Leaks

As moms, it has become normal to joke about peeing our pants. I get it.  We use humor when talking about difficult topics.

While incontinence may be common in postpartum women, it is not normal. In fact, leaking is a sign of dysfunction in the core/pelvic floor system.

Today I’ve got two tips to share for those of you struggling with leaking. These are actions you can take right now to work on improving this.

Tip #1: Find Pelvic Floor Balance 

First, a little anatomy. Your pelvic floor is a huge set of muscles that connect from the pubic bone at the front of your pelvis, to the tailbone at the back of your pelvis. We should be able to engage the entire set of muscles. But, often, women who leak are instructed to “do more kegels” by just squeezing the muscles that shut off the flow of urine. That cue engages only a small portion of the pelvic floor muscles.

 You want to make sure you are engaging the entirety of your pelvic floor – both the front and back. We do this by playing with our pelvis positioning.

To test out your balance, try this. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground.

 

 

 

1. First, engage the muscles at the front of the pelvic floor.

a) Tilt your hip bones forward to move your pelvis into an anterior pelvic tilt position.

b) Then engage your pelvic floor by squeezing the muscles that shut off the flow of urine.

c) Try to hold that engagement for 10 seconds and observe what happens.

2. Then engage the muscles at the back of the pelvic floor.

a) Tilt your hip bones back and tuck your pelvis under you (Posterior Pelvic Tilt Position).  

b) Now engage the back of your pelvic floor by squeezing the muscles that shut off the flow of gas.

c) Again try and hold that engagement for 10 seconds. 

 

 

3. Now engage the entire pelvic floor.

a) Bring your pelvis back to a neutral position (sitting on your sit bones)

b)Now engage the entire pelvic floor by engaging the muscles that shut off the flow of urine AND the muscles that shut off the flow of gas.

c) Now you have all your pelvic floor muscles firing. What happens when you try to hold for 10 seconds? 

While doing this, ask yourself: how is your balance? Does one part feel stronger or weaker? If so, you would benefit from creating balance in those muscles.

You might be asking…but what does this have to do with leaking?

The muscles that are responsible for holding urine are in the front of your pelvis.

By positioning your upper body in a slightly forward position, you encourage the muscles at the front of the pelvic floor to engage more readily…which helps prevent leaking! (Watch the video above for a clear visual of how this works!)

Tip #2: Work the Fast and Slow Twitch Muscles  

So now that we’ve got the body positioned to help these muscles fire more efficiently, the second step is to work both muscle types. Your pelvic floor has two types of muscles, fast-twitch and slow-twitch.

The slow-twitch muscles help hold your internal organs in. They are designed for holding a low level of engagement over a long period of time. When you hold a kegel for 10 seconds, you are engaging your slow-twitch muscles. If they are weak, you may find them getting shaky as you hold them. However, these are NOT the muscles that stop the flow of urine.

Fast twitch muscles turn on with sudden demand (like when you sneeze or hit the ground in a jumping jack). These are the primary muscles that help you prevent leaking. These muscles engage quickly, for just a moment, and then they relax.  

For this reason, it’s important that your pelvic floor training works both types of muscles. You want to engage your pelvic floor with long holds (e.g. 10 seconds) and multiple reps of quick pulses (squeeze, release, squeeze, release). This will train your pelvic floor to respond to the demands of daily life and those sudden moments of intense pressure (like a sneeze).

The unpleasant leaking that many moms experience does not have to be a fact of life. Body positioning AND training both fast- and slow-twitch muscles can help reduce leaking once and for all.

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!

12 Days of Core Strength

12 Days of Core Strength

12 days of core strength

I recently hosted 12 Days of Core Strength on the brb Yoga Facebook Page. (P.S. If you aren’t following me over there, you should! I go live regularly with new tips).

Each day is a super simple, super practical change you can make in your day-to-day life to improve your core strength. Find all 12 videos below.

Day 1: Blow While You Go

Day 2: Hip Hinge

Day 3: The Eavesdrop

Day 4: Rib Breathing

Day 5: 90/90 Breathing

Day 6: One Action At A Time

Day 7: Raise The Roof

Day 8: Standing and Sitting

Day 9: Touch That Stomach!

Day 10: Unclench Those Glutes

Day 11: Watch How You Stand!

Day 12: Let Go Of Perfection

Watch the FREE Yoga and Diastasis Masterclass!