Why most of your Post Natal Pilates can happen outside of your class.

CONNECT and HEAVY TAIL.

Connect your ribs to your hip.

Or, if I’m being pedantic, your bottom rib to your iliac crest – the bony bit at the top of your pelvis which feels like a hip bone.

AND feel like your tailbone is heavy.

Feel like you are opening up your lower back.

Let your sitting bones point down to the floor.

Every post natal woman that walks into my class or who I see privately has something in common. They have carried a baby. For most women this means during the past few months their baby bump and breasts have altered the position of their pelvis.

I call it the pooch. I can remember it happening to me. ‘Whoa – what’s going on there!’ My back felt tight, my hips started to catch and grab, walking became more uncomfortable and slower and I had a lot of pressure on my pelvis. As your bump pulls your pelvis forwards your whole body sways forwards with it.

This is massively relevant when it comes to issues like pelvic floor weakness or dysfunction or diastasis recti. It’s also important to be aware of when choosing what exercise to do after pregnancy. Running is great but running on a jelly pelvis with muscle imbalances leftover from pregnancy and a weakened core/pelvic floor … there might be a better option in the early days.

Imagine a balloon. A thick balloon like a Whoopie Cushion. If you blow up a balloon once it begins to lose it’s elasticity. Leave it blown up and the effect is even worse. It goes all droopy. Held under maximum tension for a very long time it loses its strength. It over stretches. It might even go pop. Now think about your poor body being stretched to its maximum capacity and some more for the final trimester of your pregnancy.

It’s going to need a little rehab.

Roll on to baby out.

There is a lot you can do to start to rectify the situation. Yes you need to build strength in your abdominals and back and yes you need to get some strength and condition back in your muscles. Glute strength (your butt) is vital too – especially since you’ll be spending much of your day squatting to pick up baby.

Even without this, having a better awareness of your pelvic alignment is a great start.

Pushing a pram, wearing your baby, rocking your baby, walking and cooking are all times when you can focus on the CONNECTion between your ribs and your hips and your HEAVY TAIL.

For more information on Karen, Fit School or Pilates classes visit www.fit-school.co.uk

5 signs that you’re already one of life’s winners

I’m fresh from this week’s Race for Life Epping. It was steamy one this year, with lots of heavy legs and even heavier breathing. I was under-trained and had been feeling unwell for a few days but I gave it everything. This meant pushing through and just getting my head down between kilometres 3-4. It meant encouraging strangers through the last stages just for a bit of feel-good distraction. It meant focusing on my husband and kids on the finish line, waiting for me. But most of all it meant ignoring my mind talk and remembering I am stronger than my mind.

Running a race is often used as a metaphor for life, with good reason. It’s about enjoying the journey as well as the quest for your goal. There’s always another loop of that bloomin’ track or another hill you’d forgotten about and you’re not going to feel on top form for every race but you can still do it.

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Me with my sister and mum after Wednesday’s Race for Life.

So how do you know if you are a winner? Here are the top 5 traits and habits I’ve spotted of people in life who are going places, whether that’s in the race for business success, fitness goals or happiness.

1. You’re prepared to just get on with the hard stuff.

Newsflash. Even if you are in a job you love, which you’ve carved out for yourself, there’s still dull stuff to do. Just like those bits of a running race that are just plain hard, you just have to quit complaining. Stay up late. Get babysitters in. Ask for help. Dig deep and GET ON WITH IT.

2. You’re ready to stick your neck out and be noticed.

You can’t always hide beneath a job title or role. Sometimes you need to be present and be yourself, which can feel uncomfortable. Earlier this year I was challenged to step out from my own shadow and be me in my business. This has felt really uncomfortable at times but reaps rewards in terms of being authentic and sincere in business. Just like a race, you can’t always play it safe with the joggers, sometimes have to line up with the runners and give it everything you have.

3. You have a plan but you can adapt.

You might be going for a fast time or a new training PB but thinks crop up. A virus or a hiccup in your training. I’m not suggesting you run when you’re genuinely ill but you can still support or cheer on everyone else. It’s important you have your goals but you also need to be adaptable or you could miss out on new opportunities, partnerships or friendships along the way. Just make sure you re-route rather than divert completely.

4. You know who’s ahead of you, who’s chasing you and who’s supporting you.

Now here’s a biggie. Who inspires you? Who are the competitors champing at your heels? And who’s supporting you? There are those who will always cheer you on. Those that will offload work or stress. Use them and appreciate them. They are all part of the journey.

5. You have found ways to enjoy the ride.

And the most important one of all. Life will never slow down. It will never all be done. So take time to appreciate the moments. That might mean writing down 3 things you have been grateful for every day, it might mean making quality time for the special people in your life. But take off the blinkers and be present in your journey.

Read more about how Karen is working with breast cancer specialists to help prevent cancer: Exercise helps prevent breast cancer recurrence

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist, writer and speaker. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex. TWITTER: @fitschoolessex FACEBOOK: ccfitschool WEBSITE: www.fit-school.co.uk

Want to fall in love with your mummy tummy? Read this.

It’s a human phenomenon many women would rather didn’t exist.

The mummy tummy.

That jiggly little (or large) bit of fat or loose skin that clings around the middle regardless of well intentioned efforts to shift it.

Fitness trainers love it: ‘Join me and lose your mummy tummy.’

And last week poor Zara Phillips was publically compared to the genetically blessed (if you think slim is a blessing) Princess Kate for her pronounced post baby mum tum whilst having fun at Ascot.

Speculation as to why she might look this way when other royals don’t has followed. Could she have abdominal separation? Could she just be carrying extra baby weight?

Stop. Stop. Stop.

I’m speaking out in defence of the mum tum.

Before giving birth to Isaac (now 4) I was anxious about my post pregnancy tummy. Would I ever get my smooth tummy back with a neat tummy button?

Isaac came, grew and was squeezed out – nearly nine pounds of him in my 5’ 3” frame. Miraculously I only got stretch marks in the last month of my pregnancy but my mum tum was born. A little bit of loose tummy skin and fat that had a mind of its own when I moved anywhere quickly. 

Then came Naomi (now 16 months). By this time I was considered an ‘older’ mum. Pregnant at 36 and delivering at 37. My skin was older and therefore less elastic. My bump grew quickly, the stretch marks stretched some more and got stretch mark friends. The resulting mum tum was more loose skin that now resembled the more mature cast of Benidorm whenever I leant forwards.

But what of it? Why should I be ashamed of it? Admittedly I’m not overweight but I’m certainly not lean. My mum tum is a separate entitity with a life and a mind of it’s own. But I’m quite proud of it.

Why?

It’s my badge of honour.

Every roll, wrinkle, wiggle and jiggle is proof that I grew my beautiful babies. Proof that I was stretched just beyond my skin’s limit to grow two human beings. Proof that my soulmate (aka husband) and I were blessed beyond human understanding to conceive and have responsibility for two beautiful human beings on this earth. 

My kids have learned that blowing raspberries on mummy’s tummy makes a much fruitier noise than blowing raspberries on daddy’s firm tummy.

It doesn’t stop me from doing anything. Yes I had a small abdominal separation but that’s almost fixed now and yes I carry more fat than is healthy for me around my middle since I eat more sugar than is good for me and struggle with anxiety over my kids and my work. But it’s me and it’s real and I don’t ask for your opinion on it.

Neither, I’m sure, does Zara Phillips.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist, writer and speaker. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex. TWITTER: @fitschoolessex FACEBOOK: ccfitschool WEBSITE: www.fit-school.co.uk

We aren’t vain we’re just trying to stay sane. How exercise helps the mind.

I like to lift weights. Heavy weights. It makes me feel great.

For me, going to the gym, lifting weights and finishing off with perhaps a ten minute swim or sauna and a shower (in complete peace) is like switching a re-set button in my brain.

I feel calm.

I like to run too. Running gives my heart and lungs a great workout, airs my legs and allows my thoughts to roam. Sometimes I run without music so I can just think but on sunny mornings like today, I’ll tune into some great running beats and just immerse myself in my little running world.

I like to practice Pilates. I might take ten minutes before a class to have complete, flowing, peaceful practice time. There’s a tranquility and peace I find in silent, solo practice that I don’t get from other types of exercise.

But – when it’s just me and the bar and the lift – that’s when I can totally zone out.

No distractions. No kids. No thoughts.

The biggest reason I exercise is to clear my head. Through exercise I can process thoughts or get creative. Sometimes I might need to run hard to get rid of pent up stress or anger. Sometimes I need to just chill. The way exercise makes me look is always secondary to how it makes me feel. And having spoken with so many women in the fitness industry and women who are exercisers (rather than non-exercisers) it always comes back to mental wellbeing.

I can’t speak for men on this one but I do know that for the majority of women, the exercise hook is feels not looks.

We aren’t vain we’re just trying to stay sane!

Every exercise form gives us an opportunity to zone out or re-set, to process thoughts or to meditate.

Here are a few ideas on how you could use exercise to zone out or work out.

  • Yoga can be both challenging exercising and challenging meditation. The postures in yoga were originally based on the meditation. This is why it’ s often recommended during addiction therapy or rehabilitation.
  • Pilates is more of a conscious workout. Joseph Pilates originally called his method, controlology. The control of muscles through the mind. We are very mindful of technique during Pilates exercises.
  • Swimming can feel like re-birth. Yes you can go hard and workout your circulatory system (swimming is a great challenge for the lungs) or you can enjoy the simple pleasure of weightlessness and water. It’s rhythmic and repetitive and no phones are allowed.
  • Running can feel hard or could let you go for a great chat with a friend. When running alone you can internalise by focusing on how your body feels or you can let your thoughts wander.
  • High energy classes like martial arts or boxing can literally allow you to fight off your stresses.

Of course there are always ways of exercising optimally but the most important thing with exercise is to find something you love and find balance.

Enjoy x

When can I start running again after having a baby?

It is a question I get asked a lot by my post natal clients. When can I start running again?

It’s a toughie. On one hand, I completely understand the need and want to get out running again. If you love being active, pregnancy can feel like a life sentence of inactivity and then some miserable person (like me) suggests you wait a little bit.

If you use running to boost your mood, then surely when your new mummy hormones are running riot, a run is a great idea. Right? Hmmnn… (puzzled emoticon).

I’ll be honest with you. The day after my 6 week check after having Isaac I put on my trainers and ran like a crazy person. It felt sooooo good. But subsequent training for a 10k left me pretty sore. I ignored my painful pelvis and had weird stuff going on in my hips until I stopped running completely when I got pregnant with Naomi. I wish I had listened to my body.

I’m going to give you the facts and leave you to make your own choice based on your body.

There are four things to consider about running and the post natal body.

1. Your pelvic floor

C-section or vaginal delivery, your pelvic floor will have been under pressure throughout your pregnancy due to the changes in your posture and the way your full uterus will have put pressure on your pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor muscles and a pelvis that would have already been weakened by the hormone relaxin.

Excess weight, the size of your baby, the age at which you delivered your first baby, intervention like forceps/ventouse or for some, a sensitivity to pregnancy hormones can all put extra strain on your pelvic floor.

Running on an already weakened pelvic floor is a really bad move. It’s just likely to put extra strain on the area and could increase pelvic floor dysfunction like incontinence or prolapse.

Not convinced?

One of the reasons I became so fascinated with the post natal pelvic floor was my surprise at the number of fit women in their late 30s and early 40s who came to me, having starting running/getting active after their babies were born and realised they had a minor prolapse. It’s really common.

2. Your posture

Your posture inevitably changes during pregnancy. There’s all that baby weight pulling your spine forwards and tipping your pelvis. Running on a wonky skeleton will only exacerbate any issues and probably lead to the physiotherapist’s table. Your body is different post baby to pre baby, it won’t feel the same.

3. Relaxin

It’s estimated that relaxin, the hormone that makes your joints/muscles/blood vessels lax remains in your body for up to four months after you give birth or stop breast feeding. High impact exercise is not nice on joints which are already under strain and could lead to inflammation.

4. Your energy/tiredness

Running takes a lot of energy, both calorific and get up and go energy. If you are breast feeding, it’s important to re-stock any lost calories fast after you exercise. If you don’t you’ll feel shattered and probably reach for the chocolate box. If you aren’t getting much sleep and start running regularly, it could add to the exhaustion.

I don’t want to be the miserly running police but I do want to ensure you get the best advice out there. Running is awesome. Exercise is awesome. But do give yourself time to recover before you get back to it.

Check out the New Mummy Diet for more help on getting back into shape after having a baby.

For information on classes check out Karen’s About page.

Are you so driven that you can’t see the daffodils?

Driven. Ambitious. Go getter. Super fit. High energy.

These terms are usually viewed as positive attributes. Perhaps how we might like to be described. Certainly, if I’m honest, I love living life with a sense of direction towards goals. Yes I’m ambitious but it isn’t necessarily good for us.

At home, in our careers, in our workouts, sometimes even in our leisure time we can swing too far towards the ‘success’ or ‘aim’ of it that we forget to enjoy it and life swings a little out of balance.

  • ‘When the house is tidy/decorated/re-developed I’ll be happy.’
  • ‘When I’ve achieved noteriety/published my book (make that my tenth book)/got a promotion, I’ll be happy.’
  • ‘When I’ve burned 500 calories/lost a stone/run 5k in under 30 minutes, I’ll be happy.’
  • ‘When I’ve got my golf handicap down/outings for every day of the kids’ school holidays/booked the optimal vacation resort, I’ll be happy.’

Isn’t it funny when you look at it like that?

But this is what we do to ourselves on a regular basis.

Our environments are saturated with messages that encourage us to be ‘driven’ and it can be hard to slow down or even recognise our need for more balance.

At the weekend I was privileged to be invited, as a guest, to the inaugural WIFE conference in Guildford (Women in Fitness Empowerment – hosted by Jacqueline Hooton). Of all the speakers, the one that spoke to me most clearly (and that if I’m honest – I wasn’t expecting to) was Nicola Hobbs. Nicola is a yogi and a GB weightlifter. ‘Now wow – that’s balance,’ I thought.

Nicola reminded me of the ancient Eastern wisdom of yin and yang. It’s not a concept recognised by modern medicine but has been used in healing and wellness for centuries.

Nicola had practical suggestions for creating more yin, if your life has got a bit yang. And woah I thought – I think I’m a bit yang.

When, in my conference chair, I considered all the thinks that truly make me feel happy and blessed, it’s all those little things that I absent mindedly just do because they make me feel balanced:

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  • Hanging out the washing (yes – don’t start me on laundry).
  • Walks out in the forest or round a lake, spotting wild fowl with my kids.
  • Just running – for little purpose – just to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Reading – being absorbed in the moment.
  • Down time with the kids, when nothing is planned. Just playing with bubbles, having a bath, or having family hugs/tickle time/rough play.
  • Baking – at a time when I can really get lost in the process.
  • Inversions, like the shoulder bridge or rollover in Pilates.
  • Swimming and enjoying a shower alone (perhaps the main reason I have a gym membership at the moment)!

And guess what. All these things are yin things. So rather than doing them absentmindedly, I plan to keep doing them. They aren’t big things that take time, money or planning. These are things I do on a weekly or daily basis.

This is what I really got from Nicola. You don’t have to change your life to get yin. You just need to change the way you think about it or the way you do the things you are already doing.

So for this week – I challenge you to take one area of your life, perhaps your workout and just enjoy it, for the love of doing it. Nothing else.

It’s Spring and it’s beautiful out there. So perhaps just take a walk and spot the buds and the daffodils. For yin’s sakes.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

How to ‘get better’ at Pilates

Whether your a beginner or a life long fan of Pilates, the aim of the game is to achieve a level of fitness, strength, mobility and flexibility that allows you to perform ‘the moves’ and feel good.

But as with all forms of exercise, it’s easy to plateau – to find your progression (and perhaps your interest) wanes.

So how do you progress with Pilates?

RollOver

Pilates progression, like all forms of exercise is based on two basic training principles:

The Specificity of Training Principle and The Overload Principle.

The Specificity of Training Principle states that the body will adapt to whatever specific demand you place on it. Be it your Pilates One Hundred, a 40kg deadlift or long distance running. 

If you’re a beginner to Pilates it may take a while for your body to adapt to the new exercises (I always reckon 3-4 weeks is a real turning point) but this is great since you won’t hit a plateau (training plateau where you stop progressing) as quickly as Pilates regulars. 

Once you can do the exercises however, you’ll maintain your fitness levels or ‘ability to do Pilates’ levels but won’t progress. 

This is where the Overload Principle comes in to play.

The Overload Principle states that to continually adapt, the body must be placed under a stress that exceeds the body’s current capabilities. 

This is a little easier to do when you are using weights or running than it is in Pilates. Remember in Pilates we never want to stress the body to the point we are holding our breath, bracing or using the ‘wrong’ muscles. It’s not a sweat it out gym workout. It’s much more considered. 

But you can still work the edge of your own comfort zone rather than staying comfortable and daydreaming! 

This is where an instructor who’s on your case and continually adapting the programme is much more beneficial to your body than a drop in class where the programme rarely changes or progresses. 

So this is why there are progressions to each exercise and why I always stress that it’s about your comfort zone, not that of the person next to you. 

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

It’s my first time

Congratulations on taking the Pilates plunge.

I know it can be daunting starting out with new faces, new places and perhaps a new system of exercise for you but I promise I’ll go gently.

I love Pilates and I love teaching but I do believe it’s a two way process. I need to work for you and you for me.

Pilates isn’t something you’ll necessarily click with overnight and it might not be for you in the long run. That’s fine (I’ll try not to take it personally) but do give it at least a few weeks. I usually reckon on four weeks to notice some real mobility changes and eight to start really ‘getting it’ – quicker if you are able to practice at home.

What do I need to bring?

Not much. Comfy clothes and perhaps a bottle of water. You won’t need trainers for the class. Bare feet is best but socks is fine too. Leggings and a close fitting top are ideal clothing options but above all be comfortable.

I have mats and equipment although you may want to consider buying your own mat if you’d like to continue to practice at home.

Pay As You Go Pilates

“I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.” – Joseph Hubertus Pilates, in 1965, age 86.

Pilates isn’t a ‘drop in’ option

Well my classes aren’t anyway. I used to teach in gyms but always got frustrated that I couldn’t help my regulars progress as much as they could have done because of the restraints of newcomers popping in and out each week.

This isn’t a criticism on beginners wanting to get started (or on my lovely committed gym goer participants). Regular readers will know I love beginners and I’m all for just moving a bit more. That is indeed my fitness mantra. But Pilates is a system of exercise best served with regular practice and experience and it’s no surprise to me that the participants who re-book, reap the rewards of Pilates, rarely (if ever) get injured and who are my class superstars, are those who are there week after week and NEVER ask, ‘do you do pay as you go?’ [The answer, by the way, is no].

RollOver

And here’s why:

Consider gardening. You could dip your toe in, plant a few bulbs and hope for the best. Spring comes and a few bloom but you never really figure out why they’re a bit average and what happened to the 80% that have just bolted and failed to flower. Or perhaps you plant some herbs. Another good starting point. You get a bit of fresh rosemary but your mint goes to seed, the thyme dries out and caterpillars destroy what was left of your basil.

This is pay as you go gardening. There’s a little reward but when it goes pear shaped you wonder why you bothered.

If however you learn from your own mistakes and experience, ask advice and questions from those with more experience, immerse yourself in books or magazines and just get out there a bit more often to spot the garden critters and changing environment, your efforts will bear much fruit.

And so of course it is with Pilates, as with any structured exercise programme but particularly with Pilates (and I know of course I’m biased here), commitment and practice lead to progression, results, understanding, awareness and that all important flow. Suddenly an hour slips by in a couple of breaths; an advanced exercise you’d previously considered impossible feels achievable and really great; and your body feels – well just amazing!

It’s like your body can breathe and you sleep so deeply.

If you’ve experienced our Fit School ways, you know we’re about progression. Our classes are programmed to progress and build. There are tweaks and different ways of doing exercises. There may even be a change of instructor or pace but it’s all leading to the same end. A little progress from the week before.

I do of course understand that work commitments or childcare can make ‘drop in’ or ‘pay as you go’ the only realistic option and of course it’s better than none at all. But if your back is troubling you, you plan on running a marathon or you’re trying to get to grips with your post natal rehab, regular, committed practice is key to bearing that magic Pilates fruit.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.fit-school.co.uk

Pilates isn’t an abs workout

PILATES IS NOT JUST ABOUT TRAINING YOUR ABS. YES THEY ARE PART OF THE PROCESS AND AN INTEGRAL PART OF MANY EXERCISES BUT THERE IS A LOT MORE TO PILATES THAN YOUR TUMMY.

There are some exercises which look or feel similar to abdominal crunches and there is a place for abdominal strength and control when it comes to a healthy body but no amount of Pilates style ab work will send your six pack pinging out of your torso if you have flab on it. Myself included.

Conversely, abs don’t have to be strong to be seen. I’ve seen six packs on lean mean who can perform fewer exercises than the average post natal mum returning to the mat. And let’s not forget the best sprinters in the world who have abs you could dry your clothes on but who I very much doubt do the numbers of crunches I’ve seen performed in the average gym abs blast class.

Aside from whether or not you choose to attend or deliver a class comprised entirely of abdominal work, let’s consider the issues associated with some abdominal work. Yes, those pesky pelvic floor muscles. Any pelvic floor weakness or prolapse, or an abdominal separation (diastasis recti) will not appreciate (understatement) crunches. If want to know more about this have a read of my post on how NOT to get a flat tummy by doing sit ups. That’s not to say you can never do them again – but a post natal specific programme is essential before rolling headlong into a ‘one size fits all’ Pilates session.

Pilates is about balance. Your body is designed to move across many planes. Forwards and backwards, side to side and twisting. Think about a gymnast on a beam or on a pommel horse. Consider how they move their bodies. Come to my classes and you’ll know that we work through a variety of exercises as if your body was being spun around. Why? Because we are ‘multi-planar’ beings and things go wrong/start hurting/get expensive when we STOP MOVING, not necessarily when we get weak (I’ll talk about this more in my next post about core strength).

 

Now of course if training your abs lights your fire and makes you feel good, by all means do it but equally don’t misunderstand Pilates as an abs workout and then leave feeling a bit disappointed. Enjoy the way your back works and your glutes work. Enjoy the way your body moves. Go with the Pilates flow.

See you on the mat!

Next time … Pilates isn’t about core strength.