Top 5 pre and post natal blog posts

Hello,

This year is proving to be pretty awesome and as part of the fun I’ve been nominated for the What’s on 4 Little Ones Awards, in best Pre and Post Natal Activity Category. I’m so chuffed.

I love what I do, from seeing new mums through pregnancy to getting them back on the other side for some well earned re-hab. My post natal classes with babies are always full of smiles and baby coos.

I also love being able to share what I know and am continuing to learn with a wider audience through my blog posts. It’s great to see them read and shared across the world.

So in honour of this week’s voting I’m sharing my top 5 pre and post natal blog posts. Please share and if you like what you read please don’t forget to vote.

In fact do it now, before you read, in case you forget! http://www.whatson4littleones.co.uk/awards.asp

The voting closes this Friday.

Top 5 pre and post natal posts from alittlefitter.com

1. My timeline to post natal recovery. From early days to up to two years. How long does it really take your body to recover after pregnancy: The Princess, the bump, your body.

2. How to look after your tummy after pregnancy and why you need to avoid crunches or situps. Situps. The fastest way to a flat tummy.

3. On the ever popular subject of pelvic floor health, how about how your muscle can affect your sex life. Pelvic floor: The key to great orgasms for life.

4. Still on pelvic floor. How to actually do your exercises. To squeeze or not to squeeze.

5. And last but not least, my newest pre and post natal post all about nutrition post baby. The New Mummy Diet. What women really need to eat after pregnancy, labour and birth.

Enjoy and please share with your friends.

Look after yourselves ladies. You’re unique, special and really pretty awesome.

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 www.fit-school.co.uk 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

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

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.

 

Pilates Foundations

Pilates Foundations is a new course designed for those new to Pilates, returning after injury or illness or pregnancy. The classes follow a similar programme to the Monday Pilates classes and you can still expect to progress, learn and move your body – this class focuses more on technique and adaptations where necessary. 

Book Online

 

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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

The cure for back pain

BACK pain is one of those nasty conditions which bites most of us at some point in our lives but for some it’s chronic, debilitating and just plain miserable. Is Pilates really the cure all that we hope for when we’re suffering?

Second to post natal rehab, back pain or back injury is the most common reason that newcomers find my classes and take action. As a very dear friend of mine always said, ‘pain is the best motivator for exercise’ and she had a good point.

BUT (and yes it’s a big but), Pilates does not cure backs, improving core strength does not make pain go away and Pilates is definitely not a replacement for physiotherapy.

Before you start Pilates following a back injury you’ll need a diagnosis and/or a sign off by your medical professional that you are fit to exercise.

Back pain requires a long term management strategy. I’d be lying if I told you Pilates could fix you, rather it can be fantastic as part of a long term pain management approach alongside other lifestyle changes. Dull hey? There’s no fad or tabloid worthy headline here. Back pain is not an injury you can fix like a broken leg when you were 12. Instead it’s a condition you need to accept and find ways to work around.

Do bear in mind however that most adults have some degree of disc bulging or wear and tear. We could all be exercising with a minor disc prolapse but never know it. Our backs are strong and designed to last a life time. 

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STAGE 1:

So you first visit your GP and get referred or you go straight to a physiotherapist. In a nutshell, physiotherapists are like musculo-skeletal doctors. They cure with physical treatments and exercise recommendations not pills. This might sound blindingly obvious but a physiotherapist can not cure your back like a course of antibiotics might cure a throat infection. So at stage 1 of back pain you already have exercises to do, at home, between sessions which will help the repair process. The more you do your exercises, the quicker you’ll be on your feet.

STAGE 2:

When you are beyond the acute (really painful) stage you might be referred on to a hospital based Pilates programme or you might be signed off with a recommendation for Pilates or similar. So at stage 2 there are still exercises to do. At home or at the gym. But you need to keep doing them.

STAGE 3:

You get advised to improve your core strength. You may have even skipped stages 1 and 2 and gone straight to here. This is where Pilates becomes an option. However, core strength is a bit of a fad that doesn’t really exist, I’m not sounding very positive today am I? Core strength conjures images of a super iron girdle which you can get so strong by doing Pilates that you’ll never feel back pain again. The problems with this theory are that a) this girdle doesn’t exist; and b) immobility is the enemy of back health. I’m not suggesting it’s time to launch yourself into a dynamic Pilates class but fixing (as in making more rigid) your painful joints will not serve you long term. Instead we can use Pilates and physiotherapy exercises (that you need to keep doing between sessions) to get your body to a place where you can move, rather than using it to make you even more stiff.

STAGE 4:

Keep doing your exercises … forever! Visit your occupational health team at work and get a work station assessment. Can’t fit Pilates in at home, get a group together and get a Pilates instructor in to you. Consider what else you could do to help your back. Is there another health concern you need to get sorted in order to get you more mobile? Could you swim during the week? How’s your bed, your shoes or your bra? These can all be massive contributors to back pain.

Fit School is planning a seminar on long term back pain management (we hope it will have a sexier title than that) so if you’d like to find out more visit our Facebook page or contact us via the contact form below.

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

Get updates from the alittlefitter post natal newsletter: http://eepurl.com/YVmD9

It’s time we stopped ‘using’ Pilates and just did it?

In the world of Pilates we’ve got accustomed to ‘using’ Pilates exercises to help participants back to health following an injury, illness or pregnancy.  But by doing so, have we lost some of the flavour of what Pilates is really about? A workout.

Physiotherapists often refer patients to me to ‘improve core strength’ (that term in itself is fodder for another post).Pilates is fantastic for back health but contrary to popular belief it’s not physiotherapy. It is a workout first and foremost and many of my participants require extra homework dependent on their specific needs. We work through a range of both strengthening and mobility work from a variety of interesting angles! Tight muscles and immobility are greater enemies of back health than muscle weakness. This is something I too am constantly learning about. I’m not saying this to put anyone off. My participants range from early 20s to mid 80s and there are always adaptations or props which make it suitable to all.

Controlology

All my classes are programmed, so we work through a programme over a 6-8 week period with the aim of improving not only strength and mobility but understanding of Pilates and ability to do the moves. I’m doing this myself a lot at the moment since I’m just returning after having my second child, now 4 months!

In my opinion, fitness professionals (myself included) can get so caught up in what’s best for us that we’re in danger of losing sight of the things in life that make us happy. Like chocolate cake! Plus pain can make us afraid of doing certain exercises for fear of making it worse.

One hour of Pilates once a week will not break your back, it’s the remaining hours you spend slumped in a chair, tight with anxiety or sleeping at funny angles that do that for you. So stop being afraid of exercises that seem a little more challenging.

There is a place for Pilates exercises to help get you back to fitness if you begin a little broken and if you just love feeling the burn in your abdominals then abs away but remember your poor old back needs some love too. Let’s just not lose sight of Pilates, the workout. Perhaps it’s time we brought our bodies up to Joseph Pilates’ high standards rather than water Pilates down to suit our broken bodies.

With thanks to Joanne Cobbe of JPilates for inspiring some of the above concepts through ‘The Moves’ Workshop. If you liked this post, check out Jo’s take on the subject: http://jpilatesblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/when-did-pilates-become-the-easy-option/

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