5 Exercises to Heal Diastisis Recti and/or Umbilical Hernias

One thing I’m passionate about is women’s health. I could get on my soapbox of hours and go on about how I think if men had to deal with half the “female” stuff we do, the care we currently receive would be so much different. Instead, I’m going to write a very long, and very informative blog post ūüôā

Currently, moms don’t get a lot of extra love and attention after birth in the United States, and as a pre- and post-natal trainer this infuriates me.

I have worked with women 8 weeks after birth and 30+ years after birth who are “just dealing with” the aftermath pregnancy and birth. Most of the questions I ask are brand new to them. I mention things they’ve never learned about and that seriously concerns me, while also exciting me.

Sure, we all have a 6 week check up after birth, but the depth of care we often receive is lacking. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I understand this is a huge blanket statement. Some doctors are awesome, however the majority of women are not receiving the full care they deserve.

While most women could benefit from a session with a pelvic floor specialist, we instead think it’s “normal” to deal with peeing our pants a little when we jump, laugh, or sneeze for the rest of our lives. A lot of women don’t realize they have hernias after pregnancy or birth and instead of trying to heal them, they just become worse and may eventually need surgery. And doctors rarely check for diastisis recti, or an abnormally large separation of the abdominal wall so this too can become much worse and can lead to things like hernias, a belly pooch, back pain, and more.

However, instead of just riding the negative train into the ground, I’ve decided to do something about this current trend: I’m going to help change it!¬†The great news is there is information out there and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to help other women feel empowered as they learn how to help themselves too.

Identifying Diastisis Recti

Separation of the abs is a completely normal part of pregnancy and can also occur when someone is overweight or has undergone a major abdominal surgery. In the case of pregnancy, the abdominal wall loosens and separates to make room for a growing baby. There’s a lot you can do to minimize this separation while pregnant, or even heal diastisis recti during pregnancy, but wherever you are in the journey–maintaining this separation after childbirth can be downright uncomfortable and dangerous. So, how do you identify if you have a gap that is considered “too wide” (ie. diastisis recti)? And if you have diastisis recti, how do you fix it?

Diastisis recti is identified by observing a gap in your rectus abdominal muscles, or the “6 pack” layer of your core. This is the top most layer of your abs. To measure your abdominal separation you will do two quick tests (and don’t worry–you don’t have to be able to “see” a 6 pack to do this test!).

First, observe the separation of your abs above your belly button.

Lie on your back and bend your knees. Gently place a hand behind your head for support and lift up off the ground. As you settle into this slight “crunch” position, use your fingers to palpate and measure the distance between your upper abs. Measure finger widths. Anything more than 2 fingers width of separation between your ab wall (more than your pointer finger + middle finger) is considered diastisis recti.

Next, observe the separation of your abs below your bellybutton. Lie on your back and bend your knees. Keep your head down on the ground this time and instead gently lift your feet off the floor. Palpate below the belly button and measure the distance between your lower abs. Anything more than 2 fingers width of separation between your ab wall (more than your pointer finger + middle finger) is considered diastisis recti.

A third test can be done around your bellybutton to observe for an umbilical hernia, another common issue to follow pregnancy. Hernias can be accompanied by other symptoms like bulging or pain, but you can still check for a hernia like you check for DR. Go back to the first test, but this time palpate around your bellybutton. More than 2 fingers width can indicate a hernia. Or you may notice you have a larger, hollow “hole” that your belly button fall into as you pick your head up.

Healing Diastisis Recti and/or an Umbilical Hernia

Now, if you have DR or a hernia, there is loads you can do to help yourself before things get worse. And even if things have already gotten worse, you can still make major improvements!

True story: I had DR after I had my first daughter. Despite having my pre- and post-natal corrective exercise certification, after lots of miscarriages I exercised more cautiously during my full term pregnancy and was afraid to try some of my training. I also thought i was doing some things correctly, and I wasn’t. Once my core was separated I really understood how I needed to improve a few things and add to my routine. Postpartum, I had 3 fingers of separation, but within a few weeks of doing a few exercises, I closed my gap to just 1 finger. After having my second daughter I had 1 finger gap when I checked 3 weeks postpartum (though I did experience an umbilical hernia so worked hard to close it as much as possible again using a few key exercises. My doctor was impressed at my 6 month check up!).

Both DR and umbilical hernias are the result of a weakening of the connective tissues in your core. So, while you can identify DR in your upper most layer of your abs, you want to heal the condition by strengthening the deepest layers of your abs like your transverse abdominis, obliques, and your pelvic floor.

Truthfully, every single person–man or woman (and women who have had kids and haven’t) can benefit from training their core in the way I’m going to show. It literally strengthens the deepest layers of your core and therefore provides tons of strength, stability, and stamina.

One last VERY¬†important note before I show you some great exercises: train¬†your pelvic floor as part of your core!¬†This is perhaps the most important part of your healing process. Kegels alone aren’t going to strengthen or heal your issues, despite this being the only remedy many doctors recommend. Instead, you want to learn to use your pelvic floor, engaging it as part of your deep core unit.

Too often, people are holding their bellies and pelvic floor “tight” all the time. But a tight belly or pelvic floor doesn’t mean it’s strong. It’s just tight! So, when doing the exercises below, be sure to activate your pelvic floor. To find your pelvic floor, do try to stop the flow of urine when peeing, but then when your bladder is empty just try to relax that muscle. Then try to lift or “flex” the muscle and then return it to a resting position. I’ll admit, this takes serious practice but it is life changing! Your pelvic floor helps you pee and move your bowels, because both types of waste exit through a passage in the pelvic floor, but your PF is also responsible for supporting (or holding up) your bladder, uterus, and bowels so learning how to use this muscle properly is critical and can help you avoid serious issues like prolapse in the future.

5 Exercises to Heal Diastisis Recti and/or an Umbilical Hernia

1. Belly wrapping, belly pumping, or transverse abdominal breathing

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  • This exercise can be called so many things, but regardless of what it’s called, in this exercise you are literally trying to wrap your abs together and close the gap.¬† By learning to do this you are strengthening the weakest connective tissue and healing your problem for good! And perhaps the best news: this is an exercise you can do before, during, and after pregnancy! It is helpful all the time and can be nearly anywhere, even when you’re driving in the car!
  • You can and should try and eventually succeed at this movement lying down, sitting, and standing because you want to be able to apply it to all types of movement. The ultimate goal is being able to belly pump when doing all exercises.
  • If difficult, you can assist this movement by using your hands, a towel or a band to help pull your muscles closed.
  • To do this exercise: Breathe into your belly. This alone can be challenging since many people are accustomed to breathing into their chest. Fill your belly with air, relaxing your stomach muscles and letting your belly expand out. when you exhale lift your pelvic floor (the most important step!) and then wrap your abs together. If you’re looking in the mirror you should see your belly button lift a little and then tuck in. The lift is coming from the activation and engagement of your PF. Repeat.

2. Foot slides

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  • While doing this exercise, try to keep doing your belly pumping.
  • Exhale with your leg extension, wrapping your abs as your extend your leg straight. Inhale as you bring your foot back in, pumping your belly out.
  • Eventually you can try this exercise with both legs or use gliders.

3. Hand/Quad Pressure Pushes

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  • No, this is not a technical name, but this is an excellent exercise to strengthen the deepest stabilizers in your abs.
  • While doing this exercise, try to keep doing your belly pumping.
  • Exhale as you gently lift your head and one leg off the floor, supporting your head with one hand. At the top, push your other hand into your leg (on the same side) and your leg into your hand, creating “pressure” on both your hand and leg. Exhale all the way through and wrap your abs here as much as possible. Inhale as you return your head and leg back down.

4. Overhead band reaches

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  • While doing this exercise, try to keep doing your belly pumping.
  • Exhale as you pull your band straight up over your head. Inhale as you bring your arms back toward your belly button (though be sure to maintain some resistance in the band when you return to “center”)
  • Eventually you can try this exercise with your head lifted off the ground

5. Side planks with oblique “twist”

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  • While doing this exercise, try to keep doing your belly pumping.
  • Inhale as you extend your arm straight up, looking up at your hand as you extend your arm.¬† Exhale as you wrap your arm under your body, literally wrapping your abs together though try not to drop either of your hips down toward the ground. Make your core wrap together and do the work instead of putting the work into your hips and lower body

Happy healing and exercising! Leave questions or concerns in the comments section below. No one should ever have to struggle with these kinds of issues postpartum, or ever and I’d love to help!

5 Lower Body Low Impact Exercises (That Won’t Hurt Your Knees)

Hello, my most dedicated readers! Oh, how I’ve missed you all. Last time I checked in, both our girls were sick. And last week I was sick! NOT COOL. Everyone knows, moms don’t have time to be sick. Yet, I was. So sick that I didn’t even workout. I did try a couple times, but I was super drained. Like for real. Ugh.

I’ll probably sound like a weeny when I say I just had a case of laryngitis, but I didn’t realize how crummy you can feel from an illness that generally just gets a lot of attention for taking someone’s voice away. While my throat still hurts a lot this week and I still have a dry, hacky cough, my voice is finally coming back (and I’m starting to exercise again), so hallelujah! I must be on the mend. Now back to real life and the important stuff.

A few weeks back, a friend and reader asked me to share some low impact lower body exercises and today, I’m excited to bring them to you. This friend has found her knees to be particularly temperamental after having her first baby a few months back. This is totally normal since the hormone relaxin can loosen our ligaments and joints leading up to labor and can take up to a year after stopping breastfeeding to return to “normal.” Who knew? Now you do ūüôā

While I love jumping around like a total maniac and I don’t have a problem doing so, that isn’t the case for everyone and the good news is there are TONS of exercises you can still do to strengthen your lower body AND be kind to your knees.

Today I’m sharing my top 5 lower body exercises that are low impact and can help you strengthen your lower body, without hurting your knees because yes, it’s possible!

Most of these exercises will use the glutes as a primary mover, and all the other muscles in the legs will be secondary or tertiary movers/helpers.

The largest and what should be–strongest–muscle group in the body is the glutes (aka your butt muscles). I often tell my clients that your butt isn’t just about vanity or something sexy. Though it can be both of those things, your butt is also totally functional too. Meaning, your glutes–when engaged, strengthened, and used properly–can help support your hips and take work away from your smaller knee joints all while simultaneously strengthening all the muscles surrounding your knees too.

Every single person should be able to do a squat. It’s arguably the most functional movement you can ever do. Many think squats are just for your quads, that big muscle group on the top, front of the leg. However, squats are actually a glute exercise that your quads can help with.

We all sit down and get up from chairs and the toilet–that’s a squat.¬† We all pick things up from the ground–that should be a squat. So yes, one of the exercises I share will be a squat, but I’ll show you how to modify it to take some work away from your knees if a traditional body weight squat hurts for now.

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When doing these exercises, aim for anywhere between 8-15 reps, (per side where applicable) and 3-5 sets.

  1. Squats – Keep your weight in full foot and push up out of your heels. By keeping the work in the heels vs. the forefoot, you help your glutes do the work, not your knees. Modify on a wall or using a ball on the wall if needed.MNYE9697XZZS2597
  2. Hip Bridge РStrengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Lying on your back, place your heels on a chair, bench, stool, or any elevated and level surface. Push up from the floor by driving into your heels. Squeeze your glutes at the top and then slowly return to the ground.  NMAP9020
  3. Deadlifts – Single leg or double, it doesn’t matter–deadlifts are great for you (and your glutes and hamstrings)! Slightly bend your knees then while keeping your back flat, hinge from the hips towards the ground. Return to the top, squeezing your glutes when you get there.¬†CGBK3879
  4. Side Lunges РStrengthen your glutes, adductors and abductors (those muscles on the insides and outsides of the legs). Start with both feet pointing straight ahead. Sinking into the heel on one foot, lift up the other foot and reach it to your side while sinking into the opposite heel. Return the foot to the center and keep your toes pointed straight ahead for the entire movementDILI3446
  5. Step Ups – These are awesome for the whole leg! Place one foot on a step, chair, or stool. Keeping your weight in the heel on the bench, “pull” your other leg up and onto the step. Slowly return your foot to the ground, putting as little weight into the bottom foot and repeat.

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What are your favorite lower body exercises? Share in the comments below! 

3 Ab Exercises, 3 Ways

This past weekend we enjoyed a fun Easter holiday with our girls and our extended family. Isla woke up on Sunday so excited for her “treats” and eggs from the Easter bunny.

I’m not one of those moms who bans candy from the Easter baskets, but there are lots of non-food items included too. Some of my favorite items in the girls’ baskets this year included coloring books, Easter themed books, watercolor paints, construction paper, puffs and teething toys for Josie, some chocolate bunnies and chicks and some tasty Easter-themed Belgian chocolate bars for Isla. Sure, the chocolate may sound fancy, but I like to keep artificial colors and ingredients out of our food in-home where we can. This chocolate was from the Netherlands and Belgium, so there weren’t any artificial colors or ingredients. The bunny got the goods at Marshall’s. Last, but not least, we can’t forget the Annie’s Organics themed items! Does anyone else feel like Annie’s is the best Easter themed line of food? We are 100% an Annie’s Organics family all year long, but their bunny theme clearly translates particularly well to Easter. So naturally, the Easter Bunny left lots of Annie’s brand snacks in Isla’s basket, and in her eggs this year!

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Sugared up and moving through the festivities all weekend, by Sunday night, both girls (and mom and dad) were pooped and ready for bed! Easter success!

Looking ahead I’m a little excited there aren’t any big holidays to mess with my healthy eating goals for awhile. I’ve been a little off the rails the last few weeks. No upcoming festivities means I can really try to be on track. Truthfully, I will probably eat something sweet almost every day, per usual. And I’ll be enjoying some beer and wine a few days a week too. But looking ahead, I know I’ll be doing better than I have over the last couple weeks by cutting out the Easter treats.

They says abs are made in the kitchen and I have to agree. I don’t think I’ll ever have a bodybuilder’s stomach because 1. I don’t want to right now, and 2. I don’t want to eat 100% clean, but I know I feel so much better (ie. way less bloated!) when I’m not loading my body with all the high sugar treats associated with big candy holidays like Easter. So with that idea plus the goal of at least seeing muscle definition when I flex, I’m truly looking forward to this time to get refocused and get back into a more normal “healthy” groove.

Thinking about abs, I’ve put together a quick ab workout. The exercises in this workout target all layers of your abs, plus you have to rely on strength from your arms, shoulders, chest, and back. These three ab exercises can be completed using three different modalities.

The three moves are:

  1. Plank knee tucks
  2. Plank elbow knee tucks
  3. Pikes

And the three modalities are:

  1. Bodyweight
  2. Stability ball
  3. TRX

Check out the video below for a quick visual of what these look like in action. Then, bust out your own equipment at home or at the gym (or not) and give these a try!

 

How was your Easter? And what were you busy indulging in? Share your favorite traditions and treats below. 

Motivating Your Transformation: “All great achievements require time.”

Here I am, checking in with a quote on Tuesday. And didn’t I say these quotes were for Mondays? Yeahhhh, about that.

Guilty. I may have mom-brain, but I do know it’s not Monday anymore. The truth is, I was just super busy being a mama yesterday and took a rest day (minus a few sets of jumping lunges and squats). And this morning after I woke up after a not so restful night, I needed that motivation to get back on track, so here’s your opportunity to feel motivated and mix things up too, on a Tuesday! I’d feel badly about this, but motivation doesn’t just have to happen on a Monday anyways.

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In reality, I think this quote is super fitting for my post today anyways. Today, on “#transformationtuesday” (thanks Instagram), I’ve been thinking about my post last week about weighing myself.¬† When I penned that post I took my monthly progress photo and when comparing that photo with some from the last few months, I was stunned by the changes I’ve made since Josie was first born. It hit me how drastic the little changes we make in our day to day can be when looking at the overall “achievements” we’re trying to make.¬†And the hard truth is that those greater achievements take time. Period.

Thankfully I’ve been so busy as a mom so I haven’t really had time to focus on how fast or slow things have been happening to my body. And honestly, if I hadn’t taken those photos, I think I would forget where I was at month one. Yet, while some days I still feel like that mom who just had a baby a month ago (maybe mostly because I’m still sleep deprived haha), I can’t deny the changes I’ve been conjuring as I make a commitment to my health and fitness day in and day out. It’s not easy, but it has certainly been worth it.

So, as you make your own commitments to your own goals, remember it takes time to make the progress you’re striving for. Settle in for the long haul. Consider how you’ll measure your progress in the short and long term and keep chipping away, doing the best you can. In the end, we can all be surprised–and proud–of our achievements.

To Weigh, or Not to Weigh

Today I’m reporting on a little experiment brought to you by a serious case of mom brain. I haven’t weighed myself in two months. During my weekly trips to Target, I have repeatedly forgotten to pick up a new 9-volt battery for our scale. So, while not weighing myself hasn’t been intentional, this is the longest time I have gone without weighing myself in years and today I’m sharing my personal and professional reflections (and results) about life sans scale.

I won’t lie, I have normally been the person weighing every few days, or at least once a week. And for awhile in between pregnancies, I had the unhealthy and obsessive habit of weighing myself every day. I remember three days after having my first daughter, I came home and while I should have lost at least 10 pounds (she weighed over 8 herself, plus I was no longer carrying around a placenta and I lost all of the amniotic fluid), I was only down 5 pounds. In my fragile postpartum state, I felt like a failure and cried. Then I remember weighing myself day in and day out after that until I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight…four months later.

In the last 20 months, since welcoming both of our baby girls–the youngest just five months ago–I’m happy/relieved/proud to say my relationship with the scale has gotten a lot healthier. Those feelings I had 20 months ago forced me to reflect on who I had become on the inside and think about why I would care about a number so much. My body had just done the most amazing thing possible–it created life and here I was obsessing over a number on a scale. As my oldest daughter moved out of the newborn days, I knew I didn’t want her to EVER obsess in the same way I was so I worked hard to change my mindset. This is an evolution that continued throughout the entirety of my second pregnancy last year and I’ve been continuing to grow over the last few months. A number on a scale will not and does not define me.

Even so, not weighing myself is very unlike me. While I don’t use weight as the only marker of my progress when working toward my health and fitness goals, I do think a scale can be a powerful tool.

Knowing your body weight can help you maintain a healthy weight and encourage healthy eating. I like to keep myself within a “target” weight zone (usually within about 3 pounds, plus or minus of my “goal” weight). This wiggle room leaves room for bloating caused by eating saltier foods (or my period) or dehydration.

Knowing how much we weigh can also help encourage healthy habits. I use a scale to keep my eating in check. Ie. weighing myself helps me avoid scarfing down a dozen donuts and multiple ice cream sundaes in a week. And on the flip side, it helps remind me to eat enough calories to build and maintain muscle if the number dips too low (which doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes could when I was marathon training).

Not weighing myself has really mixed up how I measure my progress and the markers I’ve been relying on have actually been motivating in different ways in the last couple months.

Living life without a scale means I’ve had to stick to what I’ve been saying since before I gave birth last October: the number on the scale isn’t important to me right now. Instead I’m more interested in how my clothes are fitting and my progress photos. And I’m proud to say that in the last several weeks, I’m down another pants/dress size and I’m seeing more muscle definition. These markers may not come with the fast gratification of the scale where you can watch your weight rise and fall a few pounds in a day or two, but these markers indicate changes that are certainly more permanent and that’s something I LOVE.

Further, my daily decisions haven’t been influenced by the scale and I think that’s actually helped me achieve more accountability and I’ve made even more positive choices than I would have in the past. Whereas I may have allowed myself a junk food treat when I was within my “weight zone,” I’ve been making more and more healthier choices as I look forward to fitting into new clothes and seeing progress in my monthly photos.

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Not identifying my progress with a number has been empowering and enlightening. While I think that when done in a healthy way, weighing yourself can be a positive part of anyone’s journey to health, it’s not the only way. In fact, the number on a scale is a tiny part of a way to define progress and sometimes someone can live a healthier life without it. The last couple months has shown me firsthand that measuring weight doesn’t have to be a part of everyone’s path.

If you haven’t lived life without a scale recently, I challenge you to do so. Consider analyzing your health in different ways for the next 30 days. Measure your life using different numbers. Track the number of steps your taking, count the number of workouts (and reps and sets) you’re completing in a week, look forward to fitting into a new size dress or pair of pants, and tally the number of veggies you’re consuming in a day. Take a photo at the beginning and end of your journey and you might be surprised by the changes. I’ll tell you this: after living without a scale for awhile, I still haven’t added “9V battery” to my Target shopping list.

How do you track your progress? Share in the comments below. 

 

 

Motivation Monday + Quick Legs/Abs Workout

Another week, and another snowstorm is in the forecast. While this seemingly endless winter can get me down at times, I am feeling happy on this Monday after completing a short workout this morning.

Currently I’m munching on some veggie soup for lunch, and I’m sharing this morning’s quick workout. Both babies wanted to be held today while I was exercising, and in between the diaper changes and soothing, I didn’t fit in as many sets or reps as maybe I would have liked. However, I did what I could and still think I’ll be sore tomorrow. Holding both kiddos was definitely an extra strength workout!

Lately, when my workouts have been tough (ie. when my muscles are on fire!), I just envision bathing suit weather and how I want to feel and look this summer. While vanity driven, this tactic is almost instantly motivating and sometimes even encourages me to add an extra few reps or set into my workout (when I can). It’s okay to want to look and feel your best!

If you want to repeat the quick leg and ab burner I did this morning, here it is:

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And as promised last week, here is some motivation for your Monday. Set your goals and work towards them, bit by bit and day by day. You’ll be amazed by the person you become.

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Wishing you all a wonderful week!

HIIT Workout for a Snow Day

This week I’ve been running a fun workout trial group on Facebook and today I’m excited to share one of the group workouts with all of my blog readers too!

Since I’m completing a lot of my workouts at home these days, I’m constantly putting together high intensity interval training workouts. They’re very convenient when you are exercising with two babies, and I definitely have a love/hate relationship with these workouts.

I love them:

  1. because HIIT workouts are fast! They take less than 30 minutes to complete.
  2. because they use little to no equipment. Traditional HIIT workouts use mainly bodyweight so you can literally do these workouts just about anywhere.
  3. and because they work! Did you know HIIT workouts can boost your metabolism for up to 48 hours after you finish your workout?

The only reason I sometimes hate HIIT workouts is because they’re challenging and are never done before your muscles start to burn like crazy. It’s amazing how you can sweat so much, lose your breath, and build so much strength in just fifteen or 20 minutes!

So, if you’re in a part of the country that’s been or is being crushed with snow (like we are today), don’t let the wintry weather be an excuse to not workout. Set aside about 15 minutes and you’ll still have time to shovel (yay!). Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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