My Postpartum Journey (You’re Not Alone)

Let’s real talk for awhile. I’m going to super overshare about my postpartum journey. So if you don’t want to read about “girl problems,” just close this window now. But if you are a mom, or you have a mom, or if you know a mom I urge you to continue reading. Because I’ll bet out of all the moms you know, someone is feeling or has felt like this before. Maybe right after having a baby. Maybe a few months after. Maybe years later. But if and when they ever feel like this, I bet they would love it if you could even try to understand their experiences. Because labor and delivery isn’t where our journey to motherhood ends. Not even close. And no mom wants to feel alone (except maybe when we’re hiding in a closet to eat our favorite snack and don’t want to share).

Truth: I think the postpartum period, aka the “fourth trimester” is even tougher than being pregnant.

I am one of those lucky women who feels awesome when she’s pregnant. I exercise throughout my pregnancy. I feel strong. I gain a healthy amount of weight. I feel confident. I keep up with my regular activities (minus drinking some wine). I generally feel happy. I am grateful for this. This is probably why I was open to getting pregnant so soon after having my first daughter (hello, two babies in 15 months!).

But postpartum is a whole other story. The fourth trimester only technically lasts three months, and since my second daughter will be five months in just a couple weeks, I guess I don’t fit in this “box” anymore, but I have been in such a funk lately and I’m going to blame some of this experience at least partly on my own personal postpartum journey.

Six weeks after Josie was born I was cleared by my doctor and told I could resume my normal life. My new normal life. I was super overwhelmed by the two children I was rearing at home, but I passed the psychological questionnaire they give you (ie. I didn’t have postpartum depression), I had finally finished bleeding and my incision was healing nicely so yeah, I was told to carry on.

Having just had my first baby fifteen months before I was prepared for the gauntlet of my least favorite symptoms, or so I thought.

I was expecting my bad B.O. I smell so bad after I have kids. I sweat like crazy. On my chest and my armpits. And no, this is not because of my all natural deodorant. I literally think my body has me sweat like a maniac so my kid can smell me from a mile away. Along with every other poor soul within that mile radius. I change our sheets twice per week. It’s so gross, but I was ready for this. I have accepted this.

I also wasn’t shocked to get my period two days after my postpartum checkup. Yes, despite the fact that I’m exclusively breastfeeding, I am one of those lucky women who doesn’t get a break from Aunt Flo for six months or more. And to add insult to injury, I bleed super heavily and irregularly. So heavily that my doctors thought I was still experiencing postpartum bleeding after I had Isla. And so irregularly that I have had my period 6 times in the last 20 weeks since I welcomed our littlest beauty into this world. I was kind of ready for this too, though I forgot it sometimes interrupts my workout routine because I feel like garbage. And I am trying to accept this (okay, I’m actually just praying this bleeding gets lighter and more predictable).

Additionally, I was prepared for the loose ligaments and tender joints as the hormone relaxin works its magic in my body and keeps my body parts more relaxed as I breastfeed my baby. I was ready for the fatigue from night feedings and sleep training. I was ready to lose my hair by the handful. I was ready for the extra skin and cellulite. These symptoms are shit, but I was ready for them.

Yet, there is one major symptom I’ve been feeling lately that I was NOT expecting. This postpartum period I feel sad. And in this one major way, my postpartum journey has been so different than last year’s and the depth of this new unknown territory can sometimes be hard to navigate.

While I find motherhood so fulfilling and beautiful, while I laugh with joy with my daughters, while I don’t have trouble getting out of bed in the morning or doing work during the day, and while I’m not sad every day or every moment, I’m still sad!

Reflecting on this emotion, I don’t think it’s all due to my having a baby or two in the last couple years because let’s face it–this has felt like the longest winter in years–but do I do think it has something to do with my hormones and the crazy ride my body has churned through like a champ? Hell yes! And for that reason, I think it’s worth acknowledging. Because I know from talking to my mom tribe, I’m not alone. Many of us are experiencing all of this, and more, and if you feel like this YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Like with many other things in mamahood, we maybe can’t be ready to feel all of these feels, but I’m learning there are other ways we can be ready to cope. Because this emotion can be totally normal too, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, or that you’re doing something wrong, or that you love your kids any less than the bubbly, happy mom at playgroups. Or that you can’t be that bubbly mom, and still be sad sometimes too (that’s totally me).

First and foremost, if you’re worried and think your feelings are debilitating or you’re considering harming yourself or your children, you should talk to your doctor. But if you find that you’re feeling more of this “funk,” that I’m referring to, there are some natural ways you can cope and help yourself too and slowly, I’m finding these things are helping me feel better and so I have to share.

One huge way you can help yourself is with self care. Yes, I know motherhood is overwhelming. I know you have babies and a significant other, and maybe pets and other family and friends you’re taking care of. But if you’re forgetting the most important person you should be taking care of–YOU–take a look in the mirror and reflect on how you might help yourself too.

My brother once told me I’m the biggest advocate for self care he knows and this is a compliment I cherish. It’s something I remember when I am feeling sad and need some self care myself. It’s the reason I’m trying so hard to keep digging deep for the happiness that normally comes so naturally to me. Sometimes taking care of ourselves is what we need to feel a little better. And after I took some time this morning for a solo run (something that makes me feel better), I knew I had to share these intimate details about my postpartum feels.

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Some of the best ways to care for you might be meditation. Or exercise. An appointment with your favorite manicurist or at the spa. Or maybe it’s a nap or a cup of coffee out somewhere by yourself while your spouse or a babysitter takes care of the kids. Maybe it’s a date night. A girl’s night. Maybe it’s all of these things!

But whatever it is, DO IT. Because if making room to take care of me is making me feel a little better, it can make you feel better too. And I’m hoping sharing way too much of this intimate info might help someone else feel a little better too. Though who else is hoping the arrival of permanent springtime will help too? 🙂

Fitness Trial Workout Group: SIGN UP HERE!

Funny thing, this is a fitness blog, but I often check in with food updates vs. exercise. Why is that? Probably because the workout portion takes way more time, and most conveniently would require me to record my workouts for my blog sans babies. As you can imagine, that’s not always easy around these parts.

However, behind the scenes (ie. behind the piles of toys, dishes, and laundry), I’ve been putting together workouts and the other material I’ll need to start an online training program.

I’ve been working hard to create fun and quick workouts you can do anywhere with little or no equipment. And today I’m excited to share a sample workout video.

Today’s workout will burn your full body. Glutes, legs, arms, back, chest, and abs–nothing is missed. And you’ll work on increasing your stamina because as you blast from exercise to exercise you’re getting in some cardio too (hello, high intensity interval training)!

You’re aiming for 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise and the goal is to complete 3 or more sets, but really do all that you can. Even just one or two sets is better than none! You will want a step or chair and a resistance band if possible. If you don’t have the band, these are the couple changes I would make: do the lateral walks in a low squat (the lower the better)! And if you don’t have a step, do standing knee taps vs. step ups (hold your hands at chest height and lift your knee to meet your hands).

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Starting next week you can join a FREE training group and access five more workouts like this, along with lots of other helpful information that will help you commit living a healthy life. Starting the first day of spring (March 20), I am launching a paid online training group, but from March 5-12 you can test out a FREE trial workout group.

This will be a private Facebook group and when you sign up you’ll receive an email inviting you to join a community of like-minded people who are committing to regular exercise and healthy habits including nutritious eating! We’ll be moving together, motivating one another, and sharing recipes.

Five days next week I will post a quick workout video, like the sample above. This is a workout that should take you between 15 and 20 minutes to complete. You will have the option to complete all exercises simply using body weight or utilizing equipment you have at home or at a gym. I will cue for safety on each movement and will be able to give information about how you can scale an exercise back or ramp it up for a bigger challenge!

Everyday, I will post some of my favorite recipes, plus I’ll share some of my favorite recipe sites and apps so you can find recipes that truly work for your tastes and budget.

Additionally, you can chat with other members of the group so you can share what’s helpful for you and seek advice about what’s been challenging. We will cheer each other on and I can answer any questions and provide professional health and fitness advice.

I am PUMPED to start this group. Work out on your own time, in your own space, but with professional guidance and as a part of a community. It’s a workout for a new era and I’m thrilled to be a part of this trend.

To join the trial group, it’s simple. Complete the quick form below and click, “Submit.” Before Monday you’ll receive an email inviting you to the group and we’ll get started together! Sign up now and share with your friends!

PS. Signing up for the trial group WILL NOT sign you up for the group starting March 20. Watch for details about the paid group soon.

 

Home Workout Gear (Essentials + Workouts)

It’s official, the flu is inundating the U.S. this winter and I officially suspended my gym membership because of it. Yeah, I can hear you all gasping from here. Your personal trainer has temporarily quit the gym.

While I love to go to the gym to lift heavy and take advantage of the child care (hello, mommy’s two hour break every day!), it’s that child care catch that has me opting to keep my workouts at home for the remainder of the winter season.

While I know our kids can still catch the flu, I am trying to do all I can to minimize the risk, especially since our little ones are in the high risk age (under 2). The number one way to avoid the flu is to keep your hands out of your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you have babies and toddlers, do you know this? Um, that’s pretty much IMPOSSIBLE.

So, I’m owning my new identity as the germaphobe mom with her two kids in the double stroller at the grocery store and Target, with reusable bags strapped to the handle–if I even take them to the grocery store at all. We’re avoiding museums and public play groups. And the gym was the last step. But my reasoning is while both our kids go to daycare twice a week, by avoiding places like the gym and public play groups I am slightly decreasing their exposure to germs and hopefully avoiding big germs like the flu.

At day care there are less kids per adult (1:4 ratio), whereas at the gym there can be an unlimited number of children per adult. This means that at the gym, my two teethers (Josie is cutting teeth already and Isla is crushing the 2-year-old molars game) are more likely to shove any communal toys in their mouths because right now EVERYTHING goes in their mouths.

Since we’re spending way more time at home than I’d prefer, this means I’ve not only been hosting multiple dance parties a day for my toddler, but I’ve also been scouring Pinterest for all kinds of fun activities and crafts and putting them into action.

 

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Didn’t you know fridge magnets are way more fun on a cookie sheet? 

 

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“Fingerpainting” on the windows

 

window-paint-isla
Paint in a Ziploc bag, taped to the window

 

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We made a paper plate caterpillar after reading, The Very Hungry Caterpillar

While my choice “hit the pause on the gym” might not be one all parents would make, I feel confident I can still get the workouts I need and want at home for now. And if my kids do get the flu, at least I knew I did what I could to personally protect them.

Since I’m a personal trainer and I love exercise, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I have a small arsenal of workout equipment. You don’t need tons of or really any equipment to get a good workout at home. But personally, I love having a variety of pieces to pull from to keep me motivated and keep mixing up my workouts. And naturally I have some favorites. Here are a few of them, and a couple sample workout videos to match. Be sure to follow me on Instagram to catch my at home workouts weekly.

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Dumbbell and Kettlebell

gliders

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Resistance loops and resistance bands

This first workout uses gliders. I LOVE THESE THINGS. They are awesome for targeting all different muscle groups and can be use for way more than abdominal exercises–the number one type of exercise they are marketed to work the hardest. If you don’t have gliders, feel free to try a couple washcloths or some paper plates. This workout combines both a reverse lunge and then a curtsy lunge. Then you transition right into a hamstring curl, mountain climbers, and then a single leg knee tuck. Aim for 10-15 reps per exercise (and per side where applicable). The goal is 3-5 sets. This workout will smoke your legs, glutes, and abs.

This second workout utilizes the resistance loops and is 100% full body! Start with a squat, alternating a lateral leg lift. Pop into a side plank and then pull hamstring curls. Next, loop the band around your upper arms and feel an extra burn in your triceps as you do push ups. Balance out the push motion with a pull as you complete single arm rows. Transition into plank knee tucks with some extra resistance. Lastly, find your side plank again and pull for some side plank tucks. Again, the goal is 10-15 reps (per side where applicable) and you’re working for 3-5 sets.

Give these workouts a try and let me know what you think in the comments below. You’ve got this! 

 

My 2018 = New Beginnings and Continued Progress

Happy 2018 everyone! I am shockingly pumped and motivated for the new year. Thinking about a word that will define my year, I can’t stop thinking, “excited!” I am definitely feeling more focused and excited about what this year will bring, both personally and professionally.

I am excited to keep growing Fitness Bites. My blog readership continues to grow (THANK YOU!). While on “maternity leave,” I registered my own business. I am officially flying solo as an entrepreneur. I am no longer working at a gym and I’m actually my own boss. HOLY CRAP! I am so thrilled to be able to say this and while I was feeling more fearful about this undertaking, I know I’m going to be successful. I’m excited to keep helping others in the fitness industry, but in my own way. I look forward to offering my own special brand of online training.

I am excited to focus on my personal fitness, to work on my strength and keep leaning my body out post baby. I certainly overindulged this holiday season, and while I don’t regret it, I am excited to kick the Christmas cookies to the curb and refocus my efforts. I can’t wait to see my progress at the end of the year.

To track my progress, I’m checking in with a “progress” post, complete with photos. I’m finally getting my eating and exercise habits back under control. These posts help hold me accountable. If I have to bare it all to you (literally!), I’m more apt to make healthy choices.

Being transparent like this also keeps me humble. I, like everyone else, am a work in progress. I’ve been petite my whole life. Couple that with my workout routine throughout pregnancy and people assume I just drop every bit of extra fat and nourishment my body took on to grow a baby. Not true. I still have fat in my stomach and this time I also have extra skin and some stretch marks that I’m not sure will be going away. Instead of getting down on myself about these changes, I’m looking at them as my permanent mama tattoos from my girls! Along with my c-section scar, they’re outward signs that my body grew life. Small etches of the changes my body has endured on the inside forever. Oh, the beautiful perspective I’ve gained since becoming a girl mom.

Reflecting on the last three months and comparing to my postpartum journey last year (just a short 6 months!), I remember struggling after Isla was born. I didn’t shed all of my pregnancy weight quickly. Most people assumed I had lost all of the weight after just a few weeks and the truth is, it took me almost 4 months to do so. This time is so different. I’m less concerned about what others are thinking about my body. And I’m even less concerned about a number on the scale. Despite gaining less weight with this pregnancy (25 pounds vs. 35 pounds last year), I’m still about 5 pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight.

I mentioned in an earlier post that getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight isn’t my priority. I actually don’t mind if I stay 5 pounds up–I just want to keep leaning out and getting stronger. I want to know I’m doing the best I can to be the best I can. While I’m still weighing myself, I’m measuring my progress more with how my clothes fit and with photos. Seeing and feeling a difference on a more long term and permanent basis is a lot more gratifying than a number on a scale, which can change 4 of 5 pounds in just a day depending on what I eat. The reality is, I’m 100% more concerned with how I feel in this postpartum period. I want to feel good. I want to keep putting a positive message about body image into the world. I want to help other women feel positive and beautiful, because you are!

So here it is. This is my postpartum journey so far.

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[40+ weeks to 1 week postpartum]
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[1 week postpartum to 1 month postpartum]
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[1 month postpartum to 3 months postpartum]
As you reach out with your personal notes and messages, I love knowing that in some small way, by sharing my own fitness and life journey (my reality), I’m helping others–even if it’s just one person. I hope I can keep up this momentum, this positivity, and stay excited. I have so much to be grateful for and I look forward to continuing to reflect and grow in the year ahead.

 

38 Weeks Pregnant Update

It’s Tuesday and it’s been two weeks since I’ve posted. And oh what a two weeks it’s been! I officially started maternity leave, leaving my post at the gym and literally the next day I started having contractions. From 15 minutes apart to 7 minutes apart, from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.. I called my doctor’s office and they suggested we have child care come over. So, I called my mom and got my hubby home from work. Yet, here we are, two weeks later and wait–no baby? That’s right. Not yet! So what happened?

It turns out, this mommy is having loads of fun experiencing this thing called prodromal labor. Prodromal labor is a super fun experience kind of like false labor (sense the sarcasm?). Except prodromal isn’t false labor because contractions feel real, last 60 to 90 seconds, and they consistently get closer and closer together. And then they just stop. In false labor, you get these shorter contractions maybe 15, 7, 5, 20, 2, etc. minutes apart. There’s no rhyme or reason to their pattern. I experienced that with Isla and while uncomfortable, I knew it wasn’t real. This is harder to distingush.

Not only can prodromal labor be phyisically exhausting (the uterus is a muscle and mine is sore after hours of contractions), but it’s emotionally exhausting. I get so excited that it might be time, and then when they just stop I feel pretty let down. It’s also hard because I don’t know if I’m going to know when I’m really in labor. At this point, I’m pretty used to just feeling contractions every day. If you’ve gone through this, feel free to reassure me I’ll know the difference!

I’ve read about what causes it, and basically they don’t know. They said if your baby is facing the wrong way in your pelvis, that can cause it. But they confirmed our baby is not. So, I’m not really looking for a reason any more. Instead, I’m just living life day to day and trying my best to be patient. Not my best virtue. Haha.

Continuing along the timeline, after the first day of labor pains, I then came down with a horrible sinus infection. And then the real icing on the cake (because I’ll handle whatever I’m feeling), Isla came down with a stomach bug that lasted four days! Happy maternity leave mommy!

No, but seriously. I felt so bad for our poor girl. She was such a trooper and thankfully I’m happy to report she’s feeling much better. But boy, was momma tired last week! I wasn’t feeling like nesting for once, but I was forced to do just that. I disinfected our house and washed endless amounts of laundry for five days straight. That was basically my exercise last week, though I did do a couple 20 minute workouts during naptime and before lunch. I just needed to make sure my muscles were feeling as balanced as possible. Funny thing, pregnancy can totally mess with your body’s alignment! So, exercise helps me keep the right muscles engaged and feeling strong.

By this past weekend, we were all feeling better (or had stayed healthy) and with some awesome weather–albeit hot–in New England, we headed out for an early morning hike on Saturday. This baby is super low, as they keep reminding me at my weekly check ups, and I was hoping we could just keep working it down with a short hike. We set out for 1.25 miles on a relatively flat trail, and after taking a wrong turn, ended up completing about 2.5 miles of elevation. A part of me can’t believe I’m so proud of those 2.5 miles, but I am. I celebrated being 38 weeks pregnant with a hike I know I couldn’t have done at the end of my last pregnancy and that is AWESOME! Bottom line–we are often so much stronger than we think! And that is just the reminder this mom needed before heading into labor.

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Other pregnancy related updates:

With just a couple weeks to go, I have still only gained about 26 pounds. I haven’t gained more than about a pound in the last 6+ weeks. And for the first time ever, they started telling me my belly is measuring small. This initially made me very nervous. However, I’m again having faith and trusting my doctors and midwives.

Two professionals have now assured me that since Isla was breech and this baby is not, that my belly was going to look and measure very differently this time. Last week they also said my belly will measure differently when the baby is as low as ours is. Finally, they reassured me they are not worried about my weight. No matter, I’ve been trying to pack in some extra food this week. I want to make sure I’m taking care of this baby to the best of my ability, but am also trying to listen to my body. Like last time, I eat when I’m hungry, and I’m certainly not eating 100 percent healthy. Last week I kept joking I was eating my feelings. I ate ice cream, donuts, a box of mac and cheese, and a bagel (or two). But honestly, after just devouring a salad for dinner tonight (with a burger on top!), that’s definitely more my speed this pregnancy. It’s so funny how pregnancy cravings can be different!

What have you been up to in the last couple weeks? How have you been staying active? Help me pass some time in the comments below. 

Peek-a-Boo Obliques (At 9 Months Pregnant)

Today’s post is about side planks, one of my favorite exercises. I love side planks. My clients generally grumble when I have them do side planks, which I’ve learned can only mean one thing. They’re great for you!

Side planks help me feel super strong. You’re working the arm and shoulder and all of your stomach muscles. And I won’t lie (though maybe I should), from a vanity standpoint, I love that side planks help me keep a visual of my obliques throughout pregnancy. 9 months pregnant, 25 pounds up, and sporting some peek-a-boo abs? Oh yeah! I have worked so hard for that and I think it’s fair to be proud. You definitely can’t see a six pack (I have a short torso and my baby bellies grow!), but a little side ab on mama’s ever-expanding belly? I’ll take it, haha. No, but seriously. It’s nice to just see a bit of my old self in my rapidly transforming body. (Left my belly is relaxed. Right, my belly is flexed. Disclaimer: this is after breakfast, lunch, and a giant snack of way too many maple sweetened peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.)

And doubly seriously: side planks are really an excellent ab exercise. I don’t just have my clients do them to torture them. Like a regular plank, side planks require engagement of all layers of the abdominal muscles: transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and the obliques. These muscles wrap together like a corset. They also work to pull your core in tight (bracing). And they keep your body elevated.

The biggest mistake I’ve encountered with this exercise is clients will shut down their abs and instead use their hips to hold themselves up. Let’s be clear. You should feel this exercise in the bottom side of your stomach–the side closest to the floor. If you are feeling this in your lower hip, make a change. Lift your hip a little higher and squeeze your abs a little harder. If you still feel it in your hip, modify the exercise by dropping down to your bottom knee.

Today I’m showing three different types of side planks. Yes, these are pregnancy approved. But these are for everybody! I promise, this blog isn’t just for the pregnant ladies. Boys–get off your butt and try these. Your belly will thank me!

  1. Side Plank Hip Taps
    1. Start in your side plank. Either legs stacked, or bottom knee supported on the ground.
    2. Lift your body using the underside of your abs (the side closest to the floor).
    3. Place your hand on your top hip (or on the floor as a modification for added assistance).
    4. Drop your bottom hip to tap the floor.
    5. Lift the bottom hip again hip until your body is parallel with the floor. 
    6. Repeat.
    7. Switch sides after 8-15 reps.

  1. Side Plank with Weighted Arm Extension
    1. Start in your side plank. Either legs stacked, or bottom knee supported on the ground.
    2. Hold a dumbbell in your top hand.
    3. Drop dumbbell under lower obliques.
    4. Lift the dumbbell until your top arm is straight.
    5. Repeat.
    6. Switch sides after 8-15 reps.

  1. “Thread the Needle” Side Plank
    1. Start in your side plank. Either legs stacked, or bottom knee supported on the ground.
    2. Lift your hip until your body is parallel to the ground. Place your top hand on your top hip, or on the floor for added support.
    3. Drop your top hand to tap the ground OR literally “thread the needle,” wrapping your arm under your lower obliques. (If you’re pregnant, opt for the tap vs. the wrap. You don’t want to twist your obliques too much while pregnant.)
    4. Raise your top arm to the starting position.
    5. Repeat.
    6. Switch sides after 8-15 reps.

To check out some videos and see these exercises in action, visit my Instagram account.

What’s your favorite ab exercise? Share in the comments below. 

One Exercise to Perfect Posture

It’s a new day and a new week. After feeling pretty crummy some of last week, this week feels like a refreshing change. After a few days off to regain my normal strength, I am back to my workouts. I returned to yoga this past weekend and completed a heavier lifting session too. It feels good to feel more like my normal self.

I’ll be honest. My workouts are starting to feel more challenging. Sometimes, a lot more challenging. As the baby grows, I lose my breath much more quickly. Belly pumping helps keep my diaphragm strong, but eventually you just have less room for it to expand.

I’ve also noticed my joints feel softer and looser. Squatting heavy sometimes leaves my hips and knees feeling a little sore, which normally doesn’t happen. I compensate by moving a little more slowly through my movements so I’m extra careful to maintain good form. This loosening happens naturally at this late stage in pregnancy. The relaxin levels are beginning to increase in my body. It doesn’t help that because I was still breastfeeding, my body was still producing relaxin when I got pregnant with this bambino.

Lastly, and also related to increased relaxin levels, the biggest change I’ve been dealing with is some symphysis pubic diastasis (SPD)–or a separation of the pubic bone. The biggest symptom is pelvic girdle pain. This one I’ve been feeling for a few months. I had mentioned it to my doctor and again, since my body never fully recovered from my last pregnancy, I experienced this earlier than most women would (if they ever do–I didn’t have this with Isla at all!) I can literally feel my pubic bone pulling apart during certain movements. Ouch! This pain is most noticeable during single leg exercises. So, some days I avoid these types of exercises, or modify them.

However, despite these changes and challenges, I charge on. Because the truth is, when I don’t exercise, I feel worse. Even last week, taking a few days off meant I experienced some back pain. Back story (pun kind of intended), I broke my back almost 10 years ago. Back pain was supposed to be a regular thing for me, but thank goodness, with the right exercises I feel great! After all the experiences I’ve been through, exercise is always worth it!

Thinking about my exercise programs, modified or not, I think primarily about functional movements. These are movements that mimic movements we make in every day life. For example, while we aren’t necessarily doing push ups, we are pushing car doors closed. While we aren’t doing back squats with a barbell on our back, we are (or should be) squatting to pick things up off the ground.

Today’s post is about a functional exercise that is one of my favorites. Many people suffer back pain due to poor posture and while there is much you can do to improve your posture, my favorite exercise for helping change posture is rows. A standard pulling exercise, working a critical muscle group.

Rows can be completed with bands, cables, dumbells, kettlebells–you name it! It’s versatile and is great at opening up the chest and activating our upper and mid-back muscles. Muscles that, in our world of desk jobs and smart phones (which mean we’re constantly hunched over), are typically underactive.

I generally teach this exercise with three different grips.

Palms facing in…

Palms facing up…

Palms facing down…

By rotating the hands in this way, you are also rotating the shoulders blade, thereby strengthening the maximum muscle fibers. No matter what piece of equipment you’re using, there are four pieces in a row that I find most important:

  1. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Shut down those upper traps that want to do everything for you!
  2. Keep your core neutral. You don’t want your spine curving, so keep your abdominal muscles activated and strong.
  3. Retract your scapula (ie. squeeze your shoulder blades together). This is the actual exercise. Hold this squeeze for a couple of seconds to work the proper muscles.
  4. Keep your shoulders from rolling forward as the arm re-extends. If you roll the shoulders too far forward, you will reactivate your chest muscles. Remember your back is the primary mover in this exercise, not your chest!

I encourage you to try this exercise today. Whether you expereince back pain or not, this is a movement we should all be doing properly. Push ups get all the glory, but pulling exercises are just as important!

What exercises do you incorporate in your workouts to improve posture? What exercises helped you after an injury? Share in the comments below.