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. 

 

Cardio Upgrade: Don’t Just Walk, Strength Train Too!

Today’s post is all about a quick workout I put together to do on a family walk, run or hike, turning a bonafide cardio workout into an opportunity to strength train. My favorite! We completed this workout on our local bike path, but you can do this workout anywhere and with or without the walk.

Staying active as a family is important to me. I think it’s important we’re healthy parents for our kids. I want to do everything I can to stick around for as long as I can. I tell Chris that when we are grandparents, I hope we can be out hiking with our grandkids. And that vision starts now; with lots of training while we’re parents!

I also love that we are setting an example for our children every time they see us working out–and that Isla is already creating this habit of being active. Isla is one of those babies who rarely sits still (just like her mama). She is always busy and into something. She wanted to skip crawling and hop to walking, and though that didn’t happen, she is now walking and trying to run away from us (and into trouble) as fast as she can. This new growing baby is getting a head start too. When mom’s active, baby is active! No wonder this kid is trying to bust open my belly with some serious ninja kicks and jabs.

As an added bonus, I love being an active woman. I love that I’m showing my daughter that she can be active, through every stage of her life, including pregnancy if she chooses to have a family. I feel strongly that Isla is as healthy as she is because I made the choice to stay active and healthy during my pregnancy. I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to make this choice too, but the human body (and in particular here, female body) is pretty amazing. Clearly Isla’s not taking all of these intricacies in right now, but these are the lessons I look forward to teaching her in the years ahead as she’ll be able to look back on photos and videos.

So, the workout. I’ll preface this by saying: clearly, I’m pregnant. Like really pregnant. 31 weeks pregnant actually. I have been exercising before and throughout this entire pregnancy. That being said, if you’re pregnant and just starting exercise, I wouldn’t recommend you start with all of these exercises. Particularly those where you’d find yourself in a plank position. Like the push ups and plank arm pulls. If you include them, here are some tips.

If you are pregnant and doing the plank-based exercises, consider starting from your knees and always make sure you’re wrapping your abs together! Our abdominal wall naturally separates when we’re pregnant and this prone position puts extra pressure on our abs. Do your part to hold them together by squeezing your abs together, like you’re wearing a corset. If you see your belly “pointing” out, stop the exercise. That’s literally your belly muscles split apart. If you take a peek at your belly, it should still be rounded. This is something I actually couldn’t do when I was pregnant with Isla and I’m proud to say I’ve built even better function of my abdominal muscles between these two pregnancies and can keep my belly round this time–even after a c-section. Just do what is right for you and your baby and do what you can. If these two exercises aren’t possible, lots of others are–I promise!

For the general population, all of these exercises are a fun way to mix up your workout routine or intensify a walk or hike. I used a jogging stroller for a couple exercises, but you could easily just use hand and foot reach/taps instead.

As far as putting all of the exercises together, here are a couple ways to structure this workout:

Option 1:

  1. Walk for 2 minutes
  2. Complete 15 reps of one exercise
  3. Walk for another 2 minutes
  4. Complete 15 reps of another exercise
  5. Repeat

Option 2:

  1. Walk for 5-10 minutes
  2. Complete 15 reps of all exercises in a circuit
  3. Repeat

I would do 2-4 sets of each exercise depending on how much time I have. If you can’t do 2-4 sets, just do what you can. Something is better than nothing!

Walk/Hike Full Body Strength Circuit

  1. Squat (15 reps)squat.jpg2. Lunges (15 reps each side)lunge3. Side lunges (15 reps each side) – without a stroller, just reach and tap your foot to the sideside lunge4. Push ups (15 reps)push up5. Single arm plank pulls (15 reps each side) – without a stroller, just reach and tap your hand to the frontarm pull stroller

What is one of your favorite ways to mix up your walk or workout? Share in the comments!