When I was pregnant I felt as big as a house, a giant house, an apartment building actually. To be fair, it had been used as rental property to three tenants at one time or another. And even though I made a fantastic landlord (clean, non smoking unit, no view but centrally located!), I had no problem evicting each of them in just under our 9 month lease.
Although their stay was relatively short (honestly some days I thought they would never vacate the premises!), none of them left their unit in as good as condition as they found it. The combination of normal wear and tear (ouch!), plus some damages that occurred on moving day meant that to maintain my property value (and my sanity!), I needed to fix the place up!
Our bodies, just like our homes, come in all shapes and sizes and range from new builds to the seemingly condemned. Some require minor repairs, perhaps a fresh coat of paint for curb appeal while others, like mine, include cracks in the foundation and a leak in the basement. Regardless of the size of your home renovation project, all you need are the right plans, tools (see what I did there?), a little inspection, some labour (too soon?) and if you need it, the right contractor to get you up to code and make you feel RIGHT in your home!
The Home Inspection: Let me be your contractor!
Engineer know to view the whole house first to determine which areas need to be a priority. They do not paint the shutters before adding support beams in the basement.They also know when to do the work themselves or when to go to the pros! It is important to think integratively when addressing your body as well. A great-looking house will still fall down if there are structural damages.
Checking the FOUNDATION
A little D.I.Y…
Self test for Diastasis Recti (no hard hat required)
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, and soles of the feet placed on the floor.
- Place one hand behind your head and allow the weight of the head to fall into your hand, (like a coconut in a hammock!) to provide support for your neck.
- Place the other hand on your belly button, with your fingertips across your mid line.
- Relax your abdominals, (gently breathing in and out helps) and gently press your fingertips into your abdomen.
- Exhale and slowly roll forward encouraging your shoulders to lift off the floor,(this helps determine if your muscles are moving) while you travel your fingertips 3 inches towards your rib cage. Inhale, and slowly lower your head back towards the ground while you travel your fingertips 3 inches below your belly button.
- Move your fingers back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left side walls of your rectus abdominus muscles as you continue to slightly move your ribcage and your pelvis together and apart.
- If at any time you feel a pulse (that is likely your organs) or see a round, hard or painful bulge protruding from your belly button area, consult your doctor.
A Hole in the Wall (do not PANIC! 99% of all women have some separation after birth!)
If you have a separation of more than 2 1/2 fingers, you have a diastasis recti that the medical community agrees needs some attention. DRA is a separation of the right and left sides of the rectus abdominis muscle (think your 6-pack muscle) from the linea alba (line of connective tissue that runs along the front side of the abdominal wall from your sternum to your pubic bone) often seen in pregnancy and postpartum. “A professional assessment will also examine whether or not the sides of the abdominal wall are moving as well as the condition of the connective tissue. If you want to learn more about the anatomy of the core check out befitmom.com/diastasis_recti.html. There are many strategies for retraining your muscles and repairing your diastasis. Don’t worry though, you are not alone! Post partum women require specific core exercises when healing a diastasis with pelvic floor issues and fixing up alignment issues. Luckily, (sippy cup 1/2 full!) this is the hot belly button topic of the day for physiotherapists and personal trainers alike.
There is no concrete (I can not help myself) evidence that certain core exercises can return the abdominal muscles back together completely. All professionals do however agree that there are exercises and activities that can make an abdominal separation worse PLUS are not healthy for the spine or can hinder pelvic floor (the basement!) rehabilitation. This includes ANY FORWARD FLEXION: think crunch or believe it or not getting up from a lying position, regular push ups (without consistent abdominal bracing), yoga poses such as cow pose, all back bends and certain belly breathing (due to the fact that they stretch out the abdominal muscles) and do not forget heavy lifting. Depending on the diastasis, sitting and standing is considered heavy lifting! Before heading back to any fitness or yoga class you must be able to engage the deeper muscles found under the belly button and the pelvic floor muscles. If you lay out the welcome mat…here is where I come in!
Let the Reno Begin!!
Lets begin with the walls, your abdominal walls that is! It is time to find and connect with your deep core muscles. This includes all muscles found between your ribs and just above your knees! The following exercise is known as abdominal bracing and should be performed before any physical activity that involves the core…so everything actually. Stand tall (imagine that there is a string attached to the top of your head and you are being gently pulled towards the ceiling and out of your hips. Lower your shoulders away from your ears. Place one hand over your navel and let your belly go like an uncle at a buffet! Without lifting your shoulders, inhale through your nose, allowing your belly to slightly rise. Exhale slowing like you are blowing up a giant balloon. Imagine there is another string attached behind your belly button and as you exhale your navel is being drawn towards your spine. This is necessary to activate the muscles that were used in labor and delivery. Try to think of the core, not as the front or sides of you but as girdle that wraps all the way around you. Engaging your natural girdle throughout the day ensures that you won’t have to go out and buy one!
Once you have connected with your core you are ready to move on to safe and effective movements. You didn’t think I would forget the exercises did you?
Pelvic Tilt: Lie on our back with your knees bent, feet on the floor about hip distance apart. Place one or both hands gently on top of your belly button (so that you can see how strong you are!). Exhale as if blowing up a balloon as you allow your back to naturally fall to the floor, and simultaneously bend your pelvis up slightly. (Hey, exactly like trying to zip up those too-tight jeans from the 80’s). Think about closing the distance between your hips and your ribs. Inhale and release to start position. Work up to 20 reps.
Hip Bridge: Lie on the floor, with your knees bent, feet on floor shoulder width apart and hands relaxed at your sides with the palms facing upwards. Inhale, exhale and slowly lift your hips up as high as you can,pushing through your heels and allowing the weight of the body to be felt evenly across the upper back. Hold for a 3 count. ( If you feel the back of your legs taking over, pause stretch out the leg and begin again). Work up to 10 reps.
Wall Push Up: FUN FACT the push up was originally designed for the core. Woo Hoo! For many reasons it is the exercise I want my clients, friends and family to master…because it is the coolest on so many levels…except if you have a diastasis or you are not yet able to brace your abdominals while performing one. That is where the wall push up comes in. Stand facing a wall at arms length away. Place both hands on the wall with thumbs in line with the outer line of your shoulder. Inhale and you lower your body in a straight line towards the wall as close as you can go, pause, exhale and then push yourself back to standing, maintain a braced abdominal throughout the movement.
Total Body Extension is a fabulous way to get your cardio on, functionally train your core and get yourself out of your hips! Stand with feet shoulder width apart, bend down with your chest high as if you are about to sit in a chair and touch the floor between your legs, immediately stand up and reach your hands as far away from your body as you can ( I want you to feel as if someone is pulling you to the ceiling), your heels should be off the floor. As quickly as you can, bend your knees and repeat. This is a safe and effective alternative to jumping, running or any plyometric. You will get to fix the walls without damaging the floor…
The pelvic floor muscles are THE FOUNDATION for the body. In a new build, imagine a round mini-trampoline in the play room made of firm muscle. The bladder, uterus and bowel lie on the pelvic floor muscle layer as it moves down and up. Now imagine that one or more babies have been bouncing up and down on that thing and it has begun to resemble a hammock. That’s right, now you have a hammock in the basement! Every time you use it, it gets stretched out and a little looser. Good news. Unlike the hammock, the pelvic floor is a muscle, so you can strength train it, sometimes back to better than new! As your ( fitness) contractor, it is my job to ensure that all of your specific needs be addressed by professionals. Like, the wallpaper guy might not be the best to hire to install the new plumbing system. The smartest way to work your core is to include pelvic floor conditioning, and the smartest way to do that is through a pelvic floor physiotherapist. A physiotherapist will be able to assess your pelvic floor (literally inside and out), show you how to do the exercises properly and treat any problems.
Shelagh Haynes, a local physiotherapist who guides postpartum women to “renovate their rental properties” (ie. rehab their cores and pelvic floors, externally, post-pregnancy and delivery), says to imagine your core as a 3-dimensional unit – it has walls (your abdominal muscles, back muscles and spine), a roof (your diaphragm, or breathing muscle), and a floor (in this case, your pelvic floor, or hammock in the basement). The core works most efficiently when it comes to tension as one unit, incorporating all of these pieces together to provide your midsection with a stable base from which to move. The good news is that you are the site manager who gets to coordinate all the pieces of the project to come together!
Often the most difficult piece to master is that basement hammock – the pelvic floor muscles. Try using this cue (which I first learned from Jessie Mundell of JMG Fitness Consulting http://jmgfitnessconsulting.com/) to connect to the basement:
Imagine you have a blueberry at each of the openings of the pelvic floor (3 for women – urethra, vagina, and anus).
• To contract the pelvic floor: gently close each opening around each blueberry, and draw the blueberries up inside.
• To relax the pelvic floor: allow the blueberries to descend, and release your hold on them to place them back down.
Remember – blueberries are light and delicate – you do not need a lot of force to pick them up or put them down. Coordinating the lifting and lowering of blueberries (ie. contraction and relaxation of the pelvic floor), with the other components of the core, is a necessary part of the postpartum healing process. To guide new Mums to heal from the inside out, Shelagh offers a postpartum yoga program at the multidisciplinary clinic where she works, Ottawa Collaborative Care Centre. For more info on her, or the program, please visit: ttp://www.oc3.ca/postpartum-yoga-program/
When looking for a fitness class make sure the instructors offer a structured program that encompasses a multidisciplinary platform that includes myofascial connections and a detailed understanding of the anatomy and function of the pelvic floor and abdominal musculature. And most importantly, FUN! Do your research, you are valuable property!
Unless you are a Kardashian (and quite frankly I am glad you are not!) there is only so much renovation that can be done. Your home may looked a little lived in, but there is something to be said about a place with history, where amazing things have happened. There may be marks on the walls but they are just a reminder of what you built there. So, of course strengthen, restructure, even resurface but try to enjoy the process and always love the home you live in!