Back Pain, Core Health, Postpartum, Spinal Health

5 Steps to a Stronger Core

Everyone wants a strong core and knows that it’s important.  What most people don’t realize is that having “6-pack” or a flat stomach, doesn’t necessarily equal strong. When I say “a strong core”, I’m talking about muscles that can do their job. The abdominal muscles are meant to decompress the spine, support the organs, provide movement, lower the pressure in the abdominal aorta, help you breathe/cough/vomit, and more. When you have muscles that function properly, you might also end up with a smaller waistline; however, a flat, fit, toned abdomen does not necessarily mean it’s strong and healthy. Plenty of very fit people have diastasis recti, hernias, digestive trouble, and pelvic floor issues. If you are after a strong and functional core, here are a few things you can do to start heading in the right direction.  These things can help minimize back pain, decrease your chances of developing diastasis recti, and recover healthy core function, whether you are pregnant, postpartum, or neither. 

1) Drop your ribs. The rib cage should be stacked right over the pelvis (see photo), not lifted or jutting forward.  Read this post for a detailed description.  This one small thing can have a huge impact on your core strength.  The abdominal muscles attach on the rib cage.  If you are constantly lifting them or jutting them forward, you are undermining their ability to function.

2) Release your belly. Constantly holding tension in your belly also undermines abdominal strength. This can come in the form of habitually sucking in your stomach or constantly bracing/tensing your abdominal muscles. For starters, just get on your hands and knees and try to let your belly relax towards the floor. Allow the tailbone to move up towards the ceiling. Notice any desire to pull your belly back up. Let it relax more. This article talks about why relaxing your belly is so hard.  And this one gets into the difference between sucking in your stomach and activating your TVA.

3) Practice #1 & 2 in everyday life. Once you’ve learned how to drop your ribs and release the tension in your abdomen, start bringing these new habits into everyday life.  Pay attention to them when you walk, stand, sit, drive your car, work on the computer, or hold your baby.  This is a really great post on ways to move better in everyday life to heal diastasis recti. <— IF YOU HAVE DR, READ THIS POST!!

Dropping your ribs and releasing your belly is a great place to start.  Doing those two things will relieve back pain, improve digestion, and increase the activity of your abdominal muscles.  Your abdominal muscles can work reflexively (automatically) now that you’ve eliminated habits that were interfering with this process.  They can now respond appropriately when you move and will become stronger.

4) Move more in everyday life. I’m going to repeat that: Your abdominal muscles can work reflexively (automatically) now that you’ve eliminated habits that were interfering with this process. They can now respond appropriately when you move and will become stronger.  The real gains in strength come when you take your new found alignment and start moving more.  Sitting with your ribs aligned and belly relaxed has its benefits, but your abdominals won’t be very active in this position because there is no need for it when you are sitting still.  They are responding appropriately to your position. When you stand up, they should contract more.  When you start walking, even more. If you walk carrying a baby or a grocery bag, even more.

After my daughter was born, I had a two finger gap both at my belly button and above it .  In those first 3 month postpartum, I walked, stretched and paid attention to my alignment during everyday life;  I didn’t do any “core exercises.”  The gap above my belly button closed completely, and at my belly button it’s down to 1 finger. (Most experts consider a gap 1 finger width or less to be normal.)  I did this intentionally, as a sort of experiment, to see what would happen.  Going up and down stairs, getting up and down off the floor, and doing everyday life while holding a 10lb baby is a lot of work.  I wasn’t “working out”, but my muscles did a lot of work because I was moving.  Honestly, I did a lot of laying around and resting too, especially in the first 6 weeks.  I don’t have a flat stomach, and I still look 3 months pregnant.  My core definitely isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, but moving well and moving more was enough to close the gap and restore function in a relatively short period of time.

5) Take a class.  I know I just got done saying that you don’t need to exercise, but practicing exercises that encourage reflexive core activity are helpful for regaining healthy core function. If you’ve had years of rib thrusting and sucking in the stomach, chances are you have some tension in the trunk and some muscles that aren’t “online”.  Specific exercises to release tension and reconnect with those muscles can be necessary. Here are two options starting May 16th (next week)!

  • Diastasis Recti Recovery Workshop:  Oct 22 // 3:00-5:30pm. Registration and details here.
  • Online Classes:  If you don’t live local, you can do Katy Bowman’s alignment snacks at home. Try “twisting the night away” and “just a dab of abs”.
Back Pain, Habits, Health, Hip/Leg Pain, Sitting, Standing

More Exercise Isn’t The Answer

WHAT?!

I know, I know. Hear me out.

You may have seen this article in Buinessweek that came out a few years ago titled Your Office Chair is Killing You. It focuses mainly on the way that sitting negatively affects the alignment of your spine, encouraging a “C” shape instead of the natural “S” curve, which leads to degenerative disks, neck/back pain, osteoporosis of the vertebra, bulging disks, high blood pressure and about a hundred other things. It also talks about the metabolic changes that occur after prolonged sitting, which increase our risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Sitting in a chair all day make the muscles of the legs very tight, which causes hip/leg pain and significantly reduces the circulation to the lower body. Do your feet or legs get numb halfway through the work day? Now you know why! Tight muscles of the hips and leg are also a huge culprit in back pain because they can pull the spine out of alignment. When you are sitting, your muscles are pretty inactive, which significantly affects metabolic processes in your body.

We all know that it’s unhealthy to be sedentary, but here is the part that is often misunderstood.

“People need to understand that the qualitative mechanisms of sitting are completely different from walking or exercising,” says University of Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton. “Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body.”

Did you catch that? Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little.  If you go to the gym everyday, you may  consider yourself an active or fit person. What you need to understand is that an hour at the gym everyday is not enough to counteract the damage of sitting all day.  That’s like eating a salad for dinner to make up for the fact that you smoked all day.  It doesn’t work like that, right? No amount of kale is going to undo those cigarettes.   The research shows we need to sit less, not just exercise more.

Take this quiz to find out how much you ACTUALLY sit each day. It’s very eye opening.  The first time I did it, I was shocked!

If you are a student or have a desk job, sitting less requires some creativity. Read how to transition to a standing desk here.

This is my new desk that I made recently.  It started out as a $19 baby changing table from the thrift store.  Unfortunately, in my excitement, I forgot to take the “before” picture before I tore off the box part on top. (You know, those side pieces that keep the baby from rolling off.)

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I attached a piece of plywood on top, painted it, and found some cute hardware in the clearance bin at Cost Plus World Market.  A non traditional desk doesn’t have to be expensive or ugly!

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I like to multi task by stretching my calves while I work. My dog likes to be RIGHT next to me all the time. Sometimes it ends up looking like this.

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Just by standing up you will:

  • Increase your metabolism & circulation
  • Use more muscles during your day
  • Reduce hip, leg & back pain
  • Build bone density
  • Decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity & diabetes

It’s not that standing is a magic pill, it’s just a simple way to start reducing the amount of time you are sitting in a chair.  You can swap your chair sitting time for sitting on the floor in different positions and other types of movement.  The goal is varied and regular movement throughout the day.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, meet at a park and take a walk.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Instead of sitting at a desk, try sitting on the floor while studying or working on the computer.  Cycle through different sitting positions.
  • Look for the furthest parking spot instead of the one closest to the store.
  • Stretch while watching TV or reading rather than sitting on the couch.
  • Read Don’t Just Sit There, by Katy Bowman for ways to get in more movement while you work.
Balance, Habits

Paddle Boarding Part 1: What’s Your Default?

We’re in Grand Lake, CO, aka paradise, this week spending time with family and friends before the big move.

the lake

We rented stand up paddle boards this morning and all gave it shot. Of course, like everything, this turned into an alignment education opportunity. When you get on an unstable surface, what is your default position?

This is my sister, Tarah, who is an English horseback rider and trainer, which means she spends a lot of time on a horse. She’s been riding horses for almost 20 years. She is really strong, stable and comfortable in her riding posture. This is how she looked on a paddle board.

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Which is the same posture she holds on a horse. An upright torso, bent knees, wide knees, feet turned out. Straight line from the shoulder, through the hip, to the heel.

TK on stanley

Fascinating, right? When we are on an unstable surface, we tend to go to our default position, the position in which we spend most of our time and are therefore most comfortable. She was able to get into the position that she trains in and use the same muscles, so the activity felt fairly easy. This comes in handy when you’re trying not to fall into a recently thawed lake. For other, non hypothermia inducing situations, we want to work towards being that strong and balanced in every position. When we use all our muscles and joints in a variety of positions, it keeps blood flowing to all the tissues (=oxygen/nutrients in & waste out) and keeps them healthy. Using all our muscles (rather than just the ones we always use) increases our metabolism and reduces our risk for overuse injuries.

To figure out what your default position is, just find an unstable surface to stand on and watch yourself in a mirror. The BOSU is my favorite habit revealing tool!

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Habits, Health

Your Body Tells A Story

books

Welcome to Anthology Wellness, where I will be sharing the principles of whole body alignment for optimal human function, pain relief, and all around better health. I’m glad you’re here! I’d like to start by explaining the title of this blog: Anthology Wellness . . .your body tells a story.

My husband, Matt, and I were on a road trip a few weeks ago. Somewhere between Bakersfield and Sacramento on I-5 (if you’ve been there, you know it’s the most boring stretch of freeway in the state), we were listening to the final album of our favorite band.  It’s appropriately titled “Anthology.”  An anthology is defined as “a collection of selected literary pieces or works of art or music.”  I started thinking about this word, anthology, and how we’re all a collection of our experiences. Everything I have been through has made me who I am today. Who my parents are,  where I have lived, illness I have suffered, adventures I’ve had, travels, friends, jobs, roommates, successes, failures. . . . they have all formed me in some way. We all have a story. (There is a lot of time to think while driving through the arm pit of California.) Then I started thinking about how the same is true for our bodies, though we don’t usually think of it this way. The state of your body today is the sum total of all your movement habits, injuries, accidents, surgeries, births, hobbies. . . . Believe it or not, all these things affect the alignment and health of your body today. Your body tells a story.

Some of the most common musculoskeletal ailments (osteoarthritis, plantarfaciitis, pelvic floor disorders, osteoporosis, back/neck/hip/knee pain…) have mechanical causes, and can therefore, be treated by changing our mechanics. In other words, many of the ailments you’re experiencing are a result of your movement habits and the way you have used your body over your lifetime. This isn’t meant to place blame, but rather to empower you. You can make dramatic changes in your body simply by changing the way you move! Whatever your story is, I’m excited to teach you how improving your skeletal alignment will help you restore your health and prevent future damage!

For more details on how this blog came to be, read about this blog.