Why do Pilates?

I have been purposely practicing movement since I was a child. From the age of five doing acrobatics and ballet to aerobics (think bright purple unitard with leg warmers) at my local community centres in my teens.

I have always loved movement so deciding to become a fitness professional in my 20s was a no brainer. 

In my 20s, while personal training my Toronto clientele, I also trained as an endurance athlete, and also in my early 30s when my children were little. I moved into heavy weight lifting in my late 30s. During these years I always practiced yoga as a recovery method, balancing my other activities and trying to stay injury free. 

In my mid-40s, I found Barre, and have enjoyed the amazing transformation in my body. And then recently, about one year ago, I discovered Pilates. I immediately fell in love with the practice. I found the articulation of the spine (flexion, extension, rotation, and side flexion) fascinating. In yoga, we mainly keep the spine straight and long; whereas, in Pilates the spine is meant to move in every direction for the health of the body. 

Pilates exercises increase strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance, and correct alignment (posture), which helps prevent injuries and corrects poor movement patterns. Why? Pilates mainly uses our intrinsic muscles: the deep most layers closest to the bones, basically the muscles that support the skeleton. 

In Pilates we work from the inside out. Normally people train their extrinsic muscles only, the superficial muscles that we have right under our skin. When we only train those extrinsic muscles, our intrinsic muscles often don’t activate properly. If those deep core muscles aren’t activated, our bodies are not being supported as they should which often leads to injury and pain.

Learning to move with awareness and control to correctly activate our inner most deep core muscles helps train our outer most superficial muscles properly. Balance and support keeps our bodies safe and functional. Whether you are an athlete, frequent exerciser wanting to stay injury free, someone recovering from an injury, or a beginner wanting to build a strong foundation to become or stay pain-free, Pilates makes the best and most amazing supplemental movement system. 

I offer Fusion Flow classes, which blend Pilates and yoga-style movements. Also, I offer strictly Pilates mat class, as well as, individual reformer sessions.

Below is a you tube link of a 15min sample of my style of a typical beginner Pilates mat class.

Somatotypes

A little while ago I was complaining to my hair stylist. I was complaining about the fact that for the past four weeks I hadn’t been consistent in my workouts because of a serious chest cold that just wouldn’t go away. You remember that nasty chest cough that everyone had in December? During cardio (or really just laughing) would send me into a flurry of deep chest coughing. I could still do weight training, but I thought it wouldn’t be so considerate to be at the gym hacking away spreading my germs everywhere, so I focused on performing light weights at home. 

My biggest complaint was that I was losing weight. And that made me annoyed because I knew I was losing lean muscle mass, not body fat. And that muscle was hard earned. For the past year I trained 6 days a week, lifting 6-12 reps for 3-5 sets, twice a week per body part. 

So here I was in my stylist’s chair complaining about losing weight because I wasn’t exercising. I said something like, “you know when you stop working out and you start losing weight, isn’t that annoying? Knowing you are losing precious muscle mass?”

My stylist contemplates this, and then replies, “no, I don’t know what you mean. I don’t lose weight when I don’t exercise, I gain. Also, I gain muscle very quickly, and it’s hard to lose it.”

A lightbulb went off in my head. Oh yes! That is right! I had just learned in my Precision Nutrition course about the three different body types, or somatotypes: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph. Remember learning about those in high school biology class?

The above is a perfect example of the different somatotypes. I am an ectomorph and I am assuming my stylist is a mesomorph. 

Let me explain some of the differences.

Note: My 14yr old daughter Gwyneth who is a wonderful artist drew the illustrations for those of us who are visuals learners 🙂

Ectomorph’s are normally light and lean, and have longer limbs. They are often endurance athletes, and their metabolism is often on the higher side. They fidget, and are often “busy” personalities.

Mesomorph’s normally have medium builds and are naturally muscular. They have a normally functioning metabolism. They can build muscle fairly easy, and are athletic by nature. 

Endomorph’s are heavier, usually have larger bones, and shorter limbs. Their metabolism is slow and their body loves to store fat. 

Knowing our somatotype can be very helpful when trying to get healthy. 

My body just can’t keep a lot of muscle on it. Which is pretty frustrating as a personal trainer, but if I can embrace this I can work with my body better, becoming healthier and create a functional body where it thrives. Same with a mesomorphic body, being naturally muscular and athletic, that body’s training and nutritional needs will be different than ectomorphic and endomorphic bodies. Endomorphic bodies can also thrive, given the right energy needs it needs to lose body fat and gain muscle. 

Also, in terms of our nutritional choices our percentage of macronutrients will be different depending on your somatotype. 

Ectomorphs tolerate carbs well, so a higher carb, moderate protein, lower fat diet works best for them. Mesomorphs generally do best on a balanced mix distribution of carbs, protein, and fat, so the “Zone” diet -40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat- works well. Endomorphs generally do the best on a lower carb diet, so lowish carbs (25%), higher protein and fat works well for them.

Seven years ago, I tried low carb (under 100g of carbs), and being a Ectomorphic body type that needs a higher percentage of carbohydrates to function properly, the low carb diet completely messed up my thyroid function, whereas an endomorphic body may thrive on a keto diet as their carb needs are much less.

Being Precision Nutritional Level 1 Certified (Pn1), I can help guide you to discovering healthy food choices and appropriate exercises for your unique body type to thrive. Making lasting changes is hard, and that is where being Pn1 certified shines, their coaching model is the BEST for creating lasting behaviour changes to create the healthy body you want. 

Healthy Habits Are Hard to Keep When Stressed

I am a person who likes to get things done quickly. I develop a plan and stick to it, with 110% effort and enthusiasm. It’s been great for achieving goals. But sometimes I wonder, at what price?

As I age, I am noticing how setting my mind on a goal definitely can be beneficial, but with such rigid firmness comes drawbacks, especially depending on how much stress and friction it causes my life.

Stress. Looking up the word in the dictionary, there are multiple definitions, but two definitely stood out for me: 1) importance attached to a thing; and 2) the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another.

The importance to a “thing.” Hmmm, importance on things, don’t like that. “Pressure” and “force.” Another hmmm, just thinking those words invoke stress!

I was recently reading a Precision Nutrition blog post and I really liked Coach Craig Weller’s advice:

(Clients say) “I was doing great with my workouts but then this thing happened and I got stressed / overwhelmed / busy and I stopped.” Coach Craig explains that there’s a reason for this: It’s neurobiology. Research has found that stress literally changes the parts of your brain involved in decision making, pushing us away from goal-directed behavior (“I do this, I lose weight”) in the direction of habitual behavior (“Me tired, me stay on couch”). No amount of lecturing or motivating will break the cycle of a bad habit. (We need to) help clients out of their anxiety, and they’ll have a brain that’s capable of making goal-oriented decisions instead of habitual reactions.”

Interesting, eh? Do you remember a time when you had a goal, but then life got busy and work got stressful and you just didn’t have the mental power to stick with it? Or did you stick with your goal, but were just super grumpy about it all the time?

A good amount of stress is needed to propel us forward, however, too much stress has detrimental effects on our health. So what do we do about it?

Planning ahead for those busy phases in our lives can be helpful. Perhaps something in your schedule has to give until the busyness lowers to normal levels again.

Carving out a small amount of time per day for quiet seems counterproductive, but it can help us cope with stress. I enjoy waking up 30 minutes earlier than the rest of my family for solitude. I have an English Breakfast tea, with my adorable dog Sophie on my lap (when my 90lbs dog tries to sit on my lap, it’s a bit more of a distraction!), and I pray. Whether you make space for prayer, meditation, gentle yoga/stretching, a walk in nature, or reading an inspirational book—it doesn’t matter the activity—what matters most is your enjoyment.

In the ACE Personal Training manual, they devote an entire chapter on mind-body exercise. The ACE manual states “in its most unadulterated form, mind-body exercise is perhaps best characterized by low-to-moderate intensity physical activity performed with a meditative, proprioceptive, or sensory-awareness component.”Proprioception is the sensation and awareness of body position and its movements.

Any level of physical activity can be mind-body, but less intense may provide a preferable platform for cognitive benefits. As the ACE manual states “mind-body exercise can also be described simply as physical exercise executed with a profound inward mental focus”. Yup, that sums it up nicely.

Studies are suggesting that this kind of exercise changes our normal stressful patterns in our brains. Certain muscle-brain pathways carry sensory information from the muscle and joints to a variety of thalamic (regulation of consciousness, sleep, and alertness), limbic (emotion centre), cortical (meaningful perceptual experience of the world) structures in the brain, which form a body-mind conduit, which directly connects muscular activity to the mechanisms of perception and cognition.

The ACE manual states “figure 13-2 depicts the fundamental neuroendocrine ‘mind-body’ interactions involved with meditative and breathwork activities. Two key hormones of behaviour CRH (corticotropin releasing hormone) and ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormones) inextricably bond brain (hypothalamus and higher brain centres) and body (pituitary and adrenal glands) together and play an extensive role in mind-body visceral and cognitive responses. This hypothalamus-pituitary CRH interface is truly the consummate ‘mind-body connection.”

Pretty cool stuff eh? So mind-body exercise can reduce your stress levels in your brain and positively change the way you think.

I teach functional yoga flow. I don’t think of yoga as a spiritual endeavor; it’s just a low to moderate intensity form of physical activity. Yoga is simply body movements linked with mindful breath. I am so fortunate to see the results of its de-stressing properties in my students. At the end of every class all the students have relaxed grins, rosy cheeks, and calm, limber, restful bodies.

But if yoga isn’t your cup of tea, it is not the only option. A walk in nature. Easy stretching. Light bike ride. Strolling on the beach while watching the waves roll in. All have the same effects.

So to keep on track with our health goals we need to be less stressed. To become less stressed means making plans ahead of time to reduce stress when it arises. Even though it seems we don’t have time for those de-stressing activities, it’s actually the opposite, and we need those de-stressing activities to make us more productive in our day to day duties.

Strengthening Your Rotator Cuff Muscles

Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles is integral to keeping your shoulder joint strong and injury free. For a detailed description of what causes shoulder impingement, please visit my blog post on that topic here.

The rotator cuff consists of four small muscles. The supraspinatus is the topmost muscle. It lays across the top of the scapula (shoulder blade). The muscles (laying posteriorly – the closest to the skin) are the teres minor and the infraspinatus. The muscle under the scapula (laying anteriorly) is the subscapularis.

The supraspinatus, along with the deltoid, abducts (lifts up from the side) the arm. The teres minor and infraspinatus externally rotates the arm. The subscapularis internally rotates the arm.

The rotator cuff muscle that gets most injured is the supraspinatus. The muscle I strained was my left supraspinatus.

rounded shoulders = winged scapula

Our rounded shoulders are the main reason we injure our rotator cuff muscles. Most of us have desk jobs in which we sit in a rounded forward posture. This posture causes tight and shortened pectorals (chest) muscles and lengthened upper back muscles. When muscles stay in an abnormally lengthened position, they become inactivated and weak, often leading to an injury when worked. Also, when the muscles around our scapula (the rotator cuff muscles) do not hold our scapula hugging close to our back, this causes them to wing out, which puts stress on the entire scapulothoracic joint, as well as the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint), which also can lead to an injury.

Retract and depress = winging disappears

So to combat this default posture the exercise I suggest is to retract and depress your shoulders, also called “packing your shoulders”. To do this contract your muscles in your upper back to bring your shoulder blades together towards your spine. Along with that movement press your shoulders down. This will slide your shoulder blades down your back. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat. I recommend doing this exercise 3 times, holding 10 seconds each. Work up to holding for longer time frames and repeating this sequence often during the day. Every time you carry anything, use this movement to keep your scapulothoracic joint stable.

To strengthen your external and internal rotators of the arm these next two exercises are very important. To work the teres minor and infraspinatus we need to perform external rotation: fasten tubing to a doorknob or other stationary object, lock your 90 degree flexed elbow into your side, making sure your shoulders are “packed”, slowly rotate your arm outward, pause for 1 second, and then slowly come back to starting position. Repeat 10-12 reps for 3 sets.

To work the subscapularis perform internal rotation. The movement is reversed, as the force on the arm is coming from the opposite side. Start with your 90 degree flexed elbow hugging into your side, making sure your shoulders are “packed”. Slowly internally rotate your arm into the midline of your body, hold for 1 second, and slowly release back to starting position. Repeat 10-12 reps for 3 sets.

I recommend two lateral raise exercises that will help strengthen the supraspinatus, which is the muscle out of the four that gets injured the most. Performing a lateral raise that is 30 degrees forward of the side works the supraspinatus the best and keeps your scapula hugging on your back. Start with your arms at your side, making sure your shoulders are “packed”. Slowly raise your hands, slightly in front of you, thumbs up. Hold 1 second in the up position, and then slowly lower hands. Repeat 10-12 reps, 3 sets.

The next lateral raise is called scaption. With hands starting in front of you and making sure your shoulders are “packed”, raise your hands up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together and depressing your shoulders even more when at the up position. Hold for 1 second and slowly lower your arms.

Another scaption exercise is called Y to W exercise. Lay your torso over a stability ball, with hands by the floor. With your shoulders packed, lift your arms into a Y position, slowly move to the W position, squeezing your shoulder blades together and down your back. Hold for 1 second, and slowly lower your arms. Repeat 10-12 reps, 3 sets.

The last exercise I suggest for the rotator cuff is the prone cobra. This exercise also works your erector spinae muscles (your back extensors, which is part of your core). Lie prone on a mat. Make sure your legs stay in a neutral active position, meaning toes and knees are pointing straight down and the legs are neither internally or externally rotating. Pack your shoulders and lift your torso off the floor, making sure you keep your blades squeezing together and down. Tuck your chin in slightly. Hold for 10 seconds and then slowly lower. Repeat 10 reps, 3 sets.

Shoulder Impingement Injury

Up until recently I was weight training 5 days a week. Using the body split training method. A typical workout week would consist of 75 minute training sessions broken down by body part, like this: Monday: shoulders and abs, Tuesday: legs, Wednesday: chest and triceps, Thursday: back and biceps, Friday: legs. I performed approximately 4 exercises per body part, 3 sets of 6-12 reps, going to failure every time (meaning: you lift weight heavy enough that when you get to the last rep you can’t lift it with proper form – please note then you don’t lift it, because you should only lift with proper form). In addition, I was running 25 minute sprints and participating in 1-2 spinning classes a week. My cardio was mainly high intensity every time.

This is the popular bodybuilding workout plan. I think it’s been the most used model for building muscle for years and years (since the 70s). Because I was so focused on studying for the NASM CPT exam, I didn’t have time to properly develop my own periodization program, and I was just following someone else’s. Speaking of studying, that wasn’t helping either as I would train hard at the gym, not have time to stretch, come home and cook healthy meals for myself and my family, and then hunker down on the sofa and study. I was in a slouch position for the rest of the day.

Needless to say, it was an overtraining injury waiting to happen. And it did. In August, two weeks before my exam I noticed a tight, uncomfortable muscle in my left upper back area. It would come and go, so often I would just massage it a bit and it would be fine. A couple days before my exam it decided to stay uncomfortable all the time, like waking up with a knot in your lower neck area. And then the day of my exam, it rebelled.

The supraspinatus muscle is part of the rotator cuff family. It lies above the scapula spine (top of your shoulder blade) and attaches, along with another rotator cuff muscle, on the head of the humerus (upper arm bone that inserts into your shoulder joint). And mine was so irritated it caused shoulder impingement. Ouch!

My NASM Corrective Exercise textbook writes: “Shoulder impingement syndrome (SAIS) is a common diagnosis broadly defined as compression of the structures that run beneath the coracoacromial arch, most often from a decrease in the subacromial space. The impinged structures include the supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendons, the subacromial bursa, and the long head of the biceps tendon. Repetitive compression of these structures with the overhead motions required of many sports and activities of daily living can lead to irritation and inflammation”.

Wow, you never really know how often you move your arm until your shoulder goes, and then every single moment and breath causes pain.

First thing to do is RICE. Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. That ice felt soooo good. And it helped immensely. I knew I had to keep the shoulder mobile, so I would gently move my arm through the pain.

It took about a week for the intense pain to subside, but it eventually did. And during that time, I reflected on what went wrong. I do what I do best: I researched 🙂

I assumed my age had some responsibility for the injury. In Dr. Nicholas DiNubile’s book Framework for the Shoulder he writes “the wear and tear on body parts and the changes in tissue composition as time marches on. Friction takes it toil and collagen loses elasticity, so most adults over the age of 40 have rotator cuffs that have already started fraying.”

I know my studying posture didn’t help either. I would often be bent over my book, causing my front chest muscles to passively shorten, and my upper back muscles to excessively lengthen. Put in this lengthening position too long, my back muscles had a harder time activating and thus developed a weakness.

Around the same time, I came across a short Joe Rogan youtube video. In it Rogan’s guest, Firas Zahabi, talks about training consistency over intensity. He explains how training less intense—not lifting to failure—helps your body recover faster and so in turn you can train more often. He speaks against beating up your body every single time you are at the gym.

That fueled me to research more. And up comes the topic of periodization. “Killing it” (intense lifting for strength) in the gym definitely has its place. However, it needs to be developed and built around a properly designed periodization plan. Training at that intensity shouldn’t last more than 4 weeks. After that time, a recovery phase needs to happen, so your body can build and repair. Funny thing, I know this. I have known this for 20 years. And for my clients, I always plan for this. But for myself, I love to train hard, and so I was mindlessly following what is popular in the bodybuilding world.

A very popular trainer, Jay Ferruggia, who specializes in increasing men’s muscle size, writes often that the key to success is to train less (3-4x a week), and not always to failure. He writes “there are 7 main reasons people fail to get results: 1) no progressive overload, 2) using the wrong exercises, 3) too much volume—too many sets and reps, 4) too much cardio, 5) too much intensity—always training to failure, 6) low carb diets, 7) not enough rest and recovery”.

Now that my exam is finished I developed a better plan. I am currently on a 3x week weight training schedule, using complexes and large compound moves with upper/lower body super sets. I don’t train to failure each set, but almost to failure—where I stop when I feel like I have 2 more in the tank. I am working hard, smart, and still sweating puddles. I am amazed at the results! My goal is to increase muscle size (I am tall and skinny by God’s design, so for me to increase too much muscle is impossible), while maintaining or slightly losing my body fat percentage. I feel stronger and more muscular, and a surprising benefit is my core looks flatter and stronger. I love running, so I have kept running 30 minutes 2x week on my off days. For the rest of my cardio time, I walk for about one hour a day. I had to dial in my nutrition a bit more than I had to before. I notice keeping my calories slightly under 2000 is best, focusing on getting 25% protein, 50%-55% carbs, and the rest healthy fats (25%). My supraspinatus still bugs me a little, and I am focusing on building strength and activation in my rotator cuff muscles. I will write a post soon on what exercises I am using to build that.

BMR, and Why It’s Important

I am at that age (early 40s) where I have many family members and friends trying to lose weight. It’s definitely tough for us to stay slim as we age. One of the main reasons is that we have been steadily losing precious muscle since our early 30s. It’s called sarcopenia. On average, physically inactive people lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade, my 6th edition NASM textbook states 5% per decade. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Your amount of muscle mass pretty much dictates your BMR.

Your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the amount of energy expended while at rest. Your muscles burn more calories in order to function, meaning the more muscle mass you have the more energy (calories) your body burns. Pretty cool, eh?

So as we age, it’s important that we exercise. Walking and light aerobics are great for our cardiovascular health (which lengthens our life expectancy), plus it will burn a little extra calories. However, it’s only when we add strength exercises that work our muscles that builds muscle on our bones. Strength training is what changes our body composition— the ratio of lean mass vs our fat mass on our bodies.

Another important factor is our TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). 

Your TDEE is the overall number of calories your body uses on a daily basis, and it’s based on your BMR plus your activity level throughout the day. So gardening, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, walking the dog, parking the car farther than usual, and intentional exercise (like going for a run, strength training, HITT class) helps increase your TDEE.

Then there are our food choices. While it’s true that a calorie is a calorie, it’s not that simple. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy expended above BMR as a result of the processing of food (digestion) for storage and use. Protein uses more energy (calories) to digest than the other macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, alcohol). And while fat doesn’t use the same amount of energy to digest, it doesn’t spike insulin levels, which studies show is an important factor to the weight debate.

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted from your pancreas in response to two macromolecules: glucose (from carbohydrates) and protein. Insulin takes sugar from the bloodstream and helps it enter the cells to be used for energy or to be stored. It also stops glucose from being released by the liver into the bloodstream.

The rate at which ingested carbohydrate raise blood sugar and its accompanying effect on insulin release is referred to as the glycemic index (GI). Carbohydrates are not all equal, they come in different forms: simple sugars (honey, table sugar), starches (oats, whole grains, yams with skin), and cellulose (fibre from the skins of fruits and veggies). When your body consumes too many high glycemic carbohydrates (note: this can also happen when you consume too many calories too many times), insulin spikes trying to stop the influx of sugar in the blood and so puts glucose (energy) into all cells, including your fat cells. This means that if you eat a meal that is high in simple sugars (processed food) your body pumps out insulin in response to hold onto the energy and store it for later. We don’t want that energy stored in our fat cells (making them bigger!) and we definitely don’t want it stored abundantly on our tummy, hips, and thighs!

I was recently listening to a great talk with Gary Taubes and Dr. Mark Hyman. Taubes is the author of The Case Against Sugar. He says that we weren’t designed to eat the amount of sugar we typically consume. His theory is that the overconsumption of sugar is why over the past 100 years people have been getting fatter. It has something to do with the insulin production in our bodies, making it hard for us to lose weight even though we are watching what we eat. About 1 in 3 people in the USA are prediabetic. Taubes highlighted an interesting observation I didn’t connect before: type 1 diabetics (people who don’t produce insulin at all) are very thin even though they eat a lot of food, even 10,000 calories or more, because it’s the insulin production that stores the energy into our fat cells, of which they don’t have any. Type 2 diabetics (those who over the years produced too much insulin and their bodies have become resistant to it) are overweight and have a difficult time losing weight, no matter what they do. He explains that many of us, perhaps even 50%, are genetically unable to eat the amount of sugar we do, which would explain our weight loss troubles.

This is a very complex topic, I have tried to just touch upon the main takeaways. And really what I have presented here only touches the surface of the findings from new research, as health professionals try to figure out what is causing so many people to struggle with their extra weight. But I think we are getting close, which is exciting, and more studies on the effects of insulin may be the key.

Here are some simple things to try:

Strength train 2-3 times a week to build muscle mass. Start with bodyweight exercises first, and then when it starts to feel easy add hand weights to your program. Even better: join a gym and use heavier weights and machines. If you are a woman, please don’t worry about “bulking” up, I try to lift heavy (for example I shoulder press 20lbs for 12 reps) and I find I get thinner, not bulkier.

Cut out processed sugar from your diet. This one is tough, I know! However, eliminating all added sugar will help your weight loss goals abundantly. One of my daughters struggles with insulin resistance, which is the precursor to prediabetes. We cut out sugar last year, and she naturally lost weight and gained more energy, but we think she will always need to watch her sugar intake to stay healthy.

Eat more protein (on average: 1 gram per 1 pound of body weight). This helps keep the muscle you already have, as well as adding more if you begin to strength train. David Heber MD, PhD gives an amazing talk on Doctor’s Farmacy about our need of protein. Note: you cannot gain more muscle if you don’t strength train.

Fill up on veggies. Having 50% veggies on your plate for lunch and dinner helps with a feeling of satiety and adds much needed fiber and micronutrients (vitamins).

Have a small, no/low sugar treat every day. This may seem counterintuitive when dieting but having just a little yummy goodie keeps the cravings at bay. If I don’t have my four squares of dark chocolate a day, I will cheat BIG time later on.

And lastly, this is one I suggest all the time: log your food intake. Doing this gives you an idea on what you are eating and how much. Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

Step 1: weight (lbs) x 10 = BMR

Step 2: BMR x activity factor = TEE . Daily activity factor: very light 1.2 (desk job, not exercising), low active 1.5-1.6 (desk job, light exercise), active 1.6-1.7 (desk job, exercises most days of the week), heavy 1.9-2.1 (physical labour, athlete, vigorous exercise). Example: I weigh 128lbs. 128×10= 1280 calories is my BMR. 1280×1.6= 2048 calories. Which is exactly how many calories I consume daily to maintain my current weight.

Inner Core Stabilization, Diastasis Recti, and Flatter Tummy

Pillow belly. That is what my children called the soft, squishy area between my ribs and pelvis. When my children were little they would take running leaps, head first, into it.

During my pregnancies I developed noticeable diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is the separation of the connective tissue in the middle of your left and right halves of the rectus abdominis, the most superficial abdominal muscle, making it unable to contract properly.

My separation is quite severe. Whenever I have a physical examination with a new doctor, they are always like “Whoa! That is the worse diastasis recti I have ever seen!” I mumble a thanks…

My guess is that I had it slightly even before my pregnancies with my “outie” belly button issue, but it definitely got worse after.

The first picture was taken in the early 2000s, after a triathlon race and a year before having my first baby (notice my “outie” belly button). The second picture taken this summer (2018), twelve years after having my last baby (I like to call my deformed, wrinkly belly button my “third eye” as it sticks out when wearing slim fitting shirts). My diastasis recti is about 3 inches wide and 4 inches high separated at the belly button (with a bunch of stretch marks added for good measure!)

Once connective tissue is overly stretched it can’t go back, which is a bummer. However, while some of us will always have this condition, there is something we can do about it.

Recently my instructor at Douglas College talked about our transverse abdominis (TVA: most deep core muscle) and how sometimes we see skinny girls with bellies. It’s not that they have abdominal fat, it’s just that their TVA is weak and their organs are pushing outward. Shifting the focus to training the most deep core muscles would definitely help “hug” our organs in, which creates a flatter tummy.

When I teach Fusion Flow and Pilates, I usually start classes with Posture Pose, I cue a light “drawing in” of the lower abdominal region, like a zippering up of the lower core. That activates the core stabilizers (muscles that hug around our entire torso), which are so important when we exercise, as well as, during our daily living activities. Having strong core stabilizers will help you perform all your exercises and daily living movements with more balance, less a chance of injury and pain, and have a flatter tummy area (bonus!). Another benefit of exercising those core stabilizers is that is helps fix pelvic floor dysfunction, as our pelvic floor musculature is part of the inner most deep core muscles.

Our core stabilizers consist of the transverse abdominis (deep hugging on our sides), internal obliques (inner sides), multifidus (low back), pelvic floor (attached between pubis and sacrum, the muscles wrap around urethra and anus), and diaphragm (principle muscle of respiration).

Draw In & Zipper Up Exercise

The first exercise I suggest is one you can do in the shower. This one is so effective! It’s the drawing in and zippering up exercise, but it also adds a kegel at the same time. Draw front core muscles in towards the middle and then zipper up the core muscles toward belly button. Hold everything for ten seconds. And when you do it, squeeze tightly. I put my hands on my lower belly to help my mind activate those muscles. Do 3 sets with a 10 second hold, resting for 10 seconds between sets. You know you are doing it right, when you get a nice cramp in that area 🙂

Pelvic Tilts Exercise

The second exercise is pelvic tilts. Lie on your back with a neutral spine (slight arch in low back, pelvis balanced/neutral), with knees bent and feet flat on floor. Place hands on low belly. First move: aim the tip of your tailbone down to the floor, while your belly comes to ceiling (arching your low back). Second move: slowly draw in and zipper up the core while you flatten your low back to the floor, tilting your pelvis the other way. Squeeze tightly and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat for 5-10 reps.

Marching Exercise

The third exercise is marching. Lie on your back with a neutral spine (slight arch in low back, pelvis neutral), with knees bent and feet flat on floor. Draw in and zipper up the core. Lift one foot off the floor only as high as it can be controlled. Your pelvis and low back area should not change position. Hold for 2 seconds. Slowly lower and repeat on other side. Do 5-10 reps on each side.

Leg Lift on Ball Exercise

Balancing exercises are amazing for working the deep inner core muscles. Sit on a stability ball with your feet flat, hip width apart. Back straight. Draw in and zipper up core. Slowly lift one leg off the floor only as high as can be controlled. Your pelvis and low back area should not change position. Hold for 2 seconds. Slowly lower and repeat on other side. Do 5-10 reps on each side. If you do not have a stability ball, you can do this exercise standing.

Joint Pain & Exercise

Several years ago I went through a stressful patch in my life with over programming (driving kids everywhere), too many volunteer commitments, selling/buying house, moving to a new city. And so, amongst all of that I wasn’t taking care of myself all that well: I ate a lot of prepackaged convenience “ vegan” foods, lived on caffeine, often skipped meals, wasn’t consistent with exercising, didn’t get enough sleep or even down time. I was about 8 pounds underweight (when I am stressed I don’t eat). So my health was at an all time low. On top of that I started having severe perimenopausal symptoms: delayed cycles, hot flashes, extreme fatigue, urgency to pee, joint pain. Fun times.

Many of those symptoms were eased by slowing down, cutting out a few programs from the family schedule, making healthy meals at home, eating animal protein, taking a compounded T4 hormone for my hypothyroid. But my joint pain remained. It wasn’t awful, just an achiness in my hands, feet, and knees, and sometimes in my low back. Especially in the mornings.

Another thing I added was lifting weights again. Light at first, 30 minutes 3x week at home. Nine months after that I progressed to the point of needing to join a gym to lift heavier weight. I noticed recently I rarely have that joint pain anymore.

All these years in the fitness industry, I knew exercise helped ease arthritis pain and stiffness, but now I had first hand experience on it, and that felt amazing! I had to research why…

Exercise helps your joint pain by:

  •             Strengthening the muscles around your joint, so the joint is better supported
  •             Movement provides nutrients to the tendons and ligaments, by producing synovial fluid to the joints so they glide smoother
  •             Provides flexibility in the tendons, ligaments, and, muscles, which eases that feeling of stiffness
  •             Helps maintain strength in your bones, weight bearing exercise builds much needed bone density
  •             Expending more energy during the day helps you sleep better at night, better sleep means less inflammation
  •             Being stronger makes daily tasks easier, hence giving you more energy to do other things
  •             Helps you stay lighter, as extra weight on your body puts more stress on joints
  •             Exercise helps balance your hormones, imbalance in hormones can cause inflammation in your joints

The trick to starting is to ease into exercise. People with arthritis should have a medical evaluation before starting exercising.

Begin with range of motion exercises that promote stability and mobility to help with posture, as alignment is crucial for strength training.

Strength training is important for those with arthritis, however start with bodyweight and progress from there, always mindful of proper form.

Moderate intensity aerobic exercise, work on building a solid, aligned body first, then add aerobic exercise, start with low impact please!

Things to Remember:

  •             Keep impact low if you have arthritis and inflammation
  •             Start with body weight exercises
  •             Apply heat to relax your joints and muscles before you begin exercising.
  •             Move gently. Make sure you warm up well!
  •             Be mindful. Proper form is needed, or you might put stress on your joints.
  •             Ice afterwards, if you need.