Friday, August 15, 2014

4 Essential Strength Exercises for Moms

Pregnancy. Childbirth. There are entire occupations designed to help you through these special stages of life. People seem to bend over backwards to give you advice, materials, money, encouragement, physical touch; sometimes unsolicited.


But nobody tells you about how fast everybody clears town once you actually give birth.
Once you exit the tunnel of cheering onlookers to the finish line, the energy fades away, and most people return to the normalcy of their lives. Except you.

Your world is turned upside down. Sleepless nights. Cracked nipples. Sudden bouts of crying; you, not the baby. Doctors' appointments. Waits at the Social Security Office. Pressure to take sides on whether to vaccinate, circumcise or practice Attachment Parenting. It was only 2 months ago you were talking about data reports and PowerPoints, now it's mustard seeds, remembering the 4 S’s, and counting diaper changes. Change indeed.


Before you know it, 3 months has passed. You are amazed at despite how much moving around the
house meeting constant demands of your infant has only resulted in a jello-y mass around your waist. And your back hurts. And your neck. Your life hurts. In fact, you start to wonder if every nursing session it is not milk your baby is extracting, but your life force.





OK, you get the point. One the the biggest life shift is when you have your 1st child, and getting your fitness back on track is very difficult. I am being slightly dramatic for effect, but some of it is spot on. Take heart if you have a new baby- nobody enters motherhood knowing how to do much, and you will find your groove in due time. I know. I have been there. I am very determined and was set on making things work. I don't necessarily endorse being so hard on yourself, but you can benefit from what I have learned.
Losing 'baby fat' is emphasized in our culture, so routines using large muscles that burn fat are glorified. Aerobic exercise has its place in fitness, however, the smaller more humble muscles are usually the heroes in preventing injury and pain, which can be a roadblock to working out in general. I have provided hyperlinks to videos. Here is my list of Essential Mom Strength Exercises:


1. Plank
This is an isometric (static) exercise that will strengthen the tiny muscles supporting the movement of your spine. The movement of your spine is primarily controlled by hundreds of tiny muscles on each vertebrae, not the large muscles. Many back injuries occur because of an imbalance of large to small muscle strength. The plank will help you maintain a healthy spine, AND it will TONE your abdominals, which will prevent your intestines from spilling out and increasing pull on your lower back.


One major cause of back injury is improper lifting. Proper lifting from the ground means getting close to your object, squatting down into the knees, and keeping your back straight. The idea of this exercise is to prepare your body to handle a little bit of IMproper lifting. I am not saying the Superman is an improper technique, however, it brings the weight (your upper body) farther away from your body, increasing pressure on your lower back. Lifting carseats or jerking to catch a falling baby- you will not have time to maintain proper form.

CAUTION: I would like to make a modification to this exercise if you are either a novice or have experienced back pain. Practice this exercise with just the balance portion first. Proceed to do the Superman carefully; Notice how John's arms and leg are parallel with the ground. Test the waters by simply starting this movement. Think 1 inch at a time. When you begin to notice your body working to hold form, practice this position for a couple weeks at a time before you move out 1 more inch.


3. Single-Leg Deadlift
Similar to the Superman, the Deadlift's intention is to prepare your back to do heavier ‘picking up’ activities (and believe me, you’ll be doing some picking up for the next few years). Ideally, you would utilize a proper squat position for picking up baby or heavier items. But again, it is good to train your body for the unexpected.


Oh, don't be scared. :) Your diaphragm is the almost untouchable muscle that lies underneath your ribcage and uses vacuum pressure to draw air into your lungs. You obviously need this muscle to get oxygen. Breathing is automatic, but stress can draw our shoulders into our necks, overworking the neck muscles and underworking the diaphragm; leaving you with shallow inhalation. If you haven’t noticed, having a new (or old) baby can be stressful. Strengthening your diaphragm will help you regain energy during the day, think more clearly and make you a happier mom.
I add an emphasis on the Eccentric aspect of Exhalation- meaning, training your Diaphragm to release slowly. When you take a nice slow deep breath down, don't let your abdominals snap the Diaphragm back up- slowly let your Diaphragm return to a rested position. Do a test to see what your breathing is like- how many seconds do you naturally inhale and exhale? Where do you feel tightness? Do any muscles feel shaky or weak? Pin point what is challenging and focus on that, and breathing will be a breeze!


End Notes: Even if you do a few of these a few times a week, I believe you will have positive results. I hope these quick exercises brighten your day and give you fitness inspiration. Feel free to post questions or comments!

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