core strength

A Different Body

I knew that things would be different after.

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1 Week Postpartum

Having lost 110 pounds — nearly 10 years ago — I had some loose skin on my stomach. It wasn’t too bad. I think a combination of being 25 years old when I started to lose the weight and the fact that it took me a year and a half to lose the weight made the skin “bounce back” a little easier. But I still had a little bit. It was something I was self-conscious about. Even at my skinniest (143 pounds) I never felt truly comfortable about my stomach. I wore a bikini in Hawaii and it was both scary and liberating but I was never 100% confident when I wore it. It was just the way it was.

Something happened when I got pregnant. I was no longer self-conscious about my stomach. As it grew I also grew to love it. It was something special and wonderful. Even during that in-between stage where I just looked kinda chubby and not quite pregnant yet, I still loved it.

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Now that Logan is here, my body is mine again. Sort of! Things sure have changed and in a lot of ways it feels like my body is that of a stranger’s instead. My stomach is kind of oddly deflated right now. It’s not really about loose skin as much as just being “deflated”. It’s a bit weirdย and it feels like it’s not my body.

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I’m definitely in-between in clothes. Nothing fits quite right. Part of that is the extra pounds and part of that is the deflated stomach issue. So maternity clothes are too big and baggy, my old clothes are too small, the clothes I wore in the early months of my pregnancy sort of fit but don’t look quite right either. Pre-pregnancy I was in a size medium for most shirts, now mediums don’t really fit but sometimes the large sized shirt is too big. I need a half size!

I recently decided to buy some new clothes. I just had to. Breastfeeding = I definitely needed new bras. I bought some new workout clothes that fit a little better. Had to buy a pair of jeans for work (pre-pregnancy I was a size 8, now I’m somewhere in between a 10 and 12 and of course neither size really fits well!). I bought a few pairs of capris, shorts and shirts. Some of them are in a size bigger than what I used to wear, some aren’t. I’m trying not to give the label too much mind, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit disappointing.

It’s just weird not feeling quite yourself. ๐Ÿ™

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15 weeks post partum

Another issue I’ve discovered is that postpartum healing takes time. I knew it would. But to be honest I “bounced back” pretty quickly at first and perhaps went back to some activities to soon? Who knows, hindsight and all that…but I’ve stopped running temporarily. Partially due to the flare-up of my back issues. I am disappointed for sure. I thought I was “Back to Normal” (normal???) and so it is frustrating to see my limitations.

Talking to my doctor about some of the general issues I’ve had she explained that breastfeeding does a number on your body that you just don’t realize. The big one? Theย ligaments are still loose like when you were pregnant. I did not know this. It’s funny–there are a zillion books, websites, blogs, etc about pregnancy and all the shit your body goes through giving birth but rarely do they ever REALLY discuss the aftermath. I know in our childbirth class she whizzed through the postpartum part in 30 minutes and didn’t cover any of the issues I had after giving birth (perfect example: hot flashes? Who knew that was a thing?!?! Thank goodness for Google.).

My doctorย said some of these issues I’ve been having won’t resolve until I stop breastfeeding (come on ligaments! Get back to normal!!). Again, I’m disappointed. I was really looking forward to getting back into running, running outside this summer, and running the two 5k’s I signed up for this fall. It was kind of crushing to realize that that might not happen and I just need to make peace with that and do what my body CAN do. I’m trying not to think about it, or put too much pressure on myself but it’s hard. I was so expecting this all to just happen naturally and I was healing really well and felt okay to get back into fitness.

In addition to my back flare-up I’ve noticed my IT band is inflamed. I haven’t had issues with my IT Band in years (thankfully my runner’s knee hasn’t returned–knock on wood). I am guessing this is related to breastfeeding and ligaments being looser.

So in a lot of ways I am feeling frustrated with my body.

I saw the physical therapist I was seeing last year for my back this week and she said that my back issue is entirely related to being pregnant. My core is gone. The repetitive issue of bending over to pick up the baby, not having core strength due to pregnancy just lead to a back strain. She thinks the IT band flare-up is also related to my core issues (and the breastfeeding thing) so basically it’s all just a “you had no core strength for almost a year injury”. She said that running probably didn’t help–because you DO use your core a lot for running. So I went back to running too soon and should have focused more on core strength in those early days of being back at the gym.

She also suggested I don’t do the ab machines at the gym (she said they are not good for the body), which I stopped doing once my back hurt. She gave me some PT exercises to strengthen my core and I’m hoping that I can try running again soon.

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My new goal is to focus on strengthening my core and doing some low-impact activities. We used to go hiking every 4th of July–we didn’t this year–but I’m hoping we can start that soon. It’s a good, low impact activity we can do together.

I knew things would change, but it’s hard when you feel like you are “normal” and yet…you aren’t back to your normal yet. I keep forgetting that for nearly a year I had limitations!ย So that’s what’s going on in my life right now…healing, strengthening and waiting!

 

Strong to the Core

I received a nice email from a reader that made me want to write a post to answer her question.

“Hi, I am a loyal follower of your blog, and I am wondering if youย would do a post on how you built or currently build your coreย strength? I struggle with injuring my back from simply doing veryย little, and my physio said to build it. So I was wondering if you hadย any tips.”

It’s a GREAT question. Not only is improving core strength important for fitness but it’s important for preventing injuries. There’s a reason that there are so many people with back issues. Since I’m not a doctor or a personal trainer, I can’t give advice. I suggest you see a doctor or personal trainer before starting any new exercise routine–especially if you have a history of back injuries. What I can do is share what I’ve done to strengthen my abs and what Michael has done to improve his own back injury.

Why is core strength so important? Because it helps your WHOLE body. Really, it does! Last year I spent all winter focusing on weight lifting and improving my core strength and by the time cycling season started, I was ready. My core was so much stronger. How did I notice it was stronger? Because I didn’t have fatigue on long rides. When you get tired, your form gets sloppy. It happens in anything–weight lifting, running, cycling…Core strength improves stability, balance and improves your fitness abilities.ย If you’re looking for a six-pack, that might be unrealistic. I know it’s unrealistic for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do what I can to strengthen my core.

The funny thing about the body is that most exercises will effect most parts of the body…think about it. You do squats and that strengthens your glutes, your hamstrings, your quads AND your core. You wouldn’t think core strength has anything to do with say, a running injury like mine…knees and back? How are they related? But everything is. Alignment makes a huge difference!

Most core exercises don’t require a gym, either. So if money is an issue, focus on getting your workouts in at home where it’s free! If you think working on your core means this:

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Don’t fret! It doesn’t have to be that hard. Start small.

Yoga

You’d be surprised at how fit yoga can make you! Not only does it stretch out tight muscles but yoga also helps build strength. Think about the last time you went to a yoga class — how hard was it for you? I know it’s hard for me. I have a hard time with balance sometimes and I also have a hard time holding the yoga poses for a really long time. There have been classes where it seemed like the instructor was in love with Downward Dog. I like Downward Dog and can hold the position for a long time but when it becomes minutes, I struggle.

Some people have lower back pain and that’s often related to tight hamstrings. Yoga can help loosen that up. Upper back pain? Some of those yoga poses that stretch out your shoulders can help with upper back pain. I suggest going to a yoga studio and talking to the instructor about what you want to focus on.

Pilates

I’ve never taken a pilates class but I REALLY want to! My mom got Michael a book with pilates exercises in it for Christmas and I’ve been incorporating some of the exercises into my stretching routines.

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One of these days I’ll actually get to try a pilates class…

Kettle bells

Kettle bells are how Michael fixed his back pain. I’m not sure why it fixed it other than it strengthened his core. I asked Suzanne for her opinion on kettle bells and this what she had to say:

Kettle bell exercises recruit your core stabilizer muscles as you try to control and balance the asymmetrical, and thus, unstable weight. So not only are you burning more calories and getting full-body conditioning with kettle bells, but you’re strengthening your core indirectly. Having a strong core can help prevent back injuries and chronic pain, and using kettle bells is a super effective way to gain strength in those areas. The one-arm kettle bell swing forces you to stabilize your body using your core, so that’s probably my favorite kettle bell exercise.”

I suggest you get a lesson on how to use a kettle bell and get the proper swing down before doing too much. Doing the kettle bell swing can do wonders for your back IF YOU DO IT RIGHT! If you do it wrong, it can make it worse!

Ab Work

I have a few favorites that I do in my normal workout routine for my abs. I want to share some of my favorites with you that have helped me a lot.

Russian Twist: I’ve been doing this one for years and I love it. I’m up to doing it with a 15 pound kettlebell and I need to increase that because I’m no longer sore when I do it. Time to step it up.

Supermans: It’s for the lowerback.

Plank: Planks are hard and I’m trying to do better at doing them. Make sure your form is correct otherwise you can do more harm than good.

Side Plank with Arm Lift: I love this one! It’s easier for me than a regular plank for some reason. My sports medicine doctor told me to do this as part of my PT exercise to strengthen my core and glutes.

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Toe Touches: I do this one a lot at the gym but I add a a kettlebell or medicine ball to it and touch my toes with the weight. I use either an 8 pound medicine ball or a 10 pound kettlebell, depending on what is available.

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Arm and Leg Lift:ย This one is pretty good but when I do it, I don’t really feel much in my abs. What I feel more is a difficult in balancing–which is something I KNOW I need to work on. Balance is hard!

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Stability Ball Roll-Out: This is a new ab exercise for me. Suzanne added it as part of my workout and I really like it! ย I tell ya, after doing this exercise for the first time I was sore for about 4 days.

How Strong Are You?

Ask yourself this question and think about it honestly. My core is okay but it needs work. The strength training I’ve been doing the last few months has helped tremendously but I still have a long way to go.

QUESTION: How do you strengthen your core?