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  • Prenatal Water Workouts

    Four ways to stay fit and beat the summer heat.

    Article & Photo courtesy of Well Rounded NY

    As we dive into summer and it’s getting hotter, we start feeling pulled by the desire to hit the beach, splash around in the pool and even just chill by the sprinkler.  Dealing with warmer temperatures is certainly uncomfortable during the summer season, so you’re in luck, one of the best ways to workout during pregnancy is by immersing yourself into the pool.  Swimming is a low-impact physical activity that provides a cardiovascular workout that positively impacts your mobility and blood flow circulation without adding muscular or joint stress to the body. Additionally, immersing yourself in water could help ease common pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, morning sickness, or heartburn.  One interesting benefit with the water is that it really helps us utilize our core muscles in order to stabilize ourselves in the water — which happens to be helpful during pregnancy.  Lucky for us, water workouts are gaining popularity and there are a variety of ways to stay fit with the water!

    1. Aqua Cycling – Cycling adds pressure on our knees, as well as keeps our hip flexors in a flexed position, which could contribute to sciatica pain at later stages of pregnancy.  With the water support, you’ll feel a natural massage and less pressure when you’re pedaling in the water...
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  • What to Expect from Prenatal Yoga

    Whether you’re a practicing yogi or you’ve never set foot inside a yoga studio, prenatal yoga is a fantastic way to stay active and relaxed while you’re pregnant. Many yoga studios offer special prenatal classes with specially trained instructors, and finding a good studio for the duration of your pregnancy is well worth it. Practicing yoga while expecting has numerous benefits both for you and your baby, though it can be intimidating if you’ve never been to a class, or if you’re feeling less-than-poised with your expanding belly. But put those reservations aside and find the nearest prenatal yoga class, after reading about what to expect.

    Prenatal yoga is a low-impact way to stay active. Maintaining your physical health during pregnancy is important, but it can be difficult to stay motivated when exhaustion, aches, and pains take over. Yoga is a less rigorous activity, but it still provides a gentle workout. It’s often a challenge to maintain a safe, healthy weight during pregnancy, and yoga can help you manage that. In addition, prenatal yoga increases your strength and flexibility, which is important for everyday health, and also for childbirth. Practicing yoga also improves your balance and circulation; can help decrease the pains that come with tight, overworked muscles; can help you beat headaches and shortness of breath; and can even ease the symptoms of morning sickness.

    Practicing yoga soothes away the stresses of pregnancy. Pregnancy can be an emotionally difficult time, and we’re always being told to manage stress and “just relax!” Prenatal yoga is a fantastic way to keep calm and cultivate some much-needed inner peace when everything, including your own body, feels out of balance. By centering yourself in the present moment, a yoga class can help you be more mindful, and with the focus on your body, you can create a strong connection to your own self that sticks long after class is over.

    Yoga lowers your blood pressure, the calming effects of which stay with you even after the practice is done. Another perk of joining a prenatal class is that you’ll meet other pregnant women and possibly expand your community to women who are in the same boat as you are.

    Prenatal yoga isn’t the same as your average yoga class. As your body changes and grows during pregnancy, so do your limitations. Many common yoga positions become too stressful for joints and the pelvic area when you’re pregnant, which is why a good prenatal class will go through modified positions. Instructors also usually supply props, like cushions and blocks, to make the poses easier. Stretches are milder and more moderate, and the poses are focused on supporting your body, not pushing it. During prenatal classes, you often find more of an emphasis on breathing exercises and strengthening poses that will help you prepare for labor. The breathing techniques you learn can be used during labor, too, to help you manage your breath and get through contractions.

    No matter your yoga level, you need a renewed focus on safety during prenatal practice. As with many activities, whether new or not, you’ll want to discuss practicing yoga with your doctor. Prenatal yoga is considered safe for most pregnancies, but wait until you get the official green light to do so. During your class, be sure you’re drinking enough water and staying hydrated. Also, this is not the time to try out hot yoga (Bikrim) or other intensive yoga classes; save those for after you’ve healed from childbirth.

    Additionally, if you’re taking a yoga class that’s not specifically labeled “prenatal,” tell the instructor that you’re expecting before class begins. That way, he or she can suggest modifications to poses, or tell you if there are poses you ought to avoid altogether. No matter the class, once you’re out of the first trimester, you’ll want to avoid poses that have you lying on your back. The weight of your growing baby will put too much pressure on your body, and can make you feel sick.

    An important rule of thumb is to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it and don’t push yourself. No one will care if you’re not following the flow down to the exact letter.

    Don’t twist yourself into knots choosing a class. First and foremost, look for classes that are labeled “prenatal.” If you can’t find any, then choose a beginner class and call ahead to mention that you’re pregnant, and make sure you find out how the instructor will accommodate you. If there are several prenatal classes in your area, get to know the yoga studio to figure out if it’s a good fit. Yoga studios can have vastly different vibes, from the fitness-focused to the spiritual havens. Check to see if you can observe a class ahead of time, so you can make a better judgement. Every yoga instructor has her or his own style, and every studio is a little bit different. The most important thing is that you’re comfortable wherever you go.

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  • 5 Prenatal Exercise Myths Debunked

    Over the past three decades, research has shown an overwhelming benefits from exercise during pregnancy.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the specifics of exactly what type of exercise is safe or beneficial, the myths seem equally as overwhelming.  Here are some of the biggest myths explained to help you feel more confident about your ability to exercise for two!


    MYTH 1: If you were not a regular exerciser before, pregnancy is not the time to start.

    REALITY: The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are substantial – including decreased risk of gestational diabetes, fewer pains and complications during pregnancy, a potential easier labor, and a faster recovery.  Exercise during pregnancy has even been shown to improve your growing baby’s heart and brain development!  In fact, the benefits are so great that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends that pregnant women get at least 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity exercise on most, if not all, days of the week. If you were not a regular exerciser prior to your pregnancy, start with simple activities at a moderate intensity that don’t require a big learning curve (walking is a GREAT one!).


    MYTH 2: When exercising, you should avoid getting your heart rate up over 140 beats per minute.

    REALITY: If you’ve heard this one, this is actually an outdated guideline from 1985 when very limited research existed about exercise during pregnancy.  This guideline was actually eliminated in 1994 after research proved that heart rate is NOT an appropriate gauge of exercise intensity when you are pregnant.  This is because there are so many other things going on in your body that cause fluctuations in your heart rate, so your heart rate is often not a true measure of how you really feel.  Today, the official ACOG guideline encourages pregnant women to exercise at a level that feels “moderate” to “slightly hard.”  This level is obviously very different for every woman, and will vary for you throughout your pregnancy.  The best way to gauge the appropriate intensity for your own body is to stay within a range where you feel you could still complete a full sentence out loud.  You don’t want to feel completely breathless.  So ignore those heart rate monitors and start listening to your body instead.  Odds are, if it feels OK, then it is OK!


    MYTH 3: You shouldn’t work your abs during pregnancy

    REALITY: This could not be further from the truth!  On the contrary, proper core training is one of the best things you can do to help alleviate back pain during pregnancy and prepare your body for an easier labor and faster recovery.  The key is to make sure you’re doing the right type of abdominal work.  After your first trimester, avoid exercises lying on your back, and those involving any bending or twisting of your torso (i.e. sit-ups, bicycles, oblique curls, etc.), as these exercises place too much pressure on your external abdominal wall, which already has enough pressure on it from your growing belly! Focus instead on strengthening your innermost abdominal muscle (transverse abdominis, or “TVA”), as this is the muscle that supports your back, and the muscle you use to push your baby out.  Your TVA is strengthened through the action of drawing your belly button into your spine.  One of the best exercises to target this muscle is a simple “TVA Hold.”  To learn how to perform the TVA hold, as well as other beneficial core exercises, see these 7 Moves for A Stronger Core.


    MYTH 4: You should completely avoid running or any higher intensity activity

    REALITY: Despite what you may have heard, you cannot “shake” your baby out of you!  As long as you do not have any joint or ligament issues, higher intensity exercises like running or interval training are typically fine to continue for as long as it feels comfortable.  If you were an avid runner or very athletic prior to your pregnancy, you may find you are able to continue your usual routine for a while into your pregnancy.  Just keep in mind that due to the increased amount of “relaxin” in your body (a hormone that makes you less stable in your hip and pelvic area), and your changing center of gravity from your growing belly, it becomes especially important to ensure you are using proper form.  You may also need to decrease your speed and range of motion.  Finally, as you progress through your pregnancy, your body will be working harder and harder on its own, so you will naturally feel the need to dial down your intensity level.  In short, as long as you follow the #1 most important rule of prenatal exercise, which is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY (avoid exercising at a level where you feel breathless, and stop if you feel any pain, experience any bleeding, etc), you will be fine.  Your body is programmed to deliver a healthy baby and it will tell you if something you are doing is not safe.  


    MYTH 5: You should avoid strength training to prevent injury or joint pain

    REALITY: Actually, NOT doing any strength training is more likely to lead to aches, pains, pulled muscles, and even injuries.  Proper strength has been shown to decrease maternal exhaustion during labor by 75%, and decrease the need for a C-section or forceps by 50%.  It also prepares your body for the many physical demands of motherhood.  The most important muscles to focus on are your innermost abdominal muscle (see #3!), your pelvic floor (to prevent incontinence), your buttocks (to help support your back), your legs (for the many demands of motherhood), and the backside of your upper body (mid/upper back and backs of shoulders) to counteract the rounded-forward pull that often happens from the weight of your growing breasts and nursing.  Just remember that given the increased levels of the hormone “relaxin” in your body (which makes you less stable in the pelvic area), and your changing center of gravity caused from your growing belly, always prioritize proper form and alignment over heavier weights.  If needed, consult with a personal trainer, or even You Tube!  Also, try to choose exercises that keep your pelvis in a more stable position vs. unstable moves like deep lunges. This is why squats are one of the best prenatal exercise moves.  They strengthen all the most important muscles, keep your pelvis in a stable position, and heads up… you’ll be doing a lot of them as a mom!

    Medical Disclaimer:  This information is for healthy pregnant women with no complications or risk factors.  This content is for informational purposes only and not intended to offer medical advice.  Always consult with your doctor first before beginning any exercise program.

    ____

    Written by Brittany Citron, a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, and a pre/postnatal exercise specialist. She is also the founder of PROnatal Fitness,  which offers prenatal and postpartum group fitness classes, personal training, and Diastasis Recti rehabilitation — all developed with input from experts in the fitness, medical, and healthcare fields.

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  • 7 Ab-Rehab Tips Following Delivery

    While it may seem like you will never get your abdominal muscles back after pregnancy, your muscles are actually quite resilient! With the proper rehab, you can absolutely get your core back to its pre-pregnancy (or better!) state. The great news is you can begin your core rehabilitation process as soon as you feel comfortable following delivery, and it is most likely easier than you think.  The following 7 simple tips can help significantly speed up your recovery following delivery, and get you on the right path to safely and effectively rebuilding your core!

      1. Avoid any sort of crunching or twisting movements: These movements place excessive pressure on your already weak outer abdominal wall, which could potentially lead to Diastasis Recti (a separation of the outer abdominal muscle), or worsen it if you have it. So yes, this means absolutely NO sit-ups for quite a while!  Beyond this though, try to avoid these movements in your everyday life.  For example, sit up tall and avoid slouching.  If needed, place back support behind you when seated (i.e. using pillows or blankets) to keep you upright, yet comfortable.  This is especially important when feeding your baby given the sheer amount of time you spend in this position each day!  Another tip is to remember to roll to your side first when transitioning from lying down to sitting up (and vice versa).  Finally, if you need to bend over, do so by bending at the hips – pushing your butt backward and softening your knees to bend forward with a flat back.
      2. Re-connect with your “inner girdle”:To effectively rebuild your core, start by focusing on your largest and innermost abdominal muscle – your transverse abdominis (TVA). This muscle wraps around your entire mid-section from your spine to the front of your abs (like a girdle), and is responsible for basically “pulling everything in” (AKA giving you a lean, flat waistline!), and supporting and stabilizing your back.  One of the most effective ways to begin rebuilding this muscle is by performing these simple, but effective techniques of Belly Breathing and TVA Holds.
      1. Kegels! Kegels! Kegels! The muscles of your pelvic floor form the “floor of your core” and are extremely weak after 9 months of pregnancy and any type of delivery (vaginal or C-section).  Weak pelvic floor muscles can lead to incontinence, bladder or rectal prolapse, and overall core instability.  Kegel exercises can be an excellent way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles – if, and only if, they are performed properly.  Learn the proper way to perform Kegels HERE, and try to perform several sets a day.  Performing one set each time you feed your baby will help you get in plenty per day!
      1. Consider wearing an abdominal splintIn most cultures outside the U.S., it is actually common practice to use an abdominal splint for the first 4-6 weeks following delivery. A splint wraps around your mid-section, and places the stretched out muscle tissue of your abdominal wall in the optimal position to promote fastest healing.  It also helps to support and protect your back while your core is still too weak to do so.  There are many manufacturers of abdominal splints.  We recommend ones from The Tummy Team because they have a variety of splints to fit different needs and body types, and are also a good blend of being appropriately supportive and comfortable.
      1. Squat on the pot! This one may sound funny, but it’s important!  Weak inner core muscles can lead to intestinal issues, which can lead to difficult bowel movements, which most likely leads to forceful and damaging belly-bulging “bearing down.”  If you are having any sort of constipation issue, try placing an 8-12” stool beneath your feet to place your body in more of a squatted position.  This position opens up your colon and allows for easier waste excretion.  The Squatty Potty® can be an excellent tool for this because it adjusts in height, blends in with your toilet, and pushes back under the toilet when not in use.
      1. Get checked for Diastasis Recti: Diastasis Recti is a common condition that occurs in about 30% of pregnancies in which the excessive outward pressure from your growing belly causes your rectus abdominis muscle (or “6 pack” muscle) to partially or completely separate at your body’s midline.  Diastasis Recti can lead to a number of complications, including low back pain, hip or pelvic pain, incontinence, bladder or rectal prolapse, and what looks like a “pooch” in your belly.  Everyone has a bit of a separation in the immediate aftermath of labor, but it should close for most women within 4 weeks following delivery.  So, it is best to wait for a few weeks to check.  Ask your doctor to check you at your postpartum visit.  If needed, you can also perform a self-check.  If you do have it, it is best to correct it as soon as possible to avoid further core damage or injury, and also avoid complications in future pregnancies.  Seek out a physical therapist who specializes in this.  PROnatal Fitness also offers PROnatal Ab-Rehab — a one-on-one rehabilitation program designed to correct Diastasis and strengthen weak core muscles.
      1. Transition properly into core exercises once you are cleared: Once you are cleared by your physician to resume exercise, it is important to follow a proper core exercise progression.  Your core muscles need to be rebuilt from the inside out, beginning with the critical inner core muscles of your TVA and pelvic floor.  Try following the progression of these 7 Moves for a Stronger Core, making sure to master moves in one phase before moving onto the next.

      Brittany Citron is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, and a pre/postnatal exercise specialist.  She is also the founder of PROnatal Fitness, which offers prenatal and postpartum group fitness classes, personal training, and Diastasis Recti rehabilitation — all developed with input from experts in the fitness, medical, and healthcare fields.  Brittany lives in Manhattan with her husband and 3-year old son, and a little girl on the way!

      Medical Disclaimer:  The above information is for a healthy postpartum woman with no complications or risk factors.  This content is for informational purposes only and not intended to offer medical advice.  Always consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

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    1. Relieve Sacroiliac Joint Pain During Pregnancy – PROnatal Fitness

      It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that back pain is the #1 most frequent complaint during pregnancy.  What you may not realize, though, is that there are actually different types of back pain, and understanding what type of pain you have is the key to appropriately addressing it – and getting some relief!

      Sacroiliac (SI) joint pain, one of two primary types of back pain during pregnancy, is actually a very common pregnancy pain that sometimes gets mistaken for lower back pain.  However, unlike the standard lower back pain, SI joint pain is felt lower – usually around the tailbone or upper gluteal muscles – and is typically felt only on one side.  Often the pain is worsened with long periods of walking or stair climbing, and can sometimes create a feeling of “getting stuck” when moving from a seated to standing position. In some cases, the pain can radiate into your buttocks, and even down your leg a bit.    

      What causes it: Your SI joint links your pelvis to your sacrum (the lowest part of your tailbone), and functions to help counteract the pull of your growing belly and resist that lower back arch. However, it’s job is made much more difficult by a little hormone called relaxin — a hormone that increases during pregnancy to basically “loosen up” all the ligaments in your hip and pelvic area to prepare your body for birth.  While this is certainly beneficial for delivery, it’s not so great for your SI joint because relaxin softens all the ligaments that hold it together — making it weaker and less stable.  Add to this the fact that your growing belly continues to pull harder in the opposite direction, and you can see how easy it can be for the SI joint to give, stretch, and possibly become hypermobile — which leads to pain.

      How to prevent or treat it: The following tips can help prevent and/or soothe SI joint pain:

      • Strengthen your inner abdominal, gluteal, and pelvic floor muscles!  This is really the most effective way to reduce SI joint pain.  These muscles help to stabilize your pelvic area (basically counteracting the de-stabilizing effect of relaxin).  So, the stronger these muscles are, the more stability you’ll have in your pelvic region, and therefore the less pressure you’ll place on your SI joint.  In addition to the Belly Breathing, TVA Holds, and Floor Bridges discussed above, incorporate proper Kegels for your pelvic floor.
      • Stay “symmetrical” when sitting and standing: It’s important to keep your pelvis in a stable and even position as much as possible, so avoid sitting with crossed legs and when standing, stand with weight evenly distributed on both feet.
      • Keep weight gain in check: Excess weight puts more strain on the SI joint.
      • Avoid aggravating movements: Pay attention to the actions and movements that cause pain, and try to avoid those movements. Moves that often aggravate pain are things like stair climbing, balancing on one leg (i.e. to put pants on), swinging legs out of bed or out of a car, lunges, running, or even long periods of walking.  Remember to try to keep your weight equally distributed and your pelvis in a stable position.  So, sit down on the bed to put your pants on, swing both legs out of bed (or the car) at the same time, and perform squats instead of lunges (just one more reason why squats are soooo good to do during pregnancy!

       

      Written by Brittany Citron, a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, and a pre/postnatal exercise specialist. She is also the founder of PROnatal Fitness,  which offers prenatal and postpartum group fitness classes, personal training, and Diastasis Recti rehabilitation — all developed with input from experts in the fitness, medical, and healthcare fields. Brittany lives in Manhattan with her husband and 3-year old son, and a little girl on the way!

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    2. Safe Ab Work For Pregnancy – PROnatal Fitness

      Written by Brittany Citron, a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, and a pre/postnatal exercise specialist. She is also the founder of PROnatal Fitness,  which offers prenatal and postpartum group fitness classes, personal training, and Diastasis Recti rehabilitation — all developed with input from experts in the fitness, medical, and healthcare fields. Brittany lives in Manhattan with her husband and 3-year old son, and a little girl on the way!

      Thinking you should avoid any sort of core work during pregnancy because of that bump? Actually the opposite is true. Proper core training during pregnancy can be the key to less pain and injuries during pregnancy, an easier labor, and faster recovery! There is a right and wrong way to train your core, though. Follow these tips to help you strengthen your core in the most effective way during pregnancy. Of course, as with any activity during pregnancy, always check with your doctor first!

      What to Focus On
      The key to proper core training during pregnancy is to focus on your innermost core muscles – with the #1 most important muscle being your transverse abdominis (AKA your body’s “inner girdle”). This muscle wraps around your entire mid-section — literally like a girdle — and is responsible for supporting your back (which means less low back pain!) and stabilizing your entire body (which means less chance for pregnancy-induced pains and injuries).

      It’s also the muscle you’ll use to push your baby out (which could mean an easier labor with less chance of needing a C-section). Beyond all this, the stronger your transverse abdominis (TVA) muscle is, the less likely you are to develop Diastasis Recti (a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle that can often occur during pregnancy).

      The other important core muscles to strengthen are the often forgotten muscles of your pelvic floor (AKA, the “floor of your core”). These muscles form a sling at the bottom of your core and are responsible for not only controlling when you pee, but also for holding up all your pelvic organs — including your uterus, which will expand to about 500 times its original size! Obviously your pelvic floor muscles get a great deal of pressure placed on them over 9 months, which can weaken them — leading to things like incontinence (that accidental peeing during coughing, laughing, or sneezing), or not-fun pregnancy pains like sacroiliac joint pain, sciatica, or pubic symphysis dysfunction. Strong pelvic floor muscles help to stabilize your hips and back, prevent pains and injuries, and of course, prevent that annoying accidental peeing.

      What to Avoid
      During your first 3-4 months of pregnancy, you can typically maintain any traditional abdominal work you had been doing prior to pregnancy, as long as it feels ok. However, once you begin to develop an obvious belly (usually around the 5th month), you should avoid the following 4 things:

      1. Crunching or twisting movements: These movements place excessive pressure on your outer abdominal wall and could increase your chance of getting Diastasis Recti. This means not only avoiding those sit-ups and crunches, but also avoiding crunching or twisting movements in your everyday life! So, try to remember to sit up straight (slouching is crunching!), role to your side first when transitioning from sitting up to lying down (and vice versa), and strive to keep your back flat when you bend over.
      2. Lying flat on your belly: Ok this is a pretty obvious one. You probably don’t need to be told this, as it would be pretty uncomfortable anyway!
      3.  Lying still and flat on your back: Your doctor has probably told you this one. You can always use a wedge or stability ball to place you at more of an angle.
      4.  Full planks (once belly is larger): Planks can be a great core exercise IF you have the strength to keep your core properly engaged (belly button drawing into the spine) the entire time you hold them.  If you perform planks without proper core engagement, they do more damage than good — putting a lot of strain on your back.  If you have good core strength, you may be able to perform full planks for a while into your pregnancy.  However, once your belly is large, it becomes extremely hard to engage your core in a full plank (not to mention your belly gets in the way!).  To modify, try placing your knees on the ground, or pull back to the All 4s hands and knees position.  HINT: When doing any abdominal work, be on the lookout for a vertical “torpedo-like” protrusion (almost like a mountain) down the center of your abdomen.  If you see this, this is a sign of Diastasis Recti, so you’ll need to pull back from whatever movement that causes you to see this (and instead focus on exercises #1 and #2 below!).

      Here’s one exercise to try now: Belly Breathing & TVA Holds.

      Before you begin any core work, it’s important to first master the technique of how to engage your TVA muscle (because any core exercise performed without engaging your TVA is ineffective at best, or potentially even damaging). To practice the technique of engaging your TVA, try this move (or actually combination of 2 moves).

      How to do it:

      • Sit up tall in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, shoulders rolled down and back.
      • Take a deep inhale through your nose, allowing your belly and your rib cage to expand with air (not your chest!). Then, exhale through pursed lips as you draw your belly button back in toward your spine as far as you can – staying lifted and tall.
      • Repeat this “Belly Breathing” technique a few times through slowly (taking 2-3 seconds to inhale and 3-4 seconds to exhale).
      • After about 5-7 slow breaths, take another inhale, but this time on the exhale, hold your belly button into your spine for 15 – 30 seconds. Continue to breathe lightly through your nose as you keep your belly button engaged and pulled into your spine.
      • Work to where you can hold this position up to 30 seconds. This is a “TVA Hold.” As these holds get easier, you can progress to doing them standing, and even while walking.

      For more details on this technique as well as a progression of 6 other highly beneficial prenatal and postpartum core exercises, try these moves for a stronger core!

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