Hi! I'm Sophia - a British born, London trained, Californian living Pilates Instructor, Personal Trainer and lover of all things fitness & wellness. I'm wife to John and Mama to baby Theodore. I workout to keep my body strong and healthy and my (over-worrying anxious) mind calm and focused. My approach to fitness is to listen to my body and move it in a way that makes it feel good - some days this means slow, controlled mindful Pilates and other days this means a higher intensity, sweaty workout! But the main thing underpinning every workout I ever do is good form - moving well means maximising the benefit of every exercise (and workout) reducing the risk of injury and, ultimately, feeling much better in mind and body....'move well, live well' as I like to say!
Anyone who knows me well knows that I LOVE food! I have a semi-serious chocolate addiction and am currently working my way through every Californian Pinot noir and Chardonnay available. To me, living a healthy life doesn't have to mean excluding the things you love; to build a positive, life-long relationship with fitness and food, nothing should ever be considered 'bad' and you shouldn't ever be made to feel guilty about what you ate or the workout you didn't do (rest days are super important!)! Yes, of course, we must consider the nutritional value of our food and make sure that we include as much nutrient-dense food in our daily diet as possible (for optimum energy and health benefits) and, of course, if we become overweight for our height/build then we might need to consider whether we're consuming more calories than we're expending and look at reducing daily calories consumed from certain foods (as well as increasing activity levels to create the calorie deficit required for weight-loss). BUT....if we exclude the less nutrient-dense (but super yummy and soul-nurturing) foods from our diet completely, we will only ever end up wanting them more and (more often than not) will end up developing a very negative, unhealthy (and potentially disordered) mindset towards food. And, let's be honest, food is one of THE most wonderful things about life so let's enjoy it!
My approach to wellness is just as much about my downtime on the sofa with Netflix and a glass of wine as it is about my workout program....I get anxious and overwhelmed pretty easily (even more so since having a baby!) and so downtime is SO important to me for my mental health and overall wellbeing. We moved to the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area last year for my husband's work and I had my gorgeous baby Teddy last summer. So life is currently pretty much all about new Mama life and figuring out how I maintain my fitness and wellness as best as possible now I have my mini-man to look after (without being able to call my Mum to come and save me when I can't cope...argh!). I hope you enjoy my little blog - I don't find the time to update it half as often as I'd like to (I only wash my hair once a week these days so sitting down to write a blog post is nothing short of a miracle!!) but take a peek below for my thoughts and top tips on all things fitness and wellness, including advice based on my recent pregnancy and postpartum journey.
Oh, and I'd love to hear from you - get in touch if you have any questions, requests for content or want to connect or collaborate!
Big virtual hugs, Sophia x
Did you know that during pregnancy, as the baby grows and the uterus becomes heavier, it is the pelvic floor that bears the weight and can drop as much as 2.5cm! Oh and then there's the fact that towards the end of your pregnancy, the baby likes to use the pelvic floor as a trampoline (making the bathroom your new best friend!). So, needless to say, gaining control over your pelvic floor muscles is essential if you want to avoid the wide range of delightful pre and postnatal problems that us women are often faced with such as urinary (and even faecal) incontinence.
But before I talk more about the importance of gaining control over your pelvic floor, let's start with the basics of what exactly is your pelvic floor? Well, first off, the name 'pelvic floor' is a bit misleading really as the muscles of the pelvic floor are actually all slanted at different angles and layers and don't really form a 'floor' at all (yeah thanks anatomy - as if there isn't enough confusion about our lady parts already!). Here comes the fancy technical talk; there's actually three muscles that make up the pelvic floor; the Pubococcygeus, the Iliococcygeus and the Ischiococcygeus. These three muscles connect your pubic bone (at the front) to the coccyx (your tailbone) and your sitting bones at the back and form a kind of layered triangular mesh of muscular support for all of the pelvic contents, the uterus, the bladder and the bowels.
The positioning and structure of these pelvic floor muscles gives them a vital role in carrying the extra load of your growing uterus and baby during pregnancy, meaning that the muscle fibres get progressively weakened. What's more, the huge hormonal changes and fluctuations that happen during pregnancy can also negatively impact the pelvic floor muscles. The other huge factor for pelvic floor damage though is, of course, child birth, especially if you have a long or prolonged second stage of labour with excessive pushing, a large or awkwardly positioned baby, deep tearing or complications leading to medical interventions (such as forceps and episiotomies). Needless to say, it's pretty crucial that we learn to correctly engage and control our pelvic floor muscles prenatally to help us prevent or, at least, manage (as best as possible) the damage.
A well conditioned pelvic floor will not only help prevent those embarrassing pre and postnatal moments like wetting your pants in the middle of a workout (usually wearing your favourite skin-tight bum sculpting leggings and in front of the hottest member of the personal training team!) but it can also help with the labour itself and with the post-natal healing process. Let's just point out here that we've been talking about pelvic floor control or condition rather than strength. Why? Well we don't just want the muscles fibres of our pelvic floor to be super strong but with no elasticity! Like with all, well conditioned muscles, we want our pelvic floor muscles to be both strong and flexible; to work properly they need to have the right amount of tone and length to support us through pregnancy but also be able to adequately relax and allow the baby to come out during labour (without causing tearing or without having to have the dreaded episiotomy!). What's more, being able to correctly re-activate the pelvic floor as soon as possible postnatally will help improve circulation to the weakened muscles and can actually help speed up recovery!
A balanced pelvic floor conditioning program should, therefore, include exercises to engage and strengthen but also release and lengthen. As per my own personal prenatal pelvic floor programme, I advise that you focus more on pelvic floor engagement and strengthening before pregnancy and throughout the first trimester, then focus on activation and relaxation work during your second trimester but focus mainly on pelvic floor relaxation during the last few weeks of your pregnancy (in preparation for the birth!). Postnatally (as soon as any excessive swelling and pain has subsided) you can start re-activating your pelvic floor, focusing on the engagement and strengthening work. It's also important to note that the pelvic floor is, of course, part of your overall core. I like to think of it as the 'floor of your core'! So, its often useful to engage both the pelvic floor and the abdominal muscles of the core in the same exercise to provide a thorough full core engagement (very useful prenatally to help manage back and pelvic aches/pains caused by your constantly changing pregnancy posture). However, sometimes it is also useful to focus purely on the engagement and release of the pelvic floor (to work the PF muscles in isolation).
To correctly condition (and re-condition post baby) your pelvic floor muscles, I advise including a mixture of some pelvic floor/core engagement exercises and some pure pelvic floor exercises in your pelvic floor programme. Usually in any dynamic (moving) pelvic floor exercises you will need to gently engage the whole core to help support and control and safely perform your movement. Here's some of my favourite exercises that helped me maintain a well conditioned pelvic floor during my pregnancy and helped me re-condition my pelvic floor after giving birth to my enormous (9lb9!) baby boy!
1. Sitting pelvic floor engagement - slow into fast
2. Four Point Kneeling pelvic floor engagement with full core connection
3. Four Point kneeling to child's pose with pelvic floor engagement & release
4. Squats with pelvic floor engagement & release
There's no disputing that staying as fit and active as you are able to during your pregnancy provides both you and your growing baby with numerous health benefits. Research has shown that regular exercise throughout pregnancy can help (not only Mama to) maintain a healthy weight but it can also help reduce the risk of baby being born at a significantly larger than average birth weight (known as fetal macrosomia). Staying fit and active will help keep your body strong and conditioned to help you avoid (or reduce the severity of) the aches and pains often experienced during pregnancy such as pelvic/pubic pain, sciatica and back pain. Other proven health benefits include improved circulation, lower blood pressure, improved bowel movements (goodbye pregnancy constipation!) better quality of sleep, reduced risk of gestational diabetes, improved endurance levels and breathing techniques and, ultimately, ensuring that your body is strong enough to get you through (and recover quickly from) the biggest workout of your life...labor!
What's more, regular exercise during pregnancy can have a significantly positive impact on your mental health. During what is a highly hormonal and often stress/anxiety inducing time, regular exercise can help improve mood and energy levels by releasing 'feel good' hormones (serotonin and dopamine) and reducing stress hormones (cortisol).
Practicing certain movements and stretches nearer to your due date can also help encourage your baby into an optimal birthing position, which can contribute to a smoother birth with less medical interventions; helping to bring your baby into the world calmly and positively.
So, we all know how important regular exercise is during pregnancy but during a time of (hormone fuelled) physical, mental and emotional change, knowing what kind of exercise is safe and the most effective can often be very confusing. So here's my top tips for how to exercise safely and effectively during pregnancy:
As you come towards the end of your pregnancy, there's a lot less space for baby to move around and position itself for birth. This means it can sometimes be tricky for baby to get itself into what is known as the optimum foetal position; the ideal position for baby to make an easier entrance into the world (making for a much smoother labor for you Mama!). The good news is that there are lots of very simple, gentle pelvic movements that we can do to encourage and facilitate optimum foetal positioning!
Ideally, we want to encourage baby to get in to a head down and what is known as an occipito anterior (OA) position, which gives the best chance of an intervention free labor and birth (Sutton and Scott 1996*). In this position, the baby's back would be towards the front of your abdomen and the front of the baby's skull would be facing your back ('front to back'). This position helps baby to flex it's head so that the smallest part emerges first, making a much smoother exit (and less pain for you Mama)!
Often, due to pregnancy posture and the lack of space available at the front of your belly and pelvis, baby will get itself into a head down but posterior presentation (the occipito posterior position). In this position, the baby's back would be towards the back of your abdomen ('back to back'). Baby can find it e difult to flex it's head in this position and the wider part of it's head has to pass through the pelvis first, potentially making delivery prolonged and more difficult (often with instrumental intervention to help get baby out safely).
If your baby is not positioned head down, it may be breech (when baby decides to present bottom or legs first!) or transverse (when baby is lying in a sideways position!). Both of these positions add complications to labor and often a caesarean section is recommended for a safe delivery of your baby. If your baby is breech or transverse, take your doctor/midwife's specific advice on how to help turn them into the head down position. Kneeling up and the four-point kneeling position (and gentle pelvic movements in these positions) as well as walking every day can, potentially, help the baby to turn head down. It's also advisable to avoid any squatting after 35 weeks, so that you don't encourage baby to engage in a breech/transverse position.
It's important to note that most babies that are positioned (head down) posteriorly will rotate naturally into the anterior position during the first stage of labor. But there are certain positions and movements that you can practice (in the last few weeks of your pregnancy) that can help encourage baby to turn. These positions/movements help by creating the best angles and dimensions of the pelvis and, combined with the weight of the baby and gravity, can encourage the baby's head to descend and rotate. Here's our top movements/positions:
1. Anterior Pelvic tucks on the fitness ball- sitting tall on the ball with your feet hip width (or wider) apart and your hands on your hips, breathe in to prepare, breathe out to tuck/roll the pelvis underneath you (this is an anterior tilt of the pelvis) and breathe in to release back to a neutral pelvis (sitting right on top of your sitting bones).
2. Pelvic circles on the fitness ball - sitting tall on the ball with your feet hip width (or wider) apart and your hands on your hips, circle your hips around in a clockwise direction (moving through as full a range of movement as feels comfortable for you hips and lower back). Take 6-8 circles in a clockwise direction and then reverse for 6-8 circles in an anti-clockwise direction.
3. Four-Point kneeling position - take your knees underneath your hip joints, your hands underneath your shoulder joints and lengthen your spine. Gently draw (or 'hug') your baby bump up towards your spine to help you activate the deep abdominals of the core and stabilise your position. To find a neutral pelvic position, imagine you have lights on the ends of your sitting bones and shine the lights directly behind you! Try not to allow your lower back to over arch (drawing /hugging bump up towards your spine can help prevent this). Breathe deeply in this position, feeling your sit bones 'open' and widen with each out-breadth (imagining baby moving downwards and out as your pelvis widens).
4. Anterior pelvic tucks in a four-point-kneeling position - in the same (above) position, breathe in to prepare and, as you breathe out, tuck/roll the pelvis underneath you (this is an anterior tilt of the pelvis - imagine you are moving your pubic bone towards your belly button) and breathe in to release back to a neutral pelvis. Repeat x8-10 repetitions. If it feels good for your back, you could then take 8-10 reps of a full cat/cow stretch - rolling the pelvis underneath you and curving the whole spine and then tilting the pelvis in the opposite direction (this is a posterior tilt - imagine you are shining your tailbone lights up towards the ceiling) and gently arching the whole spine (look up and shine your breastbone forwards). Keep the cow stretch very gentle - don't over arch your lower back and you shouldn't feel any pulling in you bump.
5. Four-point kneeling to child's pose - Beginning in the four-point-kneeling position (as above) but with your knees even wider than hip width. then sit back onto your heels, stretching your arms out and feeling length through your spine. Breathe in to gently pull yourself forwards back into the four-point-kneeling position and breathe out to sit back into the child's pose position, feeling your sit bones open and widen every time you sit back into child's pose. Move slowly and smoothly. Take 8-10 repetitions of this movement and then stay in the child's pose for several slow breadths, feeling your sit bones open wide and allowing your pelvic floor muscles to fully release, imagining baby moving downwards and out.
6. Squats - Take your feet wider than hip width (or as wide as you need to accommodate bump and feel comfortable in your hips when you squat) have your feet either pointing forward (parallel legs) or slightly turned out if this feels better for your hips. Breathe in and, keeping the weight in your heels, squat down as low as you feel comfortable and only as far as you can keep your heels down and maintain a still and stable torso. Breathe out to stretch the legs and return to standing. You can use your arms (stretching them forwards as you squat) or leave your hands on your hips and hold onto the back of a chair or a surface if you're struggling to keep your balance as you squat. Please note that we do not recommend squats if you are suffering with any kind of pelvic girdle pain or if you are 35 weeks or more pregnant and your baby is in the breech or transverse position (as you are encouraging baby to engage in these positions).
Other general movement advice
In addition to the above exercises, any gentle stretches that you can do for your lower back and hips as well as walking every day can also help. Walking briskly with a full range of motion can help gently stretch and lengthen the muscles of the lower back, pelvis, hips and legs, lengthening tight muscles in your body (often caused by pregnancy posture) and making space for baby to move into an optimum birthing position.