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
As we finish another week during this strange and anxiety inducing time that we're all living in, how are you feeling mentally? Have you taken the time to even ask yourself that? As someone who has experienced anxiety for over 10 years, I wanted to share some tips that have helped me to understand and manage something which I know can completely consume you and your life when it's at its most severe. Believe me, I've been there; fortunately i've only ever experienced four full-blown panic attacks but I remember how much the first one (aged 24) shook me up. Not knowing or understanding what it even was or where it had come from was the starting point for me to do the work on understanding what had triggered it, what needed to change (both in my life and in my behavioral patterns) and how I could manage my mental health better on a daily basis. I feel so fortunate to be in a position now, aged 35, where, although my anxiety comes and goes as both external and personal circumstances and events in life change, I feel confident in my understanding of myself and my ability to proactively manage it.
There's SO much I could say on this topic but I thought i'd summarize the most important points by saying be KIND to your mind! Stay with me....I have some serious points to make, I promise (and I had to collate my masses of thoughts on this topic somehow!).
K - Know your own mind! This means checking in with yourself mentally on a daily basis and asking yourself how you're really feeling. Just as we notice how we're feeling physically each day, proactively asking and acknowledging to ourselves how we're feeling mentally (whether it's good or bad!) basically helps us feel more in control of something which is very much centered around feeling out of control. Also, how on earth can we work out what we need to do to feel better if we don't even acknowledge how we're feeling in the first place? Oh and side note - if anyone or anything in your life makes you believe your feelings aren't valid.....IGNORE THEM. Your feelings are your feelings and you're feeling them for extremely valid reasons. No one has the right to invalidate them.
I - If you don't want to do something...DON"T DO IT!! Now I know this one is much easier said than done and not always realistically possible (of course there's some things in life that we don't enjoy but just have get on with and do) but when you're feeling super anxious, life can feel completely overwhelming. So it's really important to try and simplify your daily/weekly activities as much as possible and only do what is actually important, necessary and/or something that you actually want to do. Outside of your job, immediate family life and personal wellness, look at what else is in your diary and whether any of it is REALLY necessary. If it's not and it's adding to how overwhelmed and anxious you're feeling about how much there is to fit into life then cancel it! Anyone who is a true and understanding friend will understand (and anyone who isn't just isn't worth your time in my opinion)
N - Never ever ever negatively compare yourself to anyone else. Yes, of course, look to others for positive inspiration and motivation but don't allow yourself to go down the dangerous road of wishing you looked like or had the same lifestyle as someone else. You've read it a million times before but it is so so true that comparison is the thief of joy. Instead, focus on acknowledging and loving all of the wonderful things about yourself and your own life. I know that it can be difficult to see the positives when anxiety hits you hard and clouds your sense of perspective but I honestly believe that practicing gratitude for all that you have in your life is a fundamental part of managing mental health. Oh and sidenote....close/ignore your social media pages whenever you find yourself slipping into those bad habits of comparing yourself to others! I love social media for how it can bring people together and help motivate and inspire but if I ever have a day where I find myself slipping into comparison mode (usually it's a day when I'm feeling anxious) I log out and don't use it that day. That way I can live my day more focused and present within my own life, rather than slipping into the dangerously unhealthy territory of living it through someone else's!
D - Direction in your life is likely to be very important to you (a common trait amongst people who struggle with anxiety). And naturally so..us humans like to have direction and purpose in our lives; it gives us more meaning and clarity in a world which can often feel uncertain and confusing. Direction in our personal life can help give us a sense of control in a wider world which can feel (and often is!) completely out of control. Try this...make two lists; one of all the things that you CAN control and one of all the things you CAN'T control. The first list will be things in your own, personal life and lifestyle and the second list will be things in the external/outside world. Now listen carefully......RIP UP THE SECOND LIST!!!! It's an absolute complete and utter waste of every single ounce of your emotional and mental energy thinking about how you can change things that are outside of your realm of control (easier said than done I know but a really really important one in learning to manage your anxiety). Now look at the list of things in your life that you DO have control over - these might include things like your home, your job (or certain elements of your job perhaps), your health and fitness (your diet, your workout routine), your sleep habits, your behavior and language to yourself and those in your home (positive, kind vibes only please!)...this list is potentially endless. There are actually SO many things within our lives that we have the power to control and working out what those are and how we can proactively make positive changes helps give us an enormous sense of direction within our lives. I promise you; if you're feeling lost, overwhelmed and anxious, looking at things that you can positively change and control within your life will give you the sense of direction that you might not even realize you need. On a much simpler and smaller scale, I also find that a good old 'to do' list gives me that daily/weekly sense of direction that my easily overwhelmed brain craves!
I sincerely hope that even just one of the points in all my above rambling has helped you in some small way but please know, above all, that feelings of anxiety (whilst not healthy if ignored) are very normal, especially in today's highly stressful and uncertain world. Struggling with anxiety does not make you weak or any kind of failure (people that struggle with anxiety are often, in fact, highly driven, high-achieving perfectionist types!). I really hope you can learn to understand your own mental health and what changes you might need to make in your life to help manage your anxiety but please please, if you're struggling to manage it on your own, don't hesitate to contact a professional;. there's absolutely no shame in asking for help in what can be a really complex area of our health and wellbeing.
My final point to make (promise i'm shutting up shortly!) is that, when I first experienced anxiety aged 24, I had almost a year of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which really helped me understand what anxiety even was, my behavioral and thought patterns that were causing it and practical solutions to help me work out how I could manage it. Here's a link to more information about CBT and how it might help you if you're struggling and your doctor should be able to help you discuss any other available therapies that could help.
Sending you all lots and lots of virtual love and hugs and please share this post with anyone you know who it might help xx
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.
Suffer with back pain? You’re not alone; with 540 million people affected globally, back pain is the main cause of disability worldwide. Whether you’ve slipped a disc or are just struggling with a little lower back niggle, you’re likely to be reaching for the pain killers and looking for those quick fixes. And yes, those fixes might work for a little while but, eventually you’re going to have to put down the pain killers and take a look at the root cause if you want to turn your back on that pain for good!
When it comes to back pain, the fundamental thing to consider is postural alignment. Our sedentary, in-active lifestyles mean that most of us end up deactivating our postural muscles and sitting/standing with poor posture over the course of our day. When we don’t hold ourselves in correct posture, our joints move out of their natural alignment, meaning that the joints themselves and the surrounding ligaments and muscles are put under excessive strain. This, over time, can cause joint deterioration, muscular imbalance and aches and pains (hello back pain!)
This is why we need to consider the shape of our own spine! Did you know that a healthy spine is an 'S' shape with three natural curvatures; an inward/forward curve at the neck (cervical curve) an outward/backward curve at the upper back (thoracic curve) and an inward curve at the lower back (lumbar curve)? These natural curvatures work a bit like a coil, absorbing shock, maintaining balance, and allowing range of motion throughout the spinal column. When we lose these natural curves, through sitting, standing and moving with poor posture, we put excessive strain on the vertebrae and the muscles and ligaments surrounding our spine are forced under continuously excessive strain, resulting in muscular back pain. Additionally, the continual pressure on the inter-vertebral Facet joints (yes our spine has joints!) can break down the joint cartilage and cause degenerative issues such as osteoarthritis and the continual pressure on the inter-vertebral discs can cause disc compression, pain and eventual protrusions (slipped disc...ouch!).
To understand how to correctly align your spine, you need to first understand the unique shape of your own spine! You see the natural curves of the spine vary slightly on each and every person! If, for example, you have an extreme lumbar spine (lower back) curve (often referred to as a condition called Lordosis), the likelihood is that you have excessive compression on the vertebrae at the bottom of your spine and that the surrounding ligaments and muscles are overly tight and sore (causing lower back pain). Similarly, extreme curvatures at the top of the spine (in extreme cases referred to as a condition called Kyphosis) often lead to excessive rounding of the upper back and shoulders and excessive strain on the upper back, chest and neck muscles, causing upper back pain. An excessive sideways curve of the spine (known as Scoliosis) can cause misalignments and resulting joint and muscular issues throughout the body and can put serious strain on the spine itself, causing disc issues.
Of course, there are varying degrees of these excessive curvatures and physiotherapists, Osteopaths and chiropractors can be consulted to help you asses your own spine and help provide corrective programmes. Once you understand your own spine it’s so much easier to understand the exercises you should be doing to help you correct and maintain good posture. With a combination of core strengthening exercises to help you correctly activate your postural muscles and mobility and stretching exercises to stretch out the muscles of your back, neck, shoulders, chest, buttocks, hips and legs, you'll help improve your posture and turn your back on pain!
When it comes to improving your performance in fitness or in sport, your core strength plays a vital role. Whether you're trying to lift heavier, run faster, gain more control in your yoga/Pilates practice or improve your sporting performance, good core strength will provide the stability required for improved control, speed and power.
So what exactly is core stability? We tend to think of it as being our abdominal strength but it is, in fact, much more than this. Core stability can be defined as the ability to maintain control of the position of the pelvis, spine, shoulders and head, in order to provide a stable (but not necessarily still) base of support from which efficient movement can be generated. Core stability is a dynamic process; it allows quality movement to be performed with control and fluidity, whilst also ensuring any unwanted movement is avoided. What does this mean? Well, if you want to master
When considering effective core stability we should look at two very important factors; the abdominal muscles that make up the core and the use of breathing in the dynamic process of core stability.
Here comes the anatomical bit (the inner anatomy geek in me has to come out sometimes). So what exactly makes up the muscles of the core? It's easy to think of the core as being just one set of abdominal muscles. Well, would you be surprised to know that your core is actually made up of four different abdominal muscles, the muscles of the back, the diaphragm and the muscles of the pelvic floor (yes your core stability has a floor!)?
The four abdominal muscles are the rectus abdominis (the 'six pack' at the front of the body) the internal and external obliques (the 'side abs') and the transverse abdominis (the deeper ab that lies close to the spine). So why do we have four different abdominal muscles? Well the first three mentioned help us primarily with bending forward or twisting from side to side. They can also assist in helping to stabilise the spine when performing movements with the extremities but the primary abdominal muscle tasked with controlling the spine is probably the least well known and the most misunderstood. The transverse abdominis is the deepest of the abdominals. Because of it's unique alignment (it is positioned side to aside as opposed to the others which are positioned in more of an up and down direction) and because it is the only abdominal muscle to have a direct attachment to the spine itself, it acts as the body's internal corset by pulling the abdominal contents in closer the spine while simultaneously drawing tension through the back to help stabilise the back when performing strenuous movements. Simply put, this deeper abdominal muscle is your muscular corset of strength!
So now to breathing. Breathing and the muscles involved in the breathing process directly impact upon core stability due to the effect that the functional use of breath has on thoracic and abdominal cavity pressure (basically the pressure within your thorax). The diaphragm, the most important muscle for breathing, which separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity, is responsible for increasing intra-abdominal pressure, which is required for stability.
During inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and lowers towards the abdominal cavity. It moves down very little but does so over a large surface area which, in turn, increases the volume of the thoracic cavity. The thoracic cavity volume increases further as the inhalation continues, the diaphragm continues to contract and the central tendon prevents it from lowering any further which, in turn, forces the lower ribcage to expand upwards and outwards. The increased thoracic cavity volume causes a drop in intra-abdominal pressure (so long as the tone of the abdominals is maintained).
During exhalation, the the diaphragm and other associated muscles begin to relax and the diaphragm moves upwards. The clavicles, sternum and ribs drop with the pull of gravity, further facilitated by contraction of the intercostal muscles and the recoiling of the lungs and the tissue which line the thoracic cavity. The result is a decreased thoracic cavity volume (which expels air from the lungs) and an increase in intra-abdominal pressure.
During exhalation, air can be further expelled from the lungs by contraction of the abdominals, particularly the transversus abdominis, the internal and the external obliques. The engagement of the abdominals facilitate the active exhalation process and breathing out can, therefore, be used to assist connection to the stabilisation process
(basically when you breathe out there is a natural/anatomical increase in core stability!). To activate your core stability, the visual of the hollowing/drawing of the 'navel back to the spine' during an exhalation can, therefore, be an effective technique for teaching the use of deep abdominals for core stability. However, it should be noted that, functionally, this stability needs to be maintained during inhalation and exhalation as core stability is a dynamic process.
In addition to the transversus abdominals and the internal and external obliques, the rectus abdominis also directly influences the maintenance of intra-abdominal pressure for core stability. Rectus is the primary flexor of the lumbar and thoracic spine and, in addition to both sets of obliques, is also responsible for providing an antagonistic (opposing) stability role against the movement of extension of the lumbar and thoracic spine (basically the rectus abdominis provides stability during a backwards bending/extension). The obliques also provide an antagonistic (opposing) stability role against the movements of lumbar and thoracic rotation and lateral flexion.
Now for the pelvic floor (urgh never a comfortable subject I know!)! These collective group of muscles and connective tissues that make up the base of the abdominal cavity, play an important role in core stability. The pelvic floor act with the thoracic diaphragm and the abdominals to maintain the intra-abdominal pressure during exhalation. You can think of your pelvic floor literally as the floor of you core!
Anatomical talk aside, hopefully this post has made you realise that there really is a lot more to your core! Next time you're about to tense your abs to stabilise your movement, instead try taking a deep breadth in and, as you breathe out, draw your 'naval back to spine'. Switch on that natural corset of muscular strength!
Now, I've never been pregnant so, of course, I don't actually know exactly how it feels to have your posture dramatically change and your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles stretch and weaken as your baby bump grows. However, what I do know (and what I have had confirmed by many of my wonderful pre/post natal clients) is that Pilates is one of the safest and most effective exercise methods for staying strong, fit and active during your pregnancy and to help you get your pre-baby body back post pregnancy.
Pilates focuses on developing a strong core. Core strength is invaluable because if your abdominals, back muscles, and pelvic floor muscles are conditioned and strengthened they will support your pregnancy and delivery effectively and comfortably. Additionally, once the baby is born, it doesn't take long to get those core muscles back into shape with Pilates. Your muscle memory will kick back in (even after muscles have been weakened by pregnancy) and muscle fibres will quickly regain their strength through basic yet super effective exercises which engage your deep, core muscles through very targeted and controlled movements.
Another wonderful aspect of using Pilates as a method of fitness is that it is very adaptable and flexible. Most of the exercises used in Pilates workouts can easily be modified to accompany a belly, a sore back, or stretched belly muscles that are aching to get back into shape. Modifications are an important aspect of any exercise program because they allow you to do the exercise to gain the benefit, yet work within your present limitations. For example, for some women towards the end of their pregnancy, the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen (Rectus Abdominals) separate (a condition called diastasis recti). This causes a bulge in the middle of the abdomen where the two muscles separate. Post-pregnancy, much care must be taken not to over engage these muscles in this weakened state and to ensure they are not contracted whilst still in this weakened state. Safe, functional post-pregnancy Pilates exercises will focus on engaging the deeper abdominal muscles (the Transverse Abdominals) and not over-activating the Rectus Abdominals until they have returned to their ore-natal state.
My advice to new mummies? Spend the first five or six weeks (at least - longer if you had any complications during your pregnancy) focusing 100 per cent on your new little bundle of joy and getting used to being a mummy! Then, if and when you feel ready to start moving your body again and re-activating your core muscles, then some gentle Pilates matwork would be an ideal place to start! If you are new to Pilates, check in with your doctor or midwife before you get started. You will need to find a good Pilates instructor who can give you some one-on-one time and who will be able to help you make the necessary modifications in order for you to optimise the exercises. If you've never worked with Pilates exercises before, it's best not to try to do it on your own initially. Pilates exercises are very exact, so in order to get the most benefit, get the proper instruction. If you don't have access to a one-to-one instructor, perhaps try and find a specific post-natal group class, which would be ideal for meeting other new mummies as well as learning Pilates exercises suitable for post-pregnancy!
“Breathing is the first act of life and our last..our very life depends on it. Since we cannot live without breathing it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions who have never mastered the art of correct breathing” Joseph Pilates
Inspired by Joseph Pilates (who based his method of Contrology on breathing as the first step to mastering complete control over your mind and body) I am a huge advocate of the power of breathing. I am very passionate about teaching my Pilates and PT clients how to connect their breath to their movement to ensure that every exercise is mindful and controlled. Utilising breath correctly can aid a stronger connection to the deep abdominal muscles (that make up part of your core) which will help stabilise and control your movement. Breathing can, therefore, help provide more power and dynamics into your training. For example, using a strong/dynamic out breadth on the concentric/pulling upwards part of a pull up will aid a connection to the deep-abdominals (Transverse Abs) and help provide power and strength for this part of the movement. Using an inhale on the eccentric/release part of a pull up will help control the lower back down. Breathing also helps enormously with stretching; slowing and deepening the breathing during post-workout stretching will increase blood flow to the muscles and help remove any lactic acid build up. You can use your breath to increase the intensity of your stretches; move into your stretch on an exhale, every time you inhale, hold the stretch and then on each exhale, try to go a little bit further into the stretch, without forcing your muscles.
Breathing can also be an extremely useful tool for remaining mindful and calm during moments of stress and/or anxiety. I, personally, struggle with moments of intense anxiety, often brought on by a busy London lifestyle, rushing around and often feeling overwhelmed by being pulled in too many directions. To manage my anxiety, I practice daily mindful breathing (yes I'm that weirdo on the tube with my eyes closed, breathing heavily!). Anxiety and stress is, unfortunately, a huge part of many people’s lives as we continue to feel the pressure of balancing a successful career with our family and personal life. Take it from someone who once experienced such a severe anxiety attack that I called my manager from the top of ski run to hand in my notice, that breathing REALLY DOES HELP!! How? Well, without going into a scientific thesis, basically practicing slow, deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the system which calms us down) and will reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels. Simply taking a few deep breaths engages the Vagus nerve which triggers a signal within your nervous system to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. So next time you feel yourself in a stressful situation that activates your ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response, stop and breathe! Or even better, introduce daily breathing into your routine as a proactive mechanism for managing stress and anxiety.
Wellness Writer, Alice Muskett, takes us through a simple, effective breathing technique below.
A simple stress busting exercise is to take a few moments to focus purely on your breath. You can do this any time of the day and as regularly as you like - you can even do it in the toilet cubicle at work if you need a quick break from office mayhem. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing that, or just soften your gaze, and focus on your breath as you slowly breathe in and out. You may want to focus on the sensations of air coming in and out of your nostrils, or you may want to put a hand on your belly and feel it moving up and down. You can count 1 as you breathe in, 2 as you breathe out if that helps. Do whatever feels best for you. There's no right or wrong here. The aim is to simply take a mental break. This slows down your thoughts and refocuses your energy. It is a calming, nourishing, exercise that you can use whenever the need arises. For an added boost, silently say 'I am' as you breathe in and 'at peace' as you breathe out.
Check out Alice Muskett's self care blog: The Self Care Life
When it comes to health and wellness, we tend to only think about exercise and nutrition. However, getting enough sleep is also key! It's difficult in our busy lives to get as much sleep as we'd like but maybe after reading this post you'll stop your next Netflix marathon an episode earlier for that extra hour of shut eye! Amongst many others, here are my top reasons for making sleep a priority in your life:
1. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain - studies show that sleep deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to eat more calories. Sleep deprivation disrupts the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones and is believed to cause poor appetite regulation. This includes higher levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, and reduced levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite.
2. Good sleep can maximize problem solving skills and enhance memory - poor sleep has been shown to impair brain function. Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function. This includes cognition, concentration, productivity and performance.
3. Good sleep enhances athletic performance - longer sleep has been shown to improve many aspects of athletic and physical performance. A study of over 2,800 women found that poor sleep was linked to slower walking, lower grip strength, and greater difficulty performing independent activities.
4. Poor sleepers have a greater risk of heart disease - sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
5. Sleep affects glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk - sleep deprivation can cause pre-diabetes in healthy adults, in as little as 6 days. Many studies show a strong link between short sleep duration and type 2 diabetes risk.
6. Poor sleep is linked to depression - those with sleeping disorders, such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, also report significantly higher rates of depression than those without. Poor sleeping patterns are strongly linked to depression, particularly for those with a sleeping disorder.
7. Sleep improves immune function - Getting at least 8 hours of sleep can improve immune function and help fight the common cold.
8. Poor sleep is linked to increased inflammation - sleep affects the body’s inflammatory responses. Poor sleep is strongly linked to inflammatory bowel diseases and can increase the risk of disease recurrence.
Did you know that your booty is made up three different muscles? These are: