As some of you may know, I'm expecting Baby #1 (Yayy!!!!!! :D) And as exciting and wonderful as that is, for a few months there growing Baby Peep sure put a crimp on my energy levels, both physical and mental. So that meant only a couple workouts a week and lots, lots, of napping.
And to try and see just how many major life events we can fit in at one time, we got a second St. Bernard puppy, we're buying a house, Pat is working on two For Dummies books--tentatively titled Paleo Fitness For Dummies and Fasting For Dummies -- set to be released later this year through Wiley Publishing, and I've decided to get back to my first love, fiction writing, with the hope of getting draft one of a novel done before our baby boy's arrival at the end of September.
But now that I'm just about in my third trimester (holy crap that went by FAST) and things are settling down (okay, that's a joke, they aren't settling down at all) -- I'm feeling strong, awake, and ready to get back to blogging.
So anyways, I'm back. I'm blogging. But what to blog about? Well, how about a topic I've been reading about in every pregnancy book and hearing about in all my doctor's visits?
Said topic? Developing a strong pelvic floor and doing kegels, aka those things that no one seems to agree how to pronounce.
Key-gels, Kay-gels, tomato, tomahto
Let's get started...
What is the pelvic floor?
The Kegel Prescription
And as soon as you get pregnant -- or are reading about thinking about getting pregnant -- starting to do Kegels is the number one piece of advice, beyond taking your prenatal vitamin.
But are kegels the correct prescription?
Katy Bowman, a human physics scientist, says no.
She's done a lot of work on the subject, and as she is an expert in this sort of thing, I'm going to let the following quote do most of the talking:
A Kegel attempts to strengthen the pelvic floor, but it really only continues to pull the sacrum inward promoting even more weakness, and more PF gripping. The muscles that balance out the anterior pull on the sacrum are the glutes. A lack of glutes (having no butt) is what makes this group so much more susceptible to pelvic floor disorder (PFD). Zero lumbar curvature (missing the little curve at the small of the back) is the most telling sign that the pelvic floor is beginning to weaken. An easier way to say this is: Weak glutes + too many Kegels = PFD.
A kegel is simply a muscular contraction. Thinking of it in another way: it's like flexing your bicep. And if you flex your bicep over and over, would it get stronger? No, not really. But you'd be very good at flexing your bicep (but, hey, maybe that's your thing).
Doing kegels compulsively will not get you a strong pelvic floor. It will get you a tight pelvic floor. Not the same thing.
For true pelvic floor strength, the prescription is simple.
Squatting = A Strong Pelvic Floor
In fact, women in industrialized and post-industrialized nations oftentimes have much more difficult births than those in less modern societies where they have not given up on this natural technique and squatting during labor and delivery is a more normal practice. Plus, when you think about assuming a squatting position during labor, it does make a good bit of sense. You open your hips wide for baby's arrival, and you employ good ol' gravity as your friend and ally.
Of note: the reason childbirth has been more painful for humans than, say, for a cow or dog or any other of Mother Nature's quadrupedal creatures, is that as we stood up and became bipedal, our hips narrowed, making the birth canal more narrow. Squatting helps open the hips back up.
The Squat Prescription
Notice how I say "your" full range-of-motion. A true full squat is ass-to-ankles, but if you can't get to that position quite yet, that's fine. Practice squats, and barring any true physical abnormalities or restrictions, you'll be able to get there.
I recommend squatting in two forms.
1) Sets of weighted front squats (double kettlebells or goblet squats) a couple of times a week (you can vary the set/rep scheme. But starting off with 3 sets of 5 reps is good).
2) Spending as much time each day as you can (working up to 10 minutes total) in a bodyweight squat position.
Squatting should look like so:
Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. If you find your heels popping up, limit your range of motion a little.
Your stance should be about shoulder-width with your feet pointed out slightly (no more than 10-20 degrees).
Keep your chest proud and back straight. This isn't so much of an issue when you are doing an unweighted squat; however, while under load, it is very important not to round your back.
Actively pull yourself between your hips. Don't just sink into the squat.
At the bottom of the squat, pause before exploding back up. Don't bounce up from the squat. This is a grinding movement.
Keep your knees tracking over your feet. Don't let your knees bow inward as you stand back up. This is what makes squatting dangerous for the knees. You can use some cues like thinking that you are riding the horse or trying to push the earth apart with your feet.
Stand all the way up! Just as you shouldn't cut the range short at the bottom of the squat, don't cut it short at the top. Simply stand all the way up -- don't keep slack in the knees and conversely, don't overarch either.
It's important to remember that this discussion on pelvic floor strength isn't limited to pregnant women. It's extremely important for anyone -- men and women alike. And while kegels may not be entirely useless, you'll get more from squatting than from kegels because squatting is a hugely crucial exercise. Crucial to keep your core and lower body strong and mobile.
Got any questions on squats? Or if you have any pregnancy advice, I'm happy to hear that, too :)