Let's talk about pelvic health!
PELVIC HEALTH! Anyone get slightly uncomfortable for a moment? Well, now that I have your attention, let’s actually dive deeper into this today. For those that are around my age and have never had children, I’m sure you can agree with me when I say I never thought about my pelvic floor, like EVER. I thought it was only a pre and post natal thing! That is until the day I injured my core, August 31st 2016. I will save you from the details, but if you want to learn more about my specific injury, feel free to ask me directly!
I was almost 23, a recent university graduate, and a full time fitness professional teaching a class when I hurt myself. That was the moment everything changed for me. If you have ever injured yourself I am sure you can relate, but I now overthink even my daily habits and movements to avoid hurting myself (because unfortunately I am not 100% symptom free today). As challenging as this has been for me, personally and professionally, I have gained a superior appreciation for all things core, pelvic floor, and pre/post natal health and education. I have learned to appreciate where I am at and the abilities my body does have.
Have you ever thought about your core and pelvic floor before? I want to give you a brief anatomy lesson just so we can fully understand where I am coming from.
Basically we have an inner core unit and an outer core unit. The outer core is the 6-pack, the visible muscles we think of when trying to “get abs,” whereas the inner core unit is often more difficult to connect to and cannot necessarily be seen. The hard part to grasp is that we need the inner core unit functioning well to give us stability to perform the core exercises most of us seek that typically target the outer core muscles.
The inner core unit, or Core 4, includes: pelvic floor, transversus abdomens (TA), diaphragm, and multifidus. Before going to my pelvic floor physiotherapist, I quite honestly really only ever thought about my TA and admittedly can’t say I was the best at activating it. When you’re young, injury free, and feel strong physically, you don’t question how you are doing things until there becomes dysfunction, difficulty or injury.
I am now on a mission to educate every single one of my clients on just how important the inner core unit is, as I think this better serves our bodies in the long run. When I attend classes and see videos online about the ‘BEST ab exercises ever’ I often get frustrated. Of course the moves shown in combination will make us feel sore the next day and think we are doing great things for the core…but in the long run, pelvic floor dysfunction, low back pain, and other core and pelvic issues can arise.
My top tips when navigating core workouts:
Less is more! If you feel low back, hip flexors, or other body parts that aren’t supposed to be felt when performing the exercise, regress! All too often we think taking the most intense options will allow us to really feel the core. The reality is, if your low back hurts and you add the next step to the exercise, your low back will probably only hurt more. Taking the more basic options can often help us better connect the brain and body to where we need to be connecting. The result is usually a more intense core connection!
Your core is more than just the front. The 6-pack that we strive for (more on this topic another day) is not the only part to your core. The back and sides of our bodies also contain integral core muscles that should not be neglected.
There is more to core than spinal flexion and crunches. I love a good Pilates ab curl when taught and performed correctly, but that should not be the bulk of our core training. A lot of people live in flexion all day, so rotation and extension are extremely valid ways to train the core and counteract the flexion daily sitters do.
Your core works during all workouts and daily movements. When strength training your core is also being tested. Your core is constantly working to help maintain your posture throughout your day - think picking up kids, carrying groceries, etc. Your core has a major role in all of this!
Give Pilates a try! This is not just a shameless plug for you to come to my Pilates class – which, if you’re interested, runs every Wednesday downtown Toronto at 5:45pm. I have personally found a huge benefit to incorporating Pilates into my movement routine. It allows you to better develop the brain and body connection often missing when it comes to core activation. Engaging my TA and pelvic floor has improved immensely from Pilates. Since the class operates at a slower pace, you can better learn how to move well and apply it to your faster- paced workouts and every day movements.
My hope is that I have inspired you to appreciate your core and understand just how important our pelvic health really is. Ask questions, do your own research, and find what works best for your own body to move in the best way possible, pain-free, for life!
Yours in self-discovery,