Tag Archives: Bikini Season

The Reason I Avoided Ab Exercises During Bikini Season (Pelvic Floor Health)

Let’s dive into an awkward subject, shall we? In fitness, we’re accustomed to discussing our hamstrings, glutes, biceps, the like. We explore the ins and outs of the large muscles in our body because they’re familiar and frankly, easy to feel (and sometimes see) during exercises. We’re less apt to talk about the small muscles deep in the pelvis because it typically involves discussing the big “V-word”…that’s right, VAGINA. I said it. Now let’s embrace the elephant in the room. 

Many of us are hesitant to talk about incontinence, leaking, prolapse and pains “down south.” We hear that mysterious exercises called “kegels” help, but we wonder whether we’re doing them right or not. Beyond that, we’re left in the dark. We assume that surely, these issues only happen following childbirth or into old age as we decline in fitness, but that’s not the case. Women can suffer from weakened pelvic floor muscles at any age, with or without having given birth, despite high or low levels of fitness, and even when knowing how to perform kegels. Sounds a bit daunting, but fear not… 

Confession Time

Take me, for example. I was at the gym doing a HIIT workout a few months ago when BAM. A gush of fluid rushed out of my “V-word” during a squat jump. I felt my face flush. What the ****??? I scaled down my workout that day and was nervous to run or jump during my next couple workouts. I wasn’t having any more leaking following that incident but I felt an increasing urge to pee, like all the time, for the next few days. And my girlfriends who have road-tripped with me already know about my notorious “tiny bladder” and its pit-stop needs. 

It was about four days later and my body still felt off. My husband and I decided to spend that Sunday evening taking our toddler to the grassy park overlooking Reagan National Airport to watch the planes coming in to land. Our son was giddy with excitement, having seen these planes many times from afar. Everything felt blissful and I was entranced by my child’s smiles. We were walking back to the car to head home when I felt a very sudden and very alarming feeling. It was as if something had fallen out of my vagina. It freaked me the heck out. Big time.

When I followed up with my OBGYN, I was told that my bladder was slightly lower than normal but that I wasn’t even a stage-1 level of pelvic organ prolapse. I was shocked because I thought certainly this feeling had to be associated with a more extreme condition. I was told to go home and do more kegels. That just wasn’t good enough for me, though. As a fitness professional, I know to always question one-stop-shop solutions, even healthy ones like performing kegels more regularly. That just couldn’t be enough, I thought, especially if I’m at a higher risk for developing true pelvic organ prolapse moving forward.

Let me take a step back and give you a little background as to where my body was at the time:

  • It was almost 1.5 years after giving birth to my son and I had recently finished breastfeeding
  • I stayed in shape during my pregnancy and postpartum, and was still regularly exercising
  • I had experienced zero issues with my vaginal health as I returned to pre-pregnancy fitness levels following childbirth – no vaginal tears (wowzers, I got lucky there) and no leaking or issues with bladder control
  • I was confident that I was doing kegels right but, admittedly, hadn’t done them as much following the first 6 months of the postpartum period

I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me at this point in time, so late after giving birth to my son, and with no warning signs. I knew there had to be a professional who could shed more light on the situation…and there was.

The Pelvic Floor 

I met a fantastic professional named Dr. Jennifer Nelson (PT, DPT, COMT, CMTPT) with Therapydia in Washington, DC, and she was the one who helped me get to the bottom of why this could be happening to me…and let me tell you, the answers were completely unexpected, but perfectly logical, at the same time. Here’s why she believed *my case* of near-prolapse occurred:

  1. Overly TIGHT muscles, not weak ones, particularly in my abdomen.
  2. Years of being in the fitness industry, sucking every core muscle in unnaturally, shifting the tilt of my pelvis under muscle tension and creating excess intra-abdominal pressure.
  3. An accident from nearly 10 years ago that caused my left piriformis to stay cramped up, causing a chronic stress on my pelvic muscles (this was something that could only be released through INTERNAL, manual palpation…that’s right, through the vagina).
  4. Caffeine consumption irritating the bladder and causing it to become hyper-reactive and perhaps inflamed (ahem…yes, I confess I was drinking more coffee than I should have been due to normal mom-fatigue). Apparently artificial sweeteners and alcohol can cause similar irritation.
  5. Hormones adjusting back to pre-pregnancy levels following the natural weaning of my son. In other words, breastfeeding hormones can keep joints and muscles more loose and tender, just like during pregnancy, so my body’s sudden, enhanced tightness may have been from hormones acting like a roller-coaster.

Every woman’s experience with prolapse symptoms, whether they’re full-blown or not, is different and brought on by unique causes.

 

Reality Check: Prolapse is Common (albeit not talked about)

While learning more about my own experience with these sensations, I discovered how common pelvic organ prolapse is. Prevalence in post-menopausal women is over 40% and in younger, pre-menopausal women, who have given birth to one child, mild to moderate prolapse has been discovered to be quite common as well. While weakened pelvic-floor muscles are thought to be one of leading causes of prolapse, there is still more being discovered.

 

Running, Lifting & Pilates

There are some researchers who suggest that increased abdominal pressure, created from lots of endurance running, heavy lifting, and/or Pilates and core exercises, contributes to prolapse issues. This begs the question: Are we hurting our bodies through modern exercise?!? 

My thought is that we are doing our bodies GOOD through modern exercise, but that we need to increase our awareness of the excess pressure we create in our core which contributes to the “downward push” of our organs, when not kept in check. We also need to keep in mind that just because contemporary images of beauty align with a flat stomach, devoid of any of the natural roundness which has marked beauty and women’s bodies for centuries, doesn’t mean that standard is right. Modern women are sucking in their tummies at the expense of their vaginas. That’s the unfortunate truth, ladies.

 

How Do Women Prevent Prolapse?

For starters, it’s important not to ignore those good, ol’ trusty kegels. They help maintain the integrity of the small, but oh-so-crucial, pelvic floor muscles. The key is to practice these regularly (I know, I know…not the first thing most women add to their to-do list at the start of each day) and to hold the contraction for the appropriate amount of time; 10 seconds per kegel. Focusing on the release of the muscles from the contraction is just as important as the tightening of them. This is a good rule to apply to gym exercises too.

Another way to stay on top of preventing prolapse is to take a gradual approach to getting back into shape following childbirth. Upcoming app Matriarc is a great place to start. It helps women regain fitness during the postpartum period with a heavy focus on SAFE core and pelvic exercises.

Additionally, allowing the stomach to be soft and relaxed, in its natural state, is important. Frankly, it sucks to think about the damage our egos (mine included) could be causing to our bodies. So, let’s all be confident women in the shapes we possess rather than twisting and contorting (and sucking in) to conform to society’s “norms.” Our bodies are pretty awesome without all the [intra-abdominal] pressure. 😉

*Please note that this list of suggestions is not all-inclusive. If you’re concerned about your risk of pelvic organ prolapse or are experiencing leaking, incontinence or a feeling of pressure in your vagina, please contact your OBGYN right away.* 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

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Boudoir Lessons for Bikini Season

Beach Body

So, I have a confession to make. Back in March, I decided to embark on a mission to discover how Victoria’s Secret models feel when they’re in a photo shoot wearing…not much. It started as a little oh-la-la present for my husband, who travels four days out of the week, but it turned into a full-fledged, top-priority operation [on behalf of my readers]. I sought to discover how on earth someone could feel comfortable in little more than a bikini’s worth of material, and learned way more than I bargained for. No, I’m not sharing pictures, those are for my hubby’s eyes only, but I will share the lessons learned along the way, and the ladies I encountered who are changing the world, one bikini-fearing, underwear-shopping-adverse woman at a time…

When I signed up for a photoshoot with Three Boudoir, I knew I would have to restrain myself from going crazy over the next few months. I’m the type of person who likes to have event specific goals to train for (weddings, bikini season, road races). It’s easy to be motivated by external pressures that have tangible deadlines attached. It gets us tying up our gym shoes a little faster, and choosing salmon and broccoli more often than steak and fries. But, I wanted to challenge myself to refrain from ramping up my exercise and trimming out a few hundred calories every day, in preparation for the photoshoot. I actually wanted to just feel like myself for once. I knew that if I could step into that intimidating environment, cameras flashing, feeling…normal…that I would really put myself to the test.

I have to tell you; I’m SO glad that I did. Upon signing up for the photoshoot, I anticipated that I would be plagued by major stomach cramps from pent-up anxiety and a ten-fold increase in nervous butterflies on the day of. Surpisingly, my tummy only did a small flip-flop or two.

Body Confidence Bobbi Brown

I was grateful to the Three Boudoir girls for the encouraging emails they sent me prior to the photoshoot. I was initially worried that I may have put myself into a queue to be objectified, but when I got their first email, I understood that they were all about empowerment, and that thrilled me. They incrementally boosted my confidence and made me feel reassured about just being my natural self. Here’s a little sample of their enthusiasm: “Give yourself a huge pat on the back. You are brave and fearless. You are about to take on a super fun boudoir shoot that is going to leave you feeling sexy and ready to take on the world.”

Every single email that the company sent me was full of positive language. I’m pretty sure they used “hot,” “sexy,” “gorgeoous,” “amazing,” “brave,” and “beautiful” dozens of times each. Even though I giggled and let the comments slide off of me at first, over time, I started to feel better about myself, and was more excited than nervous. I started to believe in my bravery and beauty. What an even grander benefit than having pretty pictures!

On the day of the shoot, I was overwhelmed by the warmth of the women who helped me pose and look my best. I give myself ZERO credit for being able to strike those poses on my own; it’s hard work! They were encouraging, natural and fun. The time actually flew by. I felt my long-standing intimidation of models, and the unnatural poses they’re photographed in, begin to melt away. I might not look exactly like a lot of models, but I’m me – and that’s pretty awesome. Likewise, for you! 

What made the biggest impression on me though, is that apparently lots of women are more accepting of themselves than I knew. Apparently, plenty of women prefer to leave their simple “imperfections” front and center rather than edited out of photos. The boudoir ladies told me that lots of women prefer to let birth marks and scars show in their pictures. For example, without naming names, they told me that even women who have undergone surgery following breast cancer may prefer to let their scars show, because it’s part of their identity. This fits exactly within a message, on Three Boudoir’s website, that all women can take to heart: “Every single person that comes through our studio has unique qualities that we know exactly how to draw out and capture in photos.” Oh man, I might as well be their spokeswoman with all this good PR! Haha. No, they did not ask me to write this. I prayed for the confidence to share this all on my own.

Done with Guilt, On with Life

Unfortunately, positive affirmations and mood-lifting information isn’t internalized very well by women. Glamour magazine polled 1,000 women, ages 18-40, and found that body image today is actually worse than 30 years ago.  Even though women have been dominating in many professional fields, proving to the world that we should have been taken more seriously long, long, long ago, we’re suffering from a lack of self-esteem more than ever. Why?!? Someone tell us why!!!

According to Glamour, modern women compare themselves more to the girl next door than celebrities. Instead of flipping through magazines a few times a month, as may have been the case 30 years ago, we’re now inundated by at least 1.8 billion, yes BILLION, new pictures posted to social media every day! Since we’re seeing a lot more normal people, we curiously scan the endless images until we find someone that looks like our “ideal body,” and then believe we should and can look like that too.

Nowadays, the thinking is a little like this:

“Oh, I know I can’t achieve a Cameron Diaz or Madonna body. It’s unrealistic because I’d have to be super rich and paying a personal chef and world-class trainer to sculpt that kind of bod. But, my friend Michelle’s recent pictures on Facebook and Instagram make her look super amazing and she’s not a celebrity. She has a child and a full-time job! If she can get a ripped stomach then I can do it. If I can’t look like her, there must be something wrong with me. I have to prove that I can be just as on-top-of-it and slim. Why not, right?”

I’m all for women feeling empowered because of other people’s successes, but comparing ourselves to others is apparently at the core of what makes us dissatisfied. Geesh. What to do?

Here are few simple steps towards feeling your best:

1) Quit comparing yourself to others. Easier said than done, I know. But, you should try anyways.

2) If looking at other people’s pictures makes you feel bad, then place a limit on yourself by monitoring your media browsing.

3) Reinforce positive language about your body whenever the urge to shame it creeps up – aka, fake it until you make it. Positive affirmations breed positive thinking.

4) Exercise – it’s a natural self-esteem, feel-good boost.

5) Give yourself some love. Think about what healthy actions make you happy and do more of them, instead of repeating negative habits or actions that lead to frustration and anxiety.

Bikini Joy

Another fun thing you can do to feel invigorated and ready for bikini season, is treat yourself to some new underwear that will make you feel great and build up your confidence! I recently met a fellow UVA alum, Katie Fritts, who started a company called UnderClub. Katie discovered that many women often don’t toss out their older pairs of underwear and are so pressed for time that they don’t have the mental energy to make a one-off trip to the mall for minor but necessary basics like underwear. Underclub offers women a way to turn this chore into a fun subscription-based service, delivering customized high-quality undies straight to their doorsteps. To accompany the cute packaging with every order, Underclub includes a personalized note for customers; a simple reminder of their beauty or a little something to make them feel good. Love it. 

Whether or not you’re planning to buy chic new undies or a fun seasonal bikini, I encourage you to remember what you love most about your body, mind and soul this summer. You don’t need to be in skimpy stuff to feel worthy or attractive, and you certainly don’t need to be objectified, but you can put on a sleek, sexy, feminine, bold, fun, or classy attitude that makes you outshine the sun. YOU make any little piece of fabric look good. Don’t forget it.  

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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References:

http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/2014/10/body-image-how-do-you-feel-about-your-body/1

http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/2011/02/shocking-body-image-news-97-percent-of-women-will-be-cruel-to-their-bodies-today/1

http://www.threeboudoir.com/

http://www.underclub.co/

 

30 Day Exercise Plan: Surge into Spring

Bloom and thriveFeel free to call it a 30 day workout plan, a 30 day bust it to bikini season, a revamp of your fitness, whatever. Call it what you like! I only ask that you take this 30 day plan, and ANY exercise plan, with a grain of salt. There is no one-size-fits-all routine. But, this particular exercise plan will help satisfy a ton of your body’s needs. It is suitable for beginners and advanced exercisers alike, and can be completed in or out of a gym! There are lots of extra suggestions too, for how you can make the routine your own and boost your results. So, get ready to surge into spring. Get ready to thrive!

Below, you will see a 10 day program that incorporates all three energy zones of training. To put this simply, the exercises in this program tap into strength, speed, and endurance training. Why all three?

Strength (or building towards strength) – assists in muscle balance, spinal health, osteoporosis prevention, weight loss, toning, lean mass acquisition, and more.

Speed – short runs, or cardio workouts, with speed intervals, and/or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) will help boost caloric expenditure in a short period of time and may aid in stimulating growth hormone.

Endurance – allows you to workout for a longer period of time while enjoying the benefits of fat burning and reaching an endorphin high.

There are many more benefits to each training zone. These highlights are just the start.

Go ahead, take a look at the example routine below that shows 10 exercise days that will balance your body, burn energy, and make you feel ready for warm weather. This routine should be repeated 3x, from start to finish, during the 30 day period.

Surge into Spring

For more details about how the exercise suggestions above can be turned into actual workouts, see the Beginner (B), Intermediate/Fit (F), and Advanced/Athlete (A) level suggestions below:

DAY 1:

B – brisk walk/slow jog for 45 min

F – 45 min jog/run

A – 45 min fast run with 30 seconds sprinting every 3-4 minutes (one way to do this is to do it once every new song on your playlist)

DAY 2:

B – 30 min lifting upper/lower combos

F –  45 min lifting upper/lower combos

A – 60 min lifting upper/lower combos

DAY 3:

B – brisk walk/slow jog for 45 min

F – 60 min jog/run

A – 75 slow to moderate pace run

DAY 4: REST DAY!

DAY 5:

B – 30 min upper and core workout

F – 45 min upper and core workout

A – 45 min upper and core workout heavy (aim for weights that fatigue you or cause failure within 8-10 reps)

DAY 6:

B – brisk walk/slow jog for 45 min

F – 45 min jog/run

A – 45 min fast run with 30 seconds sprinting every 3-4 minutes (one way to do this is to do it once every new song on your playlist)

DAY 7:

B – 20 min HIIT

F – 30 min HIIT

A – 40 min HIIT

*For more information about HIIT workouts, check this out: How to HIIT

DAY 8: REST DAY!

Day 9:

B – 30 min upper, lower and core workout

F – 45 min upper, lower and core workout

A – 45 min upper, lower and core workout heavy (aim for weights that fatigue you or cause failure within 8-10 reps)

DAY 10:

B – 20 min jog + 5 sun salutations + 3 burpee rounds of 8 reps

F – 30 min run + 8 sun salutations + 5 burpee rounds of 8-10 reps

A – 45 min running – every 6-8 min stop to do a 2 sun salutations and 2 burpee rounds of 8-10 reps *if you become dizzy then save the salutations and burpees for the end of the run

Notes to make this work for you:

  • Repeat days 1-10, 3x
  • As you cycle through the routine the second and third time, note that days 9, 10, 1, 2 and 3 are without a day off, so be sure to manage your energy and plan for a purposeful rest day
  • If you feel overly exhausted towards the end of the five consecutive days of exercise then eat a slightly heavier carb meal or two, to boost energy
  • If, at any time, you feel prone to injury or pain, cease exercise for a few days before resuming and/or contact a medical or fitness professional who can help you
  • Any of the running days can be substituted for low-impact cardio on machine equipment. I have included running suggestions simply because it’s a great form of exercise that can be done both in and out of the gym. Do what is best for you, though
  • Rain day contingency plan (for those exercising outdoors) – swap a run day with a strength day, or email me! I will whip up a routine for you in no time (it’s what I do)
  • Confused about which exercises to select for lower vs upper body? Want to know how to make this work for you? Leave a comment or contact me directly – I won’t leave you hanging if you’ve got questions

Over 30 days, this routine can help you lose anywhere from 2.5 – 6 lbs. Not bad considering that the vast majority of these workouts are under an hour, right?! The general weight loss recommendation for women is typically .5 – 1 lbs/week. We’re right on pace with those recommendations, if not pushing them a little bit because I know that women get extra invigorated once the weather turns warm. That said, we’re not going overboard and trying to lose “21 lbs in 21 days.” Yikes, was an organ removed?! We’re aiming for progress that is manageable for the long term. It’s not fun to feel fabulous in June and “junky” again by July, is it?

These weight loss estimates are only based on these workouts, not on the level of intensity you may bring to the table while doing them. The estimates also don’t take into consideration the calories you continue to burn after your workout. Additionally, these estimates assume that you’re eating for weight maintenance. If you eat a little less than your maintenance caloric level, then you can lose a little more. Even 150 calories less a day can be helpful for weight loss and will ensure that you’re not feeling deprived or swinging between binge eating days and starvation.

Here are a few general suggestions to help improve your diet during your program:

  • Eat veggies at lunch and dinner – this is so crucial for satiety, nutrition, and training your taste buds to appreciate truly yummy, natural, and healthy foods
  • Don’t skip breakfast – c’mon we’ve heard this one since we were 5!
  • Remember to drink water
  • Limit processed sugars/sweets – if you like sweet treats, I’m not one to tell you never to have them – simply try to plan a time of day in advance for when you will enjoy them. This will help prevent you from going overboard and will allow you to focus on the taste and anticipate the enjoyment
  • Try to limit processed foods by planning meals ahead of time and shopping the perimeter of the grocery store (where the fresh stuff is!)
  • Have a back-up plan – carry nuts, an apple, a protein bar, or any healthy snack to help avoid low blood sugar swings and keep up energy (my friends know that I can be quite the soccer mom – snacks are always on hand!)

As you can see, this isn’t reinventing the wheel. We don’t have to struggle to find the perfect routine or the next fitness fad. We just have to put simple actions into motion so that we can have healthy lifestyles that fill us with joy.

Good luck! I’m here if you need me!

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Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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