Tag Archives: fit moms

10 Ways to Make Pregnancy Physically Easier (Part 1)

I’m right there in the middle of pregnancy challenges, like any other woman on the verge of entering the third trimester. Overall though, I’ve found most of pregnancy (both this one and my first) to be relatively pain free. It’s not that I don’t have discomforts. I do. But I have the tools to address them head-on so they don’t spiral out of control. And I never assume that pregnancy has to be an uncomfortable time in life. It both is and isn’t. There’s so much that women can do to help manage all the crazy, exhausting, frustrating, incredible, unbelievable bodily changes that take place.

*Please take a look at these suggestions if you’re pregnant, planning to be pregnant, or know someone who could use this guidance for their prenatal wellness.*

Oh yea – and skip to the end to learn why I’m diaper bag modeling in all this post’s pics (lol).

 

 

1) Chiropractic Adjustments

The nervous system is fascinating. I recently touched on this subject in my post The Vagus Nerve: Lose “The Last 5 lbs.” As mentioned in that post, nerves innervate our organs. They can also influence hormonal function and inflammatory markers. For these reasons, The American Pregnancy Association recommends chiropractic care for women struggling with fertility. The association states that “in many cases, fertility issues may be associated with improper nervous system function” and that “chiropractors are nervous system specialists.” So, from the outset, chiropractic adjustments may aid the fertility process. At the very least, they won’t do any harm and may help you feel more balanced in your body.

But let’s jump ahead and say that you’re already pregnant…chiropractic adjustments are *immensely helpful* for women undergoing nonstop physical and hormonal changes. I speak from firsthand experience! All throughout pregnancy, the body releases mega-doses of relaxin and progesterone hormones which help to “soften” and stretch the body’s muscles and ligaments to make room for baby and prepare for labor. The uptick in these hormones means that the spine and hips are often sliding in and out of alignment. But your back and hips aren’t the only joints affected – your wrists and ankles can get out of whack during pregnancy too! Many women also experience neck pain from misalignments caused by changing hormones and even changing vision, in some expectant moms. Say no to nagging back and neck pain!  

Need more incentive to commit to a chiro? Chiropractic adjustments may help some pregnant women with heartburn! Oh yea – and, towards the end of pregnancy, those sweetly stubborn breech babes can sometimes be flipped by a chiropractic adjustment called the Webster Technique (NOTE: This is different from a version). The Webster Technique helps adjust the mom’s sacrum and reduces torsion in the uterus, optimizing the chances for a baby to change positions on its own AND reducing the incidence of dystocia (awkward positioning on the baby) during delivery. Sign me up! 

 

2) Regular Exercise Routine for *INCREASED* Energy

Yea, yea…go figure. The exercise physiologist/personal trainer recommends exercising during pregnancy. No surprise there. But let me tell you this…not only do I make recommendations on prenatal exercise guidelines but I also follow them myself. Without a doubt, exercise made my first pregnancy way more energized. I wasn’t awake each day until I got moving and then *most* of my regular get-up-and-go energy would hit me. In my second pregnancy I didn’t feel as big of an energy return from exercise…well, at least so I thought.

Last week, I was put on modified bed rest by a very nice doctor in a scary labor-and-delivery room experience that I didn’t see coming. She told me I needed to stay off my feet for a week. This marked one of a few times in the last 15-17 years that I went an entire week without some kind of hard or easy exercise. (The other times I skipped exercise for a long-ish period were the first two weeks postpartum after my first child’s birth and when I was on my honeymoon in Europe. Yup. That’s it.) Throughout the week my energy tanked and my body started to ache something fierce. Now that my brief bed rest has been lifted and I’m two light exercise days (and one chiropractic adjustment) back in, I’m feeling pain-free again and far more energized. Incredible the difference a little movement can make.

 

 

3) Stabilizing the Core

A lot of women avoid core exercises or drastically reduce how they exercise their core muscles during pregnancy. I understand the need and want for caution but under-utilizing these muscles can contribute to back pain and overall weakness.

I have zero intentions of contributing to diastasis recti for any of my clients, friends, readers, and self. But the key for preventing this condition of abdominal separation and weakness is staying mobile and strong in the midsection. For this reason, I highly recommend all pregnant women engage their transverse abdominus during balancing exercises, lifting exercises with weights, and core-focused movements. I also strongly recommend staying mobile in all three planes of motion – that means that abdominal twists and side bends *when done safely* can be effective for keeping the core strong and preventing splitting. If you’ve never had a professional show you how to create a “bracing effect” with the muscles of your lower abdomen then now is a great time to schedule a quick personal training or physical therapy session. Invest a little time to learn now and save yourself potential pain and hardship later.

Side note: Crunches are generally unsafe for the core muscles once the belly begins to expand, typically at the beginning of the second trimester.

Check out @maggie_winz this week for a real demonstration of how to engage the transverse abdominus during pregnancy. You’ll watch my belly go from giant to just really large (hah) as I show you how these muscles can stay active and engaged despite growing size!

 

4) Stabilizing the Hips

The number one mistake I see soooo many pregnant women make is focusing on hip stretches during pregnancy. I’m not saying a little stretching isn’t good for pregnant women, because it is! But lots of hip stretching is often futile. With so much relaxin in our systems, pregnant women are getting A LOT of natural stretching and need to balance much of that with stabilizing exercises.

You see, the aching feeling in a pregnant woman’s low back and hips – you know, the kind that wakes you up and gets you out of bed in the third trimester – is often from those areas feeling strained from all the stretching that is happening. Women will often respond to these aches by stretching more (glute stretches, piriformis stretch, abductor and adductor stretches, etc). This creates the feeling of temporary relief because of increased blood flow to the muscles but doesn’t address the problem or get rid of the ache for long (if at all).

The key to hip stability is to take all those muscles I mentioned that women stretch (glutes, piriformis, abductors/adductors) and stabilize/strengthen them instead. It will feel mentally painful at first to get out of bed and exercise at 3 am, but it will leave you feeling relief that will allow you to slip back into that much-needed slumber before sleepless nights with a newborn begin. Some great go-to exercises: Squats, Side Lunges, Clamshells, Side Leg Lifts, Hip Bridges, and Squeezing Ball/Yoga Block/Pillow with Inner Thighs. If you still feel tight then try to stretch your hamstrings and hip flexors or do some light foam rolling in addition to the hip exercises. You’ll thank me for telling you to stabilize instead of stretch. Promise. 

 

 

5) Purse/Bag Carrying Techniques

Wondering why I’m modeling these beautiful diaper bags that look like designer backpacks?! Well, first off, Mina Kay Bags is owned by a local mom I recently met and I think it’s pretty awesome that she put her architecture degree to work designing something other than building structures – she designed every one of her handbags and mommy bag/bagpacks by hand because she got fed up with the missing features and functionality in ones she owned herself. These bags are truly gorgeous, fashion-forward AND exactly what women need…especially moms. Secondly, I didn’t realize how much I was missing until I owned my own Mina Kay backpack (the new top-zip design in Camel).

You see, I’ve toted a shoulder-carry diaper bag for a few years now. It gets weighted down by all the regular mommy gear but then is extra heavy and cumbersome when I try to shove my son’s water bottle and my own in it. I have to remind myself to switch shoulders when I’m carrying it because it can throw my back off so much to lug it around on one shoulder all day at a park or while running errands. So, I knew I was in the market for a bag with backpack straps once kiddo #2 comes around. I need something I don’t have to think about as I manage a second child and my extremely mobile, wiggly, toddler-turning-teenager-any-day. But when I received my Mina Kay backpack at 6 months pregnant I decided to go ahead and try it on for size before my second son’s debut.

Wow. I feel SO MUCH BETTER wearing a backpack during pregnancy than a heavy shoulder bag. Legit. It’s changing my life…and making me feel slightly less desperate for my aforementioned weekly chiropractic adjustments. The thing is, when you’re pregnant, balance and symmetry for the body is key to keeping the body pain free. I strongly suggest switching to a diaper backpack if you already have a kid or two, or a regular backpack if you’re pregnant with your first and on your feet for your commute or errands. I wish I’d done it sooner. And, as mentioned, function doesn’t have to mean a sacrifice in style.

Psst: You can have 25% off Mina Kay bags while supplies last with this code: HAPPY25

 

Part 2 coming next week! Because mom life and pregnancy are “winning” and I don’t have time to wrap this up all at once.   

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

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8 Bad Health Habits I’ve Had to Shake

No one’s perfect and health professionals are no different – I’m certainly not perfect! Far from it. But through the years I’ve awakened to my bad health habits and have refined them through trial and error. In the spirit of keeping things real, here are the habits I’ve had to shake. Maybe they’ll make you feel less guilty for having a few of your own. 

 

 

To Do Lists

Alas, I’m ashamed to admit that my obsession with daily “To Do Lists” wasn’t given a firm kick in the pants until I became a mom. I’m not saying it’s bad to have daily goals and lists but what I would do is obsess over every last detail, staying up way too late to ensure every single little thing was checked off my list. I would run errands even though I was dizzy with fatigue. I would wake up in the middle of the night running through the things I needed to get done the next day. I’m telling ya: CRAY CRAY. Yet I’m astonished at how common this behavior is. 

When my son was born, I was due for a startling realization: I can’t do it all. There were lots of tears. I slowly relinquished control and loosened my grip on life’s minute details. As a result, I can now complete a mere fraction of my lofty “To Do” lists without freaking out. I can officially handle living “imperfectly.” I put my sanity over my task lists. (It feels good.) 

 

Overeating

I never thought that I overate until it hit me like a brick wall one day. I was fresh out of college and working to earn a commission-based living at the height of the recession. I was sitting in a side chair in my dining room stuffing my face with handfuls from a bag of Chex Mix even though I wasn’t hungry. I realized in that moment that I was emotionally eating and that it wasn’t all that different from overeating at dinnertime and finding it soothing.

I was able to “get away” with eating a lot while growing up (probably thanks to having a teenager’s metabolism and playing lots of sports). Even as a kid I didn’t feel like dinner was over until I was overstuffed. I ignorantly equated that overstuffed feeling to being full, even though it was overeating. Fast-forward to my 20s, when I got stressed about the responsibilities of the real world, and I craved to have that familiar feeling of fullness from my childhood. As though it made me feel more centered in life’s whirlwind. But I was wrong. I soon discovered that when I stopped overeating and started eating more intuitively that I had loads more energy and far less inflammation in my body.

 

 

Veggies, What Veggies?

I always ate veggies growing up (thanks mom!) but in college it was all too easy to forget about them. And then life as a recent graduate was a lot of buying veggies with the intention of cooking them before ultimately tossing them in the trash after they spoiled. It took me a solid few years to slowly integrate veggies into every lunch and dinner, but I soon found that it was worth the effort (and pretty darn yummy). Filling up my plate most lunches and dinners with a solid heap of veggies keeps me full for longer, doesn’t over-stuff me, and packs in nutrients that energize me and keep my immune system trucking along. I strongly encourage everyone out there to get creative with veggies and find options they can stay motivated to eat and enjoy on a regular basis.

 

No Time to Snooze

I’ve always valued sleep. Even my former college roommates can attest to this. And so can my husband. I’m pretty grumpy and blah without it. Even armed with this knowledge, I tried to convince myself that I could get by on 7 hours of sleep a night; 7-9 hours is the healthy range so I should be good on 7, right? One would think…but my body disagreed.

I spent a few years getting between 6-7.5 hours of sleep most nights and it just about killed me. I’ve never had a more bleary-eyed, exhausted, mentally unstable period of my life. When I finally respected my body’s screams for more rest, everything fell into order. I felt WAY better and acted like a human again. I’m officially an 8-hour girl. And 9 feels like a slice of heaven.

 

 

‘Twas a Nail Biter 

After my Junior year in college I traveled to Sedona, AZ for the summer to work as a fitness instructor and personal trainer at Mii Amo Spa. (Sedona is known for its positive energy and healing qualities.) When I ended the summer there, I noticed with surprise that I hadn’t bitten my nails all summer, something I had done my entire life! It made me realize that I would bite my nails out of nervous anxiety over nothing in particular, and that the habit never made me feel better – only served to kind of reinforce the stress. So, I don’t bite them anymore. Yay! Small victories are everything. 

 

Sit Up Straight

Mom – this one’s for you! Remember how you always told me to sit up straight as girl? “Don’t slouch!” was the exact wording, I believe. Well, you were right. Sitting and standing with better posture helps my whole body feel better. And I’ve noticed that slouching doesn’t just happen during the daytime – it happens at night, too! I notice that I feel better when I sleep straight instead of tucked into a ball. Give it a try!

 

 

Color Me Cardio

Once upon a time I was the cardio exercise queen. It was my mojo. I did cardio all the time. And I loved it. But to be honest, only doing cardio was kiiiinda a bad habit. It might not sound like it initially but constant endurance exercise can deplete your muscle mass and make certain parts of your body weaker. When I first became a personal trainer I had to adjust my mentality. I couldn’t only do cardio and coach other people to lift weights, could I? I had to start cross-training and weight training more regularly and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy at first. I can still remember the day when foam rolling felt difficult because I lacked upper body strength. I can still remember feeling like planks must be the devil’s favorite form of torture. And I can still remember the time when doing anything other than cardio felt forced. But that all slowly changed in an epic way. I’m pretty darn strong now and I love doing a huge variety of exercises. So, it’s okay if getting started with cross-training or weights feels like a chore. You may feel differently one day. Stick to it.

 

Sunday Fun Day 

This phrase is so common that it’s even a little sticker for Instagram stories! There’s something to be said about taking one day a week to truly relax – and I mean no chores, no work emails, no obligations, and for me, no exercise. I used to push myself hard all seven days a week and wondered why I never felt rejuvenated. Isn’t that just so ridiculous? I’ve really come to embrace the concept of “the sabbath” being a day of rest and encourage you to do the same, even if you’re not religious. We aren’t meant to go-go-go, ever pressing life’s accelerator down harder. What’s the point? Why are you doing it? Ask yourself these questions and the consequences of them. And then ask yourself the consequences of NOT resting. If you value your health, you’ll find that the consequences of not resting far outweigh anything else. We’ve all got one body to get through this life in. Let’s learn to honor it.

 

Life’s not about perfection. It’s about progress.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

A Personal Trainer’s Love Letter for People Who Want to Lose Weight

I considered titling this post “What Everyone Who Wants to Lose Weight Needs to Hear” but that sounded harsh. And the point of this article isn’t to lecture, it’s to reassure. Consider it my love letter. The words from my heart for all those who’ve been disappointed by the fitness industry or guilt-tripped into buying a diet plan or product. I know you’re frustrated. I know you’re self-conscious at times (especially in the gym, if you ever set foot in that awful place, right?). But here are all the ways you can rise above the bull**** and take ownership of your health once and for all. And the best part? Not a single claim about “the right” kind of exercise or eating program. Because we both know chances are that they’ve already failed you.

 

 

Personal Trainers Won’t Judge You

I know it’s super intimidating to see well-sculpted trainers walking the gym floors but trust me, they get you more than you think. In fact, a lot of fitness professionals have been inspired to work in the industry because they’ve gone through personal health, weight or athletic struggles themselves. These people are full of empathy and are good listeners. If you’re willing to open up and be vulnerable, they’re sure to put their best foot forward to guide you on your weight loss journey. Please know that when you approach a trainer they will not judge you! We work with people every day who are dealing with the complex emotional and physical struggles that accompany weight loss.

 

Kiss Your Guilt Goodbye 

I’ve worked with a lot of clients who will have a late afternoon slump at work or a late-night anxiety attack at home that sends them in search of the good stuff (i.e., the cookies, ice cream, chips). They tell themselves they will only eat a few bites of the yummy snack but before they know it, their desire to feel better has led them to consume the entire sleeve of cookies, pint of ice cream or bag of chips (or sometimes all of the aforementioned at once!). Guilt drives these actions, not hunger. So, it’s time to kiss your guilt goodbye.

It takes some practice but in the moments when you catch yourself at risk for mindless overindulging simply remind yourself that you’re not a bad person for wanting a treat. Enjoy it. Relish it. (That’s right – no food is off limits entirely and emotional eating is OK sometimes – yes – it’s OK!). Remind yourself of all the reasons you will feel better if you don’t let yourself spiral with the overeating. Remind yourself of how you have felt after episodes like this in the past and put the food down after you’ve had a little bit. Even when you’re tempted to guilt yourself over slip-ups for overeating (which will happen) – don’t! This practice in self-control and self-talk will eventually lead you to a place in life where you can enjoy a small dish of ice cream guilt-free instead of a whole pint with a side of self-shaming. Remember, there are chances every day to practice and you will get better in time. Guilt sends people backwards, not forwards.

 

 

Don’t Panic 

When ANY of us humans are confronted by an uncomfortable situation we routinely have a knee-jerk, panicked reaction to try and rid ourselves of it right away. Similarly, the fear of our excess weight can startle us so badly that we are desperate to do anything to make it go away quickly. To feel better again. But the challenge with reacting in a panic is that we don’t choose very sustainable actions for feeling better.

You deserve better than short-sighted actions and measures that shed weight quickly. You deserve the luxury of taking your time to find better health. If it’s over the course of a few years of slow but sustainable change then so be it! Almost every program that has you shed weight really quickly is at VERY high risk of having you rebound in weight gain just a short stretch down the line. You can still see and feel incredible changes in your body and health without feeling the rush to do it in 90 days. Don’t panic, just commit to taking one step at a time.

 

Become a Well-Equipped Warrior

Weight loss is emotional. It’s tough. There can be a long story behind why someone hides behind her weight for security or why another person keeps losing and regaining that same 50 lbs. Oftentimes, healthy exercising and eating isn’t enough because your mind keeps playing hardball. It stays fixated on your past trauma or reminds you of cruel words or abuses from authority figures. Sometimes, our minds can’t stop playing “the comparison game,” looking at other people and social media highlight reels and wondering why our lives feel less happy and beautiful.

The weight loss journey is often undertaken as an individual process. But how many wars are won as a one-woman show? Warriors need a support system to win. Warriors need people who are willing to boost them up and support them through the mental and physical obstacles standing in their way of losing weight. These support systems can come from significant others, family members, friends, fitness professionals, nutritionists, life coaches, psychologists and doctors. Most people who struggle to lose weight or who have cyclical weight fluctuations will greatly benefit from seeking out the guidance and counsel of a mental health professional. Please don’t look at scheduling an appointment with a psychologist as a failure. It’s a MAJOR win and will probably be the missing element that will help you finally gain control over your body.

 

 

Your Health is More Valuable Than Any Product

I’m not a product person. I’ve had dozens upon dozens of well-meaning and passionate individuals approach me about the health/nutrition product lines that they sell. They want me to join their ranks and represent the line or help spread the word to my audience. I’m always happy to enlighten clients and readers about what different products are out there; HOWEVER, there isn’t a bone in my body that can endorse a product line as being an excellent be-all-end-all, go-to for weight loss (even well-deserving, scientifically-backed ones!).

There isn’t a single nutritional supplement, shake or meal plan that you’re going to be willing to consume in excess (and pay up for) for your entire life. That’s right. I’m a professional who wants to see you succeed long-term. I don’t give a rat’s *** about before and after photos for results people get in 30 days because you know what almost ALWAYS happens? The weight comes right back on when people abandon the short-term exercise program or “drink-this-shake-in-place-of-most-of-your-meals” plan.

YOU deserve to learn how to get control of your REAL life (ya know, the one that continues after the fad diet). YOU deserve to eat REAL food. YOU deserve to keep the weight off. YOU deserve to feel proud of your progress even if it’s not as dramatic as before/after pics from a 60-day plan. Remember, these photos aren’t the full story. How many of these people are posting a two-years later pic and boasting about it? 

 

 

Your Mind is Powerful But it’s Not Always Right

A lot of people who want to lose weight feel like the whole room is staring at them – at their thick thighs or fleshy belly, vanishing waistline or double chin. They stand in the middle of parties and boardroom discussions feeling unworthy and self-conscious. Same thing goes for in the gym. But hear me on this one: YOU ARE WRONG. You’re not unworthy. And no, the whole room (or gym) is NOT picking apart your faults. You are your greatest critic.

The second we get out of our heads is the second we free ourselves of shame, blame and ridicule. Don’t you think you deserve that? Remind yourself of the many things you’re great at and the wonderful qualities that are deeper than the surface. These are your core. Not your physical appearance. When we place our confidence on those lasting qualities, we gain the power to approach our body transformations with a calm mind instead of a ridiculing one.  

 

Remember, You CAN 

The tagline for WellnessWinz is “Start Believing You Can.” I chose this years ago because so many people hit roadblocks in their mind that prevent their bodies from performing. The same can be said for people in their careers and relationships. Our minds can be powerful vehicles driving our energy and decisions.

Your weight CAN be lost. I know it doesn’t feel like it. Your mind is probably telling you that you’re stuck with it… but you’re not. The second you believe that you can commit yourself to the incremental changes that amount to permanent weight loss is the second that your life changes. The physical process of losing weight may take a little time but the mental shift required to jump start it all can happen today.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Perfect Health Doesn’t Exist

I opened my email inbox the other month and had a newsletter from a health professional in my network. I clicked through to read what she had to say about the germ-infused winter season and immediately felt my insides prickle. She said that we need to start pointing the finger of blame back at ourselves when we’re sick, citing that our immune systems aren’t doing their jobs because of physical and mental stresses that we aren’t keeping in check. I like this health professional and trust her a lot. I get her point. But I can’t agree with her.

Yes, it’s true that our immune systems are the foundation for our health. And we have a lot of control over how resilient (or not) our gut health is based on what we eat and how healthfully we live. But it’s also true that there are quite a few things out of our control from one season of life to the next. Take me as an example…

This past winter I cut way down on alcohol and caffeine, started sleeping longer every night, and replaced lots of household products with plant-based, plastic-free, fragrance-and-dye-free alternatives. I also dialed down my high-stress workouts and replaced them with some yoga and plenty of quality strength training for hormonal balance. Lastly, I’ve stuck to my routine of eating plenty of fruits/veggies, whole grains and lean protein, but added a boost of healthy fats to balance out omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in my diet. All of these lifestyle choices would suggest that my immune system should be fairly strong. Maybe even ironclad. Right? Wellll…

 

 

Ironically, winter 2017-2018 was not just a miserable flu season in America but also a miserable time in my household. I got sick more in the last few months than in the last 10 years combined. Three stomach bugs, countless colds and sore throats, and hormones responding to the inflammation by bouncing all over the place. Needless to say, my complexion went down the tank, too. I’ve been looking like I just hit puberty lately. Lol.

But I’m trying so hard to be healthy!” my mind has been screaming. “This isn’t fair!” Sometimes, it’s not enough. Sometimes, toddlers aren’t good about covering their sneezes and you end up with projectile snot literally in your mouth. Enjoy that visual. Sometimes, stressful life events occur like family deaths, job changes, seasons of travel, and physical injury. The list goes on. Sometimes, life just isn’t under our control. And that’s okay. Because nature didn’t intend for our bodies to be perfect. It intended for them to be flexible and resilient.

(Random aside: I took strange comfort in Lindsey Vonn’s reaction to falling short of the podium in the 2018 Olympics; she reflected on how one moment in life you’re on top and then things can change quickly. The fact that even the most impressive athletes in the world are not removed from struggle demonstrates how connected we are as humans in our plight. It’s nothing to badger ourselves over or feel shameful about.)

The idea that our health should be perfect sets us up for false expectations and failure. It’s the reason why people come into the gym and think they have to hold themselves to a lofty standard of exercising every day or else they’re falling short. And then they quit because of the fear of failure. If perfect health is as easy as following “all the right steps” then why do healthy and active individuals get cancer? Why do we get sick when we’re actually eating healthier than ever before? Why are we more prone to injuries and wrinkles as we age? We can eat all the health-food-junkie products on the planet and exercise every day, and we will STILL fall ill at times. We will still have moments of weakness and pain. And that’s okay, too. This is normal. I’m telling you: THIS IS NORMAL. Because perfect health doesn’t exist.

 

 

Our DNA isn’t stagnant. I’ve talked about this before. It ebbs and flows just like our gut health does. In this way, Mother Nature designed us to be able to respond to life’s inevitable challenges on a cellular level. You see, our DNA expresses itself differently under varying degrees of inflammation and stress. Sometimes, there’s little we can do to control the way that certain genes express themselves because we may be more predisposed to a health condition according to our genetics. While it’s true that there are lots of gene-testing services out there, many people are still unaware of their own situation and what they are more (or less) predisposed to. But we don’t necessarily have to know all the answers up front… if we’re willing to live in wellness.

When we’re dedicated to being flexible in body, mind and spirit, we open ourselves up to transformation throughout the lifespan. Staying active about self-care is all we can control. We get the privilege of choice in our lives! And I like to think that makes us a lot more powerful than perfectly-designed, stagnant beings.

One of my favorite quotes of all time by Michael J. Fox:

 

 

Choose a healthy lifestyle because it will help you through the inevitable challenges ahead, not because you think it will clear your path of all obstacles.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Who Should Do HIIT? (and who should NOT)

 

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been extremely popular in the exercise realm for the last five or so years. High-intensity interval training consists of exerting maximal physical effort for an exercise set or period of time (typically less than two minutes) followed by a period of active recovery. The back-and-forth cycling between tough exertion and lighter movements has been proven to be a time-efficient way to exercise. HIIT can be done for anywhere between 15-45 minutes, meaning you “get it done” in a short period of time. Most notably, HIIT workouts produce excellent results because they target lots of muscles and burn calories both during and after the actual exercise bout. Not too shabby, I must say. 

While HIIT workouts seem like a sure-fire answer for quick weight loss and time efficiency, they’re not for everyone. Let’s review who should do HIIT workouts and who should approach them with caution (or avoid them entirely).

 

 

Who Should Participate in HIIT?

HIIT is an excellent workout option for people of all ages who are in good physical health. Generally speaking, as long as someone doesn’t have an injury or medical reason to abstain from exercise, they can do HIIT.

Most of the time when people hear the word “HIIT,” it conjures up thoughts of doing box jumps, wind sprints, burpees and squat jumps. Ahhh, the glory days of every athlete. But HIIT encompasses a scope much broader than this. A”HIIT workout” may look very different for a 50-year old woman who is working with a trainer to get her heart rate up and down. She may power walk on a treadmill incline for her high-intensity portion and then do slow hip bridges lying on a mat as her active recovery. A 20-something group exercise participant may comfortably do lunge jumps with dumbbells for the high-intensity portion followed by sit-ups for the active recovery. Everything about HIIT, and exercise at large, is subjective.

What feels tough for one person is not the same for the next person. Just because HIIT can be modified for an individual’s personal level of fitness doesn’t mean it’s the best idea for certain people. I’ve seen too many folks walk into HIIT-style workouts and overexert themselves to the point where they risk injury. No bueno. I’ve also seen plenty of people come out of HIIT workouts hating life. Well…hating exercise, at least. Sometimes that’s just what people need to get jump-started in fitness and, at other times, that’s exactly why people walk out of the gym and never return. The point remains: HIIT is great, but isn’t ideal for everyone.

 

 

Who Should NOT Participate in HIIT?

The following groups of people should probably avoid HIIT workouts, at least until their health changes:

  • People who are injured
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Women who are in the first 3-6 months postpartum
  • People who are immune suppressed and/or sick
  • People who have a heart condition or have recently undergone cardiac surgery
  • People suffering from osteopenia or osteoporosis
  • People with any form of incontinence, prolapse or pelvic floor weakness
  • *People who are brand new to exercise
  • *People who have no foundation of knowledge for how to perform exercise basics in proper form (ex: squats, lunges, push-ups, planks, etc.)

Most of these groups are relatively self-explanatory. The last two groups of individuals, marked by the asterisk (*) are up for a bit more debate…

People who are very out of shape or brand new to exercise can greatly benefit from HIIT programs. In fact, throngs of women line up to participate in Instagram-famous personal trainer Kayla Itsines’ Beach Body Guide (which focuses on HIIT workouts) and see fabulous results. More power to ’em! The challenge is that a lot of people will embark on HIIT workout programs that are overly grueling and unsustainable for the long-term. HIIT workouts must be done responsibly to avoid burnout and over-training. Trust me, I’m a professional AND I’ve overtrained! Unfortunately, too many people do too much HIIT, suffer the negative consequences, and subsequently get turned off from exercise.

The last group of individuals; “people who have no foundation of knowledge for how to perform exercise basics in proper form,” must approach HIIT workouts with caution. If the instructor isn’t giving cues for how to keep the body aligned and safe during each exercise and doesn’t offer any modifications to make exercises easier or harder, then it may be best to find a new instructor or workout. While it may seem like you’re getting a great workout if you sweat a lot, there can be long-term, significant repercussions from inappropriately stressing your knees, neck, wrists and back. Sweat is not the only indicator of an excellent workout. Can you tell that I’m the exercise world’s policewoman about proper form?! 

Just remember: Exercises done the wrong way break down your body. Exercises done the right way build it up.  

Stay strong, friends! Sweat hard. And treat your body with respect.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

PS – If you have more HIIT questions, please don’t be afraid to ask! 

 

The Controversy Over Fit Moms

Whether you love ’em or love to hate ’em, there’s little doubt that a big splash has been made in the blogosphere and on social media by self-professed “fit moms.” The cliche image of a fit mom is that of a woman stripped down to her sports bra, wearing tight-fitting spandex, working out while her little ones run around her, sit on top of her, and tag-along as she does her errands and chores. Why the fuss over these healthy mamas? What is it about them that’s so alluring, intimidating and inspiring all at once?

 

Here’s the truth about “fit moms”…they’re NORMAL. Yes, I promise. They are.

They’re normal women who are trying their best, through controversial posts and all, to inspire other women to improve their health. And even though their posts might look picture *perfect* their lives most certainly are not, and neither are their bodies, regardless of the glam poses they strike while they flash their six-packs. Every mom, dare I say every WOMAN, is imperfect, even when striving to appear the opposite way.

There are thousands of Instagram celebrities who strut their hot stuff while manipulating their body angles to look their best, deleting all the flawed and REAL trial runs before selecting the most flattering video or picture for a post. This is all phony, it’s true. BUT, I will also say that *most* of these women (although certainly not all) are trying to figure out how to inspire others. The problem is that not every woman is positively influenced by these images.

As a fitness professional, even I can feel intimidated and shamed by these posts when I’m having a bad day. Or even a good one. I can feel self-conscious, wondering if I should be working out harder even though I have vowed not to overdo it on exercise during years of my life where childbearing and a healthy balance for my body are essential. But then I take a step back and ask myself what these feelings say about ME instead of “THEM.”

 

 

The thing is…in our society, and particularly in all forms of media, image is glorified. Obviously. But when I ask myself who I am without my image, and without the typical titles of wife, mom, daughter, fitness professional, writer, UVA and Georgetown graduate, and lover of interior design, I come up with something more authentic. When I strip away the materialistic, the aesthetics, and the titles, I’m so much more. And so are you.

I’m a spiritual being. I’m positive energy. I’m a woman who pours out her heart to strangers because it seems better to connect than disconnect. I’m a listening ear because I believe everyone has a story to tell. I’m a believer in God, even when there are a thousand reasons to doubt and buy into all the lies this world tells me about who I am and who I should be. I’m a hopeless romantic because I believe wholeheartedly in love itself rising above all things. I’m a constant giver-to-others who has been learning to return some of that love to herself….by reminding myself who I am, not relying on the world to do it for me.

 

 

When we only look at the surface of fit mom posts we see the following…

Amy Updike

A fit mom who competes in beauty/fitness pro competitions, baring her sculpted, bikini-clad body before judges to be pitted against other ripped and lean women.

When we look deeper and listen we see…

A woman who desired to live a healthy lifestyle through fitness competitions and who was faced with feelings of stress when she began competing with “deflated” boobs post-breastfeeding her first child. Amy explains that her chest wasn’t just flat but wrinkled too, making it impossible to “push up” anything in her bikini competitions. Amy states that she actually liked her athletic-looking body (flat chest and all) and enjoyed the freedom of lifting weights without her chest in the way, but felt pressured by her competitions to take action. She decided to get implants and underwent multiple surgeries that caused complications and ongoing pain. Amy finally decided to “explant” and tell her network about the news. Amy explains in a video confessional that she knew the implants were for shallow reasons but she thought it would make her feel a little better about herself. See…even people who win bikini competitions can be self-conscious at times.

Sia Cooper

A mom of two whose Instagram following is gigantic and who is sought-after for endorsements. Sia’s beach life and abs are swoon-worthy but there’s more to the story…

When we look deeper and listen we see…

Sia is a woman who has overcome a tough childhood and a mother telling her that she was never good or pretty enough. She is a woman who has suffered from body dysmorphia, depression and gender disappointment. She is a woman of grit who is trying to prop up others through honesty and humility. And yes, maybe a little oversharing, but when you have 630K+ followers…that’s what they demand. So they can’t complain! Plus, oversharing the bare truth is where we find meaning and empathy.

Maria Kang

Mom of three boys, Maria was slammed for posing for a picture in a sports bra alongside her sons as babies/toddlers (3 yrs, 2 yrs, 8 months), with a caption over the photo saying “What’s Your Excuse?” To some people, the photo appears intimidating and arrogant, until you learn more…

When we look deeper and listen we see…

Maria has suffered from depression and bulimia, and was filled with fear when she was unemployed, lacking health insurance and pregnant with her first child out of wedlock. She experienced all the feelings you would imagine for a woman in this position, but as she started pushing forward and hoping a little harder, her fear gave way to perseverance. And a self-created mini empire for fitness fanatics. 

 

 

You see…just like Maria Kang’s burning question, “What’s Your Excuse?” all of these fit moms are confessing to be filled with the same excuses, fears and challenges as the rest of us are, yet they find a way to harness their self-doubt and become proactive for their health. None of them has a perfect life or perfect body. Heck, I’m sure many of them battle old demons regarding their body images, but they still try. They still try to find “healthy” in the middle of their snot-smeared, toddler-tantrum, sunrise-to-sunset days.

When I ask myself if I’m a “fit mom” I guess the answer is yes. I may not have a million followers…or even feel entirely comfortable with social media, to be honest…but I’m proactive about taking care of my health, in and out of the gym. So yea, in addition to being a fitness professional, I’m also a fit mom, a tired mom, a reaching-for-a-glass-of-red mom, a bath-time-singing mom, a trying-hard-to-work-hard mom, and a NORMAL mom. Just like ALL of us. Toned abs or not. And the sooner we lift each other up, instead of size each other up, the faster we all rise.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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