Can’t lose the mummy tummy? You could have a diastasis recti.

In my last post I wrote about easing back into a realistic doable fitness routine post pregnancy. One of the things that I had mentioned was that it is important to exercise safely. Pregnancy is a time of many physical changes, while it is important to remain physically active during and after pregnancy it is also important to understand these changes and modify or alter your fitness routine accordingly.

During pregnancy your posture tends to change. The increasing weight around your mid-section tends to pull your lower back into a hyper extension that can cause lower back pain both during and after pregnancy. This pain can get worse post pregnancy when your hormones are still in flux and ligaments are still in a relaxed state and now you have the additional task of caring for your baby. Constant bending, lifting during bath times, diaper changes carrying the baby on your hips all contribute to the stress on your lower back.

Pilates helps by strengthening muscles that support not just your back but also your pelvis restoring a more neutral alignment of the spine and thereby alleviating back pain.

One of the most common mistakes new mothers make in a bid to lose the “mummy tummy” is to do endless crunches or sit ups.  Not only can traditional sit ups hurt your already weak lower back but it can actually make your tummy pooch out even further.

This is due to a condition called diastasis recti.Print

Your abdominal muscles are layered with the transversus abdominis being the deepest or inner most followed by the external and internal oblique muscles and the rectus abdominis or the 6 pack forming the outermost layer.

During pregnancy the increasing load around your tummy puts pressure on your abdominal muscles from the inside (intra-abdominal pressure) and this causes the thin connective tissue running vertically down the center of your torso from the sternum to your pubic bone to stretch out and the rectus abdominis muscles to separate this leaves the contents of the abdomen unsupported with very little to hold them in. This is what causes the permanently 5 months pregnant pooch that some women face many months and years after the baby.

(It is important to note here that a diastasis is possible even among men and infants. For men the reason is typically very weak core muscles made worse by heavy lifting and doing traditional sit ups or after surgery.)

The diastasis post pregnancy normally tends to shrink on its own but doesn’t in many cases.

In the next post I will be talking about how you diagnose if you have this condition and what you can do to heal it.

Pilates for runners

Whether you’re are serious marathon runner or just a casual runner on a treadmill you would obviously be looking at improving your speed or efficiency and the best way to do this is if you can manage to run without pain or injury.

Pilates complements running beautifully in that it focuses on strengthening the core muscles of your body namely the muscles around your back, hips and pelvis and the deepest layer of your abdominals called the transversus abdominus or simply (the TA)

Stabilizing the core results in smoother and more efficient movements in the rest of the body  such as your arms and legs.

Most runners  (especially the casual runners) don’t think about how they are running..I mean you put on your shoes and go right? Whats there to think about? Well lots actually…

When you run you are using you hip flexors to lift and pull the top of the front leg forward and the quadriceps to extend the knee joint and muscles around the ankle to flex your foot as you prepare to land on it. You also use the hip extensors (muscles around the back of your legs and your gluteals) to pull the leg back after you land. It is important to ensure that all the while you are maintaining a good posture and neutral alignment of your body; not going into a posterior tilt or an anterior tilt of the pelvis. Its important to keep the shoulders over the hips, open out the chest, keep the legs (femurs) facing forward and not turning in and having the knee, ankle and foot aligned.

When you run incorrectly supporting muscles begin to take over functions that they were not intended to perform resulting in aches and pains, stiffness and eventually injury.

So how does Pilates help?

  • Pilates helps create a supple, strong and agile body
  • Pilates focuses on creating dynamic stability i.e. stability while your body is in any kind of movement (running)
  • Pilates breathing is great for better blood circulation, oxygenation of muscles
  • Pilates evens out imbalances created by incorrect form while running which results in over or under utilization of certain muscles
  • It works on multiple muscle groups
  • Creates better body awareness and posture
  • Pilates creates long lean muscles and not bulk – lengthening of muscles that are typically tight in runners (calves, hamstrings, hip flexors)

A good Pilates instructor should be able to retrain your mind (over time) to not just think differently about how you move but actually get you to experience it and therefore use it in your next run!

What is the difference between Yoga and Pilates?

Many people ask if Yoga and Pilates are similar so I’m going to go through the similarities and differences in this post.

Yoga is more mind-body-spirit
I am not going to do a Yoga Vs. Pilates write-up because honestly that really irritates me when I see fitness professionals dissing forms of exercise that they don’t believe in. If millions of people are following any form of exercise over many years clearly there must be some benefit right??

So here goes; both Yoga and Pilates focus on breathing and a mind-body connection. Pilates exercises were originally derived from different forms of physical arts such a gymnastics , martial arts and yoga. (which is why some of the exercises in Pilates look similar to Yoga poses).

Both offer benefits such as better posture, better sleep, increased flexibility, better balance, stress release.

Yoga is much older, originating in India and was developed thousands of years ago. Pilates was developed around the early 20th century by a German named Joseph Pilates.

Yoga emphasizes a mind-body and spirit connection whereas Pilates focuses on just the mind and body aspect. To put it another way I would say that yoga is all about how you feel and Pilates more about how you look. Not to say that you don’t feel good after a Pilates class 🙂 it is just not meant or expected to be a be spiritual experience.

Diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing
While both forms focus on breathing in and out at specific points in the exercise, the way you breath in Yoga and Pilates differs. Yoga focuses on breathing into the stomach (diaphragmatic breathing) and Pilates into the side and back of your rib cage (posterio-lateral breathing). Also in Pilates you breathe in through the nose normally but breathe out through pursed lip (like blowing out a candle).

Yoga involves getting into and then holding the asana (static postures) before transitioning into the next pose. Pilates is a series of fluid movements all done using the core muscles in the trunk of the body to stabilize the body through any movement. It aims at creating “dynamic stability”.

Yoga is all about channeling energy through the body through different poses or asanas in order to keep the body supple and flexible. All Pilates exercises are focused on building core strength, long lean muscles and stabilizing the body and bringing it into a neutral alignment .

Pilates on larger equipment -Reformer
Larger Pilates equipment-Reformer
Yoga is done using our own body weight as resistance and done on the floor. Pilates has exercises that can be done on the floor but also a wide variety that is done on large equipment like the reformer, Cadillac, chair, ladder barrel etc.

Yoga is more than just an exercise; it is a holistic approach to fitness, hygiene, lifestyle and nutrition. Pilates is more about physical conditioning and developing core strength, and is increasingly being used in rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Neutral alignment posture compared with poor posture
Pilates focuses on the body’s neutral alignment
I’m sure there are more differences between the two. However increasingly the line between the two is also blurring where people want to combine the benefits of the two forms resulting in ‘Yogalates’. Individually too both Yoga and Pilates are evolving. From classical yoga to Ashtanga Yoga, Hatha Yoga and more recently Bikram Yoga etc. From classical Pilates to more contemporary approaches such as STOTT , Fletcher and Winsor Pilates.

Finally the way I see it, some form of exercise is better than none! If you are confused sign up for one and then the other do it for a few months and then see if you like both or just one and pursue it.

Disclaimer : I am not claiming to be an expert on either, these are just my observations through my limited experiences!