Pre/Postnatal Fitness

Question: I’d like to begin working out, but i’m pregnant…What do I need to know about exercising???

Every single pregnancy and every single woman is different so it would be impossible and irresponsible of me as a coach to give you specific exercises without getting to know you. That said, there’s a lot of misinformation in this field so here are some important things to keep in mind as you navigate the journey of fitness AND pregnancy.

As long as you have no contraindications, I would encourage all forms of fitness to promote the health of both Mom and baby. Keeping in mind that you are not invincible, but you’re also NOT fragile. Know that being fit during pregnancy doesn’t guarantee an easy birth or any ability to ‘bounce back’ afterwards. We can only try to prepare your core and pelvic area for birth by modifying exercise selection, changing positions, teaching core connection breath, and adjusting load, intensity and volume…*only*…

That said, there are unique variables that no matter what we do in the gym, we cannot control such as diastasis recti, pelvic floor symptoms and weight gain. 

Honoring your body during this time of change is absolutely key. It becomes less about what you can do and how you look and more about how you feel. I find athletes are pretty good at tuning into their biofeedback but they can also be the hardest to convince that they need to honor that. Know that you get to decide what you do with your body and you have nothing to prove to anyone.

Published Dec 1, 2020 in The Edmonton Sun

Pelvic Floor Health and Strength Athletes – We can do better.

This is a big area of growth for the fitness industry, we’re only JUST starting to warm up to the fact that we need to take better care of prenatal and postpartum women- but what about our strength athletes? What about the women who are not postpartum? How do we normalize talking about the pelvic floor while avoiding puddles on the platform and still hitting PR’s? 

Here’s what I know: 

  • A lot of women will have some sort of PF dysfunction – pain, leaking, pressure, prolapse…
  • A lot of women don’t know Pelvic Floor Physio is an option
  • Pelvic floor physio can be incredibly effective
  • Pelvic floor physio doesn’t work for everyone – and sometimes surgery isn’t even a guarantee
  • Leaking during exercise is VERY common
  • A dribble or a full bladder is still considered incontinence
  • Some women are horrified if/when they leak during exercise
  • Some women plan for it and wear pads or change their tights afterwards
  • Some women are labelling leaking as a badge of honour in their sport
  • Some women only have leaking during max loads/PR attempts
  • Some women only have leaking during movements like skipping and box jumps
  • Most women will experience some form of leaking in their lifetime

Before we dive in, I want you to know that no matter what your experience is- It’s OK. You’re not broken and you’re not alone.

I think a lot of people don’t understand the time and physical demands placed on your body when it comes to strength sport. Pushing to the ABSOLUTE limits isn’t something most women (wait- most PEOPLE) are willing to do and often we react strangely to the unknown. Pelvic floor aside – there’s a large amount of the general population that doesn’t understand why anyone would arch their back for bench press. There’s such a stigma around spinal flexion and extension that anything beyond neutral is considered ‘wrong’ and ‘unsafe.’ When actually, the arch is important for a few reasons, but that’s not what this is about.

In every certification i’ve done surrounding pelvic floor health there’s a strong emphasis on breathing technique and allowing the pelvic floor to contract and relax WITH breath. Then we look at a sport like powerlifting where the standard for lifting is a valsalva maneuver – which from the outside just looks like breath holding. Just like the back arch, knowing WHY a specific technique is used goes a long way. A valsalva should help you maintain intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) throughout a lift. Which is why you’ll see a lifter take a big breath before an attempt. NOW: without going internal, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s happening to cause any sort of leaking but if liquid is coming out I can assume that pressure is not being maintained the whole time. Think of a pop can that gets shaken up- one tiny hole and it’s everywhere.

Then there’s the pink-factor (insert giant eye-roll here). In sports that have long histories of male-dominated competition we females get the short end of the stick. ‘Shrink it and pink it’ is often the case with equipment and most, if not all, research studies have been done on men. While their anatomy is similar, it is definitely not the same and when you throw hormones into the mix, you’re going to get much different results. For example, some women find leaking to be more prevalent when they’re menstruating- this is something we absolutely cannot compare to our male counterparts. We’re also JUST learning that menstruators have different times in their cycle that allow for better outcomes of different types of exercise- WILD.

My rehab background bias tells me that we should avoid crashing through the fence into symptom-city and that moving lighter weights and going up to the fence, leaning in then progressing as such is the smart solution…but what if that’s not an option? What if heavy weightlifting is part of their identity as an athlete? What if it’s a competition and PR’s are the goal? What if you’re cycling through a lot of reps and there’s just no way you can regulate your breathing? What if it’s not just the pelvic floor? 

The first obstacle will always be having an athlete that WANTS to make a change. If you’re not willing to acknowledge your weaknesses and put in some work then I can’t help you. It’s the same as any rehab journey- if you truly want your back to stop hurting, you’re going to need to make some changes and put some effort into it. That said, if you want longevity in your sport, and long term pelvic floor health then I highly suggest working on these 5 areas of growth. (Note: not all will be relevant to everyone)

  • Breathing- belly breathing is out, in order to prep for some good IAP you’re going to have to work on some 360 breathing. Using this technique with some pelvic floor relaxing will go a long way. This also brings us back to the valsalva- A lot of lifters will hold their entire breath, if you exhale a little (causing your pelvic floor to naturally contract) THEN hold for the remainder…it might alleviate some of the pressure going down. And speaking of valsalva- are you distributing that pressure evenly? Or is it all going down? Your pelvic floor has to support your organs AND it gets all this pressure down onto it? It’s pretty strong but we’re not doing it any favours if this is the case. 
  • How’s your belt? A lot of heavy lifters will use a belt and no one’s making you stop BUT let’s consider going without for your lighter lifts, I suggest anything lower than 80% 1RM. Your pelvic floor and abdominals are a wonderful natural weight belt. Without being the goldilocks of weightlifting belts, try something different – thickness, stiffness, tighter, looser…sometimes a small change can make a BIG difference. 
  • Happy hips – Hip and low back pain have direct correlation to the pelvic floor. This is what I mean when I say it might not be the pelvic floor itself. We know our bodies are incredibly interconnected. Tension in one area can cause increased tension in another and when something’s gotta give…it’ll be the weakest link. A solid warm up  routine that includes hip mobility, core activation, and breath connection is key.
  • Technique- I think this goes without saying but if your technique is sound you’re less likely to have injuries and problems as the weight increases. And going back to a few points ago – TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT. If you’re really good at sumo deadlifting, get better at conventional – train your weaknesses, train the sticky spots, spend time getting uncomfortable, become a master of your craft. (Note: no one is making you switch your preferred stance for competition- not forever, just for now.)
  • Load- not every season can be a build. This goes with injury prevention too but if you’re constantly chasing PR after PR or are forever in competition season something will give, and I don’t just mean your pelvic floor. Your body needs time to rest and rebuild. This would be the time to step back and work on that pelvic floor dysfunction, technique and experiment with change. 

I will always recommend you see a pelvic floor physio, always. That said, not all physio’s are created equally. If you find a physio who knows your sport and its demands then that would be amazing. If they don’t know but are willing to learn both from you and your coach that would be the next best thing. If they’re not willing to learn and discourage you from lifting or your sport then I suggest a second opinion. There are very few reasons someone would be discouraged from lifting all together and it’ll entirely depend on your situation but your physio should be meeting you where you’re at. The excuse of not having one in your area is invalid – a lot of work can be done remotely and via tele-health. Cost is always a factor but if it truly means something to you then you’ll make it work or your provider might have options for you.

Imagine if we treated our pelvic floors like any other muscle in the body. Imagine if we could have open conversations the way we do about our janky knee or the niggle in your back. Creating longevity for women in sport is always my goal through education and empowerment- Please share with your strong friends.

Hey Cyclists, your attitude sucks- and it’s hurting our sport.

Too many times I see or hear people asking for legitimate advice when they’re just starting out or near the beginning of their cycling journey and they get responses that i’m sure mean well but are often very expensive solutions to simple problems. That’s problematic for a few reasons. It feeds into the “cycling is elitist” mindset, it makes the sport look intimidating and can leave people on a budget feeling inadequate. It also makes you look like a jerk, the idea that your way is the only way isn’t helping anyone. 

A lot of people hate cyclists, it’s our own fault. We don’t call out the ones acting like they own the roads and giving subpar advice to newbies. New cyclists look up to the ones who’ve been riding for a long time – so if you’re acting like the king or queen of bikes – what message does that send?

I’m sick of this elitist attitude, and because of that, I came up with a list of the things I think are contributing and of course – no list would be complete without the opposite. Enjoy friends!

Cycling shit that doesn’t matter when you’re just starting out:

  • FTP- this number may come in handy at a later date but likely not when you’re starting out. People will try to flex their FTP at you when really, it’s a number that shows one side of how a person rides. It measures your power output average over 20min. Well, what if you’re a sprinter and can crank out 1000 watts for 5 sec but only 200 for 20 min? Or what if you don’t have a power meter? Or what if you don’t care?
  • Carbon anything. I know i’ll get some flack for this but if you can afford a carbon frame, yay you, and if you can’t, the aluminum of today’s world ain’t terrible. It’s the carbon bottle cages, rims, handlebars, etc that you likely don’t need. Besides, If you’re not familiar with how to use a torque wrench than those ‘upgrades’ can end up being a costly repair or replacement.
  • Tyre choice- sure, you can go ahead and google rolling resistance comparisons of almost every tyre out there. BUT if you’re only riding at 25km/hr then does it make a difference? Not likely. The difference is so minute at that speed that you likely won’t notice. Buy something you can afford and that holds up well to wear and tear. Even I use Gatorskins on a set of everyday wheels – contrary to popular belief that i’m losing 10 watts per tyre (oh the humanity). SAme goes for tubeless – nice to have, but if you don’t know how to set them up and maintain, you’re going to end up a frustrated mess (sometimes literally)
  • QOM’s/KOM’s – If you need motivation, sure…go for it. But don’t kill yourself trying to steal a segment. More than a few of these end at stop signs and there’s likely no way to steal it unless you’re blowing the stop sign. Let’s not give anti-bike people something more to complain about. Ride smart, ride safe and don’t go out for the sake of stealing a KOM – it’s trashy.
  • The rules – ahhh, “the rules”…some take them as a joke, others a little too seriously. Read on and decide for yourself… I personally adhere to only about 5-10 of these and mostly, it’s personal preference.
  • Zwift races- I saw a post recently asking if people who were racing zwift were planning on racing in person at a later date. Ummm please don’t think your zwift crit will be the same as a real one. There’s no amount of virtual reality that can prepare you for changing winds, other riders and uneven pavement.
  • Upgrading components- truthfully, this can cost you a crap-ton of money to do for very little gain – your initial investment in a bike should be within your budget but talk to someone who knows and don’t settle for something you’ll need to upgrade right away. For example: going from a Shimano 105 groupset to Ultegra is at least 1000$ -The gains are MINIMAL. If you’ve got a grand burning a hole in your pocket then ok but….also: see above for carbon upgrades.
  • Speaking of components, electronic shifting. I don’t care how much money you have – manual shifting is both a skill and an art. Learning how to shift your gears in less than desirable conditions well is imperative. Plus, no one wants to hear you whine about how you’re stuck in the small ring when your battery dies.
  • Unsolicited advice: “You KNOW, if you just…” Gross. I’m immediately turned off and not listening to you. Here’s how to help someone, “Hey, can I offer you a bit of advice regarding…?” and If they say no…you shut up. And dudes, don’t assume women don’t know anything about bikes because a lot of us do – and most of us will ask when we need your help.
  • Bike shaming: I think all of the above can be summed up in this category – If someone is out riding and they aren’t hurting anyone else, don’t give them a hard time. 

What you should care about:

  • Having a bike that fits you- seriously. Get a bike fit done, make sure whatever you’re riding is comfortable. Preferably by someone with a physio background – sorry bike shops, unless you’ve got a degree in biomech or something like that I don’t think your eyeball and weight on a string is good enough, especially if someone is having pain.
  • Keeping your vag/junk happy- I just did a post on this – buy good shorts, use chamois cream, bike fit, saddle choice, ride on.
  • Learning how to ride safely – ride with people, drink water while moving, corner safely – esp if there’s loose gravel. Ride in all kinds of weather. Learn how your bike feels in a headwind, cross wind, rain…seriously.
  • Learn how to change a flat, how to inflate your tyres with what you’re carrying with you. If you’re carrying CO2 – be prepared to use it. If you’re carrying a hand pump, be prepared to borrow CO2 from someone else -Seriously, have you ever tried to pump a tyre to 90psi with a hand pump? Good luck to you. And RIP your arms.
  • Having a helmet that fits you- You only get one brain. Wearing a helmet is mandatory in my opinion but make sure it fits you. There’s no point in having a 200$ helmet and letting the chin strap dangle 2” off your neck, it’s not going to stay in place so you might as well not even bother. Get one that has lots of adjustment and padding to change out if needed. Ladies: play with different hairstyles while riding – I prefer a low pony/braided low pony with the option of a cycling cap (weather dependent).
  • Learn what layers and accessories you prefer in different weather – this will require riding in all kinds of weather and a trial and error type experiment. For example: I’m either shorts or full tights under bibs. I hate hate hate knee/leg warmers (and i’ve tried a few)- they don’t work for me. I have a temperature cut off for shorts vs tights and it works for me. You might love your knee warmers and that’s great- I might have some to sell you. 
  • Advice: find someone you know and look up to in the bike world, bounce ideas off them, learn from them. Don’t put a highly generalized question out into a big forum – you tend to attract only the asshats who give awful advice and it’s hard to weed them out when you don’t know. Find a bike shop you trust and support them. Tip your mechanic when they do you a solid – in beers or otherwise.

At the end of the day, ride long or short, fast or slow, up or down. Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s only one way to do it and ride. Do it your way and enjoy, because riding bikes is awesome.

Mythbusters: Fitness Edition

Ahhh the fitness myth…I think there are more myths in the fitness industry than in any other. Is it because trainers aren’t regulated? Is it because you can basically buy a certification? Is it because of social media? Little bit of everything? Being part of the fitness/training/rehab world for some time now, I feel like I have indeed heard it all…and here are my top 5…

  1. “I’d like to start strength training, but I don’t want to get bulky man-muscles.”

Of course you don’t. And I can assure you that in order for a female to obtain that kind of mass you will need to not only lift an obscene amount of weights and increase your frequency by 1000% you will need to be eating in a massive caloric surplus and possibly be taking some performance enhancers. And by that, I mean testosterone. No female got that big from their protein powder alone. Next question.

  1. “If you work out first thing in the morning, you’ll burn calories all day long.”

Yeah, you will. But your body will burn calories all day long no matter what time you work out. Exercise timing is a preference and a schedule dependent variable. You might be a morning person, you might be a night owl, you might work various shifts so have to work with the time you’re given. There is zero advantage to timing your workout as far as being “better” for burning calories.

  1. “My Chiro/Physio/etc said my glutes aren’t firing…”

Interesting…can you pick up that small object off the floor? Did you walk in here today? The primary function of your butt muscle is to extend your leg from the hip. So then we know your glutes are firing just due to the fact that you aren’t falling over. This kind of language is not only completely untrue, it can be hurtful to someone who is struggling with an injury. What might be helpful is saying something like “Let’s get your glutes working more efficiently WITH your hamstrings and low back and I think we’d see a decrease in pain…” I don’t think these practitioners mean any harm, it’s likely a biomechanics based bias- but it’s still untrue. 

  1. “My doctor said I can return to training normally after my 6 week postpartum check up.”

The purpose of that 6 week check up is to make sure physically, from a medical perspective everything looks like it’s healing, you and your baby are doing well…and not to undermine the importance of physicians, but it’s really more of a check in the box. If this doesn’t lead to a referral to a Pelvic Floor Physio then we need our medical professionals to do better. A lot of women I speak to don’t even know that PF Physio is a thing – let alone something everyone should be doing both pre and postnatal, and beyond…because a lot of women don’t even have symptoms until 5-7 years AFTER they have a baby. As far as a return to activity goes, it must be treated as a complete re-start. Your body is different than it was before you gave birth and healing is still occurring. It will never be the same as it was pre-baby and that’s not a bad thing.

  1. “All that running is bad for your knees”

You know what’s bad for your knees? Being sedentary. Weight-bearing activity has been shown to have positive effects on bone density- running is weight-bearing. While you may be prone to a few niggles or other soft tissue type injuries due to an increase in activity, a little bit of targeted strength and some technique changes might change that as well. But running in itself is not the problem.

Part of my job as a coach is to work my hardest to change the language we use, I consider myself an educator. And while I may joke around about a lot of the things I’ve mentioned, science exists to prove our theories wrong…

The look I use when I hear any of the above…

Realistic Optimist

My mindset as both a coach and an athlete goes one of 2 ways. Typically, I’m a realist. I take things at face value, I think logically and practically. Sometimes that’s taken as being harsh or cynical. There’s a part of me that absolutely can’t deny is an eternal optimist. I want to believe that good will come from bad situations, I want to think that we can work hard and believe in the universe and we’ll be taken care of. I usually go back and forth easily between the two, I think that’s why I’m a good coach – Realistic expectation paired with ‘what could be.’ 

So while I’m very realistic that the situation we are in right now is not going away soon and we will likely have setbacks and life might feel like a yoyo for a while, I’m optimistic that some good things will come out the other side.

For example:

Someone who was planning on racing and training hard but battling injuries might be forced to take a step back and truly rest, and those aches and pains might go away. Someone who gets FOMO quite easily and ends up stretching themselves thin literally cannot do that and will stick to a plan or training schedule. Someone who hasn’t exercised outside in a long time or ever might lace up their runners or hop on their bike. They might pick up a new hobby that in turn has a positive impact on their health. Our dogs might get more walks than they used to and we might actually start to work on those on-leash skills like we said we would when we had time. Someone who is used to the luxury of a gym with all the equipment might get creative with a couple weights or a backpack. 

Fitness aside, What about the rest of our lives? What if we really found out who was important to us? What if we made a point of connecting with friends virtually more often? What if companies came out with better sick leave policies? What if we HAD to stay home when we’re feeling unwell? How many times have you gone to a family dinner, work or anywhere and you felt like death? What if employers realized that some of their staff could work from home and they kept it that way? And what if traffic eased because of this? And what if because there’s less cars there was less pollution? And what if being close to home allowed you to spend more time with your kids? Or plant that garden? Or finish that project? What if we always tried to support small businesses? What if we only ordered in from local restaurants? What if people stopped going to the ER for non-emergencies? And what if hospitals were only for really sick people? And what if we were as grateful to nurses, truck drivers and front line workers as we are right now?

I know a lot of sources are saying that we will never go back to a normal we knew before, and while the realist in me says that’s true, and we will forever be changed by this…What if we were changed for the better? 

Top 10 Reasons to Strength Train, according to Jess

  1. Osteoporosis is a killer. Weight-bearing, resistance training has been shown to increase bone density.
  2. Strong muscles=less injuries. Period.
  3. Increased muscle=increased metabolism…if that’s your goal.
  4. We have to pick up and carry a lot of things everyday, train for life.
  5. No one ever wrote a song about a small bum.
  6. Increase power and speed for sport.
  7. People will think it’s cool that you can squat/deadlift/bench press them.
  8. Learn more about your body, how it moves and what it’s capable of.
  9. Gain confidence, decrease fear
  10. Put yourself first, de-stress, self care.

Need any more reasons? Not sure where to start on your journey? Stuck in a rut with the same old routine? Hit me up- I’m full of workout ideas and i’m a pretty fun person!

Motivation 101

How do you stay motivated? What gets you to the gym everyday? What drives you to get your workout done? How do I keep grinding away towards my goal when it seems so far away? 

It would be easy for me to say that I’m naturally internally motivated and I always have loads of energy to spare on fitness- it is my life after all. About half of that is true. Maybe even less than half. What really motivates me is having a clear, big goal in my head of what I want to accomplish or achieve. Once I have that in my head I write it down. Then I think about what I need to do to get there and those become my stepping stones to reaching the big one.

Now, just know that sometimes you can have all the goals and all the stepping stones and not ‘feel’ like getting your workout done. And that’s OK! Here are my top 10 things you can do when you just don’t ‘feel’ like it:

  1. Put on your favourite gym outfit- the leggings you never have to adjust, the tank top with that sassy slogan, I’ll usually top it off with a big trucker cap- that means I mean business that day.
  2. Make a new playlist – or have one ready for days like this, all the best workout jams in one!
  3. Nail your pre-workout nutrition- extra water or electrolytes? Another Coffee? That go-to banana and spoonful of PB as you head out the door
  4. Phone a friend – Keep each other accountable!
  5. Make a plan before you go  write it down, that way you’re not wandering around the gym aimlessly trying to decide what’s next (I am 100% guilty of this)
  6. New running shoe day – always extra motivating!
  7. Emergency gym gummies- I seriously keep Coke bottle gummies in my gym bag for times like this. 
  8. Sign up for a group class or training session -it’s their job to motivate you, actually.
  9. Go read your goals…I keep mine posted on the wall beside my bike for those boring trainer workouts!
  10. Try it for 10-15 min. If you get through the warm up and are still feeling blah- no worries! Try again tomorrow- sometimes taking a day off is just what you needed!