Focusing on the positive here. Focusing on what I can do with this postpartum body of mine, and what's left of my time and energy. That focus then, is on the almighty Kegel -- just one more post folks, then I promise to move away from talking about exercising the nether region.
First one must know what a Kegel is before I go on. If you think a Kegel is something served at a Jewish holiday, this post won't make any sense. A Kegel is a contraction of the pelvic floor muscle; squeezing tight all those sphincter muscles. Its most famous purpose is improving bladder control. And so, almost always bringing up Kegel exercises make us giggle. And contrary to popular myth, Kegels aren't just for women. If you have a prostate, Kegels are equally important. And while bladder control is indeed a nice thing to have (I mean, wouldn't the ultimate insult of parenthood be to have to change your own diaper too?), a Kegel's influence on those pelvic floor muscles also set up a stronger foundation for a stronger core. I like to call it the core of my core. Without a strong pelvic floor, everything that attaches to it, going up your trunk or down your legs is compromised. Think lower back, glutes, hips, hamstrings, and then everything else that attaches to those and on out. Everything begins at the pelvic floor. It's ground zero for our musculature.
So, if you've been injured or out of commission, or like me, just had a baby, which both weakens your pelvic floor and puts you out of commission, then starting with Kegels before you do anything else is important. I know this first hand, because trying to come back too soon after my first pregnancy resulted in painful running and a plethora of back, hip and IT band problems. And there are all sorts of remedies for those problems, but if you don't start with the core of your core--ground zero--then it's difficult to fully heal.
So how do you do Kegel exercises? The easiest explanation is to squeeze those muscles "down there" that would stop the flow of urine and those that would keep you "puckered up" in a tense situation. The pelvic floor muscles are like a hammock between your tail bone and your pubic bone. The idea is to contract or tighten up that hammock. Ideally we should all be doing 200 a day. There are two main ways to Kegel: Flicks are quick contractions and you should aim to do them in sets of 10. The other option is to hold a Kegel, ideally for 10 seconds or more.
The nice part about Kegel exercises is that they don't require workout clothes. They don't require a gym. In fact, you don't have to make time to Kegel, you can do it almost anywhere, anytime and no one is the wiser. The guy taking your order at Starbucks might wonder what's up with the strange look on your face, but still, he'll never know.
Sounds so easy. And perhaps because they're so easy we tend to overlook them, forget to do them. Plus, the pay off isn't quite as noticeable. While we might brag about how strong our quads are, or show off our cut biceps, boasting about the strength of our pelvic floor muscles is not something we normally do.
Normally. Allow me. I got some positive reinforcement at my six-week check up that my singular focus with Kegels and Sahrmann exercises are working. (By the way I'm up to Sahrmann exercise #4.) My midwife first checked my diastasis recti--the split that occurs between your abdominals when pregnant--and commented how nicely and quickly it was coming together. Yes! And, without going into too much detail she said, "You must be doing your Kegels." In fact, I could have held back the flood waters in Fargo with my bladder.
With this new confirmation that my hard work is paying off, I'm doing my Kegel exercises even more. And with my eye on the prize--running again!--I'm applying a few running workouts to doing Kegels. Since most people have a hard time remembering to do them and, let's face it, they're boring, here is how I'm "squeezing" them into my day and making this workout more fun.
Kegel fartlek. Now I have just put two funny words together. This is not passing gas between Kegels. Fartlek (in Swedish means speed play) is a running workout that allows you to spontaneously pick up the pace at irregular intervals. You get to decide when and how long to speed up. Say, you decide to run faster to the next stop sign or in between light poles. With a Kegel fartlek it's the same, but it helps to be traveling in a car, bus, or other mode of transport. Just pick some sort of landmark and hold the Kegel until you get there. Pick another landmark and repeat.
Kegel tempo. A runner's tempo workout might consist of a 10-minute or 15-minute run at their race pace sandwiched in between a warm up and cool down. The Kegel tempo is a little different. Using the car radio or your Ipod, Kegel to the beat of a song. This worked nicely to the tune of "Good Things" by the Bodeans.
And a strong pelvic floor is a good thing. If you happen to pull up next to me at a stop light, honk, wave, and give me a knowing smile.