Stronger Than Ever!
This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to write an article in Navigating New Parenthood, a mini-guide with tips for during pregnancy to delivery to after the birth. It was a collaboration led by Jenna Christina, a fabulous documentary photographer whose tagline ("real is more interesting than perfect!") I love. My article is far from perfect and provides only a glimpse into how Pilates can help postpartum healing, rebuilding strength and improving mobility and flexibility - the kind that parents need to be functional and active with their growing children.
Jenna had the foresight to put together a marketing schedule where each collaborator takes a turn to share and promote the mini-guide. I have not written in this blog in a long time and it was the perfect time to "pick up the pen" (so to speak) again and share my experience. Upon finding out what I do now, people sometimes assume I work out all the time. The truth, and the irony, is I seldom get an hour to work out like I help my clients do in their sessions. I actually hate working out and have never been a gym person. When I came across Pilates many years ago (before studios popped up), something clicked for me, and I have been hooked ever since. Understanding the mechanics of my body, learning to be mindful of alignment during movement and static postures (i.e., sitting, standing), Pilates keeps my mind moving as well as my body during my practice - it's almost a form of moving meditation for me.
After I had my second child, I became more diligent with my own Pilates practice and went on to pursue training and certification to teach and share my personal work-in-progress with others (mostly mothers with young children just like me). One of the personal tips I share with my clients is "work it in". There are not enough hours in a day for everything I want to do and adding "workout" as another item on my to-do list was just not palatable. My kids were really young at the time of my training and I wanted to be with them all the time. I started weaving mini-workouts, some as short as 5 minutes, throughout my day, every day. This "work it in" approach made all the difference and reduced any stress I felt about getting, or not getting, as the case was, a workout in regularly. It also allowed me to model healthy movement habits for my kids while having lots of play time with them. Fast forward 4 years - now it's a habit to get some form of movement in whenever I can. It might mean a few core strengthening moves while my kids are playing - as Jenna so beautifully captured here during our quick session to get images for my article.
It could also be a few push-ups, chin-ups, hip lifts, single leg squats using whatever is available at the playground while my kids play and get outside. I can see in their eyes that it's cool to see Mom get across the monkey bars (even if it's only once). Sometimes, if the day completely gets away from me, I do a short routine targeting abs, back, and glutes (on all planes of motion) while I hang out in my kids' room as they slowly enter dreamland at night. I am stronger than I've ever been. I do this so I can play 2-square with my 3rd-grader and continue to pick-up and hold my 5 year old when he needs me to. :-)
So if you don't have time to schedule in a work out, try work it in ... check out my 5-minutes videos to get started!
Ever wonder what you could be doing while pushing your child in a swing for what feels like hours (okay ... it's only a few minutes but still feels like a long time)? Since it's difficult for me to get hour-long workouts in during my day with two young kids, I look for ways to integrate various movements throughout my day. It took some creativity and practice but I finally got down this airplane move while pushing a swing.
This is a wonderful move for glutes and core (abdominal and back) muscles as well as practicing single-leg balance. In this super short (less than 5 minutes!) video I give step-step instructions and alignment tips to help you get most of the move.
Watch the video and practice at home with an imaginary swing and then try it the next time you’re at a playground. Have a great weekend and let us know how this goes. Thank you for watching and reading!
Swinging Leg Squats
Spring is definitely in the air. The roses in my backyard are blooming beautifully. Aside from occasional Spring showers, the sun is out most days and the playground is calling.
My 4 year old still asks me to push him on the swing even though he’s starting to use his legs more. While I enjoy this activity, standing there pushing him can get a little monotonous. So, I decided to work in some lower body moves.
How about some swinging squats? I wanted to do something that kept my hands free and can synchronize with the swing's motion. Squats are a great way to incorporate movement using hamstrings, gluteus maximus and quadriceps. To get the most out of this movement, recruit abdominal muscles and back extensors to keep a neutral spine.
Match your rhythm to the swing. Share what you’re doing with your child and maybe he/she will be interested to try some squats with you once they get off the swing … make sure to do them away from the swing if your child is doing these with you – safety first!
Stayed tune for follow-up posts with single leg work with the swing.
Get Strong for Those Fun Air Lifts
Is your child insatiable when it comes to being lifted up in the air? Both my kids still love it although they are getting a little too big and heavy for it. To stay strong and keep up with my growing boys, I do quite a bit of upper body strength training using my own body weight (and theirs). For triceps, one of my favorites is table-top tricep dips because it doesn't require any props and I can include my children.
To intensify these simple dips, my sons (only one at a time) climb on top of me and pretends to be an airplane when I lift from the dip. I like to make him fly!
Here are two variations I do with my kids.
Standard Table-top Format: works your triceps and requires engagement of your abdominal muscles to keep the table-top form.
Note: your torso (and your child) will lower and lift as you bend and straighten your elbow. Make sure you're not lowering your body by flexing your hips more.
Single Leg Challenge: also works the glutes on both sides, and the hamstring of the supporting leg.
An alternative is to hold the single leg table-top position while squeezing your underarms and shoulder blades to activate your triceps. Try holding for 3 breathes (in and out) and then switch legs.
I love that I can do these anytime during the day and anywhere (on my kitchen floor, on a mat at home, at the playground).
Experiment and see what works for your body and your child. My sons sometimes like to lie down on my tummy for a little rest or lie back to "take flight". Other times, they like to play "London Bridge is Falling" where they try to go through the space under me as many times as they can before I fall down.
Try this several times a day (low reps) as part of play and bonding time with your child. Do it at least 3 days a week and see how you feel after a month.
Swing Like a Monkey Again!
When was the last time you swung around on the monkey bars? Recently, that's all I want to do when I get to the playground because my kids are now exploring and climbing the bigger play structures. My older son is just tall enough to reach some of the monkey bars. His younger brother tries to keep up. Both are eager to test their swinging, hanging and landing abilities.
Watching them, I couldn't help but get the bug to try the monkey bars myself one day, only to find myself letting go with defeat after swinging 1 or 2 bars forward. I felt a surge of envy and wonder as I watched some of the older kids swing effortlessly across. How is it that these kids can do this and I can't? Shouldn't I be stronger? Perhaps not. And strength isn't the whole story. Admittedly, I became a little obsessed with the monkey bars. Watching kids move naturally using their bodies to swing forward, I realized I needed more momentum rather than relying purely on upper body strength. After a few trials at the playground, I landed on with a sequence that starts with lower ab leg lifts to warm up because I needed my body to swing … like a monkey, of course.
1. Lower Ab Leg Lifts
Find any parallel bars that’s just wider than the width of your body such that your arms make a narrow upside V when you push yourself up with your feet off the ground. Arms straight, shoulders away from ears (think about squeezing your armpits).
2. Reverse Pull Ups - Lowering
Find a single bar on the playground, preferably one where your feet can still touch the ground when you grab onto the bar with your hands. Grip the bars with your fingers pointing towards you. Keep your hands about shoulder width or a little wider. Hop yourself off the ground while engaging your biceps and lats to bring your chin above the bar. Shoulders away from your ears.
3. Swing Like a Monkey
Find a monkey bar and get swinging. Just have fun and try different variations to get as far as you can. Below is just a few things I do to enjoy this more.
When I got across the monkey bar on that particular day when I tried this sequence, I truly felt like a kid again. A swell of happiness and confidence filled my chest as I landed on the platform on the other side from where I started. I imagine that's how kids feel when they accomplish something by themselves for the first time. We were all kids once and have had that experience. It's nice to bring it back once in a while, especially when it comes to moving our bodies. Now I want to keep trying to see if I can repeat it.
Next time you're at the playground, join your kids at the monkey bars and get swinging! Have fun!
Feel Lighter to Start Your Day
Ever feel like you're weighed down by the demands of early parenthood? That's exactly how I feel. A wonderful life coach said to me, when my oldest was just 1 year old, that I was in the 'labor-intensive' years of parenting. She was exactly right and I'm still in it. My oldest just turned 6 and started 1st grade last week. He's more active than ever and growing stronger by the day. My youngest is 3 and still likes to cuddle and be carried a lot.
Having practiced Pilates for many years, my body feels the need to move in many ways everyday. However, running after my kids does not quite cut it. Yet, it is precisely this physically demanding stage of parenthood that makes my body ache when I skip my daily doses of varied movements in a few days. My body starts to feel stiff and weak - like the chi gets stuck and can't flow through in my movements - and I'm less capable, emotionally and physically, to engage in active play with my kids. To prevent this, over the past two years, I've developed the habit of doing a few stretches in the morning before I start the day. These simple stretches help keep me feel a little more flexible and lighter to tackle what's ahead.
Here are three quick stretches you can do standing, anywhere (I do them in my bathroom as part of my get-ready routine), in less than 5 minutes. You will feel more awake and ready for another day of playground hopping.
Arch and Curl
I always start with this exercise along with deep breathing. The movement works with the breath and provides a nice morning rhythm to wake up the body.
This is a great exercise to get the spine moving on a different plane and engage the core.
Spinal Articulation – Against the Wall
This is a great exercise for stretching your lumbar spine while engaging your arms and the lats for strength work.
Give these a try and add a little side-bend at the end and you're good to go!
Start with 2-3 times a week and work up to everyday. It takes time for these to become automatic, so be patient. After 30 days of consistent practice (at least 5 times a week), your body will crave for these stretches if you skip too many consecutive days.
Amie is a mother of 2 boys and loves monkeying around with them - at home, in the park, on the playground.