Monday, October 24, 2011

Update #9 from Mamacat

It's been a month since Mamacat's Iron Girl Duathlon finish. I thought I'd check in with her to find out how the fit lifestyle was going, how she planned to keep up the momentum and specifically, What Is Next! As you'll read, Mamacat is motivated to keep moving and confident she can keep crossing finish lines. In fact, the events she's planning make me want to get out and join her. She has set a significantweight-loss goal for herself and she needs your support! Please share your wisdom with her, especially when it comes to shedding those pounds and quitting her diet coke addiction!

Here's what Mamacat had to say:

You'll be happy to know I couldn't stop working out even if I tried. Despite the goal race being over, I have not lost my will or my drive. I can not skip a day of working out without going insane. It's  a solid habit. We love that, don't we? 

I've done the "stairs" in Stillwater (a fat burning 1000 step trail of hills, steps, more steps and steps). I've done as many 25-mile bike rides as I can with the nice weather. We've declared family fitness night for TWO nights a week. I've even started to wean myself back into club time instead of outdoor time. I'm still doing Moms on the Run and still LOVE IT. I love the women and that no one judges me even if I am the slowest runner alive. We only have about 2 weeks left and I think I'm going to cry. This season we've been doing more interval training and working on bootcamp drills. My legs have gotten really strong. 

Fitness is such a habit that it naturally has a place on my to do list, daily. This is significant because I was very afraid once the Iron Girl was over I would find it easy to pop an excuse (not a reason) in here or there. No way, Jose! 

One thing is certain, this journey is not over. I bought  a wet suit in an end-of-season sale. This commits me to open water swimming and triathlons in the spring (lest I prefer divorce court for spending money frivolously) and keeps me 'mentally' in the game. 

My most immediate goal is the Scare In White Bear 5K with my husband and son. My girls will do the 1/2 mile race. I've got my eye on the Fast before the Feast race on Thanksgiving Day, a February cross-country ski event, a paintball gun race, and a May Duathlon. I'm also eagerly awaiting details of an indoor triathlon at Lifetime Fitness and planning some kind of neighborhood family fun race day that will involve skiing, skating, sledding or all of the above. 

I will revisit the early days of our journey where you challenged me to quit it with the Diet Coke. I went way down in my consumption and then back up to large amounts (no where near the 8-a-day mark but a heck of a lot more than one a day). Reality is I think I just have to cut out Diet Coke COMPLETELY.  I'm still saying "yup, I've gotta do that" but have not yet been able to actually do it.

I have been writing down everything that goes into my mouth and it's not as great as I let myself think it is. I need to get back to the nutrition focus I started with that slowly got away (funny how I did eat my veggies when i was getting free massages).  So I am going back to a serious focus on nutrition and not just eating my vegetables and fruits, but enjoying them in new ways. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that eating smart the few days prior to the Iron Girl made a big difference for me compared to the previous triathlon, in which I was worn down, dehydrated and lethargic.

My next goal: My OLDER sister turns 50 in a year and I want to cross a finish line with her before then. Fifty pounds lighter. I want to be 50 pound lighter before she gets to 50. And I want the finish line to be the Iron Girl

Monday, September 26, 2011

Success not Dog Meat: Update from Mamacat

OK, must admit I was a little concerned about my friend, when I got this email from her just three days before the Iron Girl Duathlon:
Sent: Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Subject: DOG MEAT

I just read the rules for Iron Girl and I have to run 2 miles in 24 minutes. For you speedy types, this is a breeze. For a poky old girl who runs a 13 minute mile....umm. I be in big trouble. 

My Response to Mamacat: 

Just means you can't walk. Think turnover. You can do it. You just did a triathlon in a cold rain. What can't you do??? Here's some homework if you have time before Sunday. Go to a track and do two warm-up laps, then do 8 laps all at 2:55 or less. You need to run each 400 lap in 3 minutes to make it a 12-minute mile. If you can make that easily bump the laps to 2:50 or 2:45. Give yourself a minute to recover between each lap. Go!

Mamacat's Reply:

Sent: Friday, September 23, 2011
Subject: RE: DOG MEAT

My first lap was 3 minutes. And trust me when I say they didn't get faster. Interestingly, I had to walk more in the first few laps but was able to keep going without a break in the later laps. But they were s-l-o-w. Husband insists that it was a longer track than 1/4 mile but I wouldn't know the difference. I am not worried about going the distance but do worry about the speed. I'll try again tomorrow and Saturday too - even if it's rest day. I'll just have to make it happen. 

My Response (and in my head I'm thinking how sweet it was for her husband to say that the track was long):

Sent: Friday, September 23, 2011
Subject: RE: DOG MEAT

You are not factoring in the race atmosphere, which absolutely increases speed without you even realizing it. All that's required of you Sunday is to do your best. 

Mamacat's Reply:

Sent: Friday, September 23, 2011
Subject: RE: DOG MEAT

Right. Good point. I will do my very best. The first two Tri's were about finishing and this race can be about starting to pick up the pace. 

We eventually figured out that the cut-off was 26 minutes, not the 24-minutes she originally thought. She made the cut-off time and finished with a grand Mamacat-signature smile. Here we are after the finish:

Now, 10 months after Mamacat asked me to help her become a Hot (Sweaty) Mama, we both know she has earned that title and owns it. 

Beyond Mamacat's personal goals, she has experienced the benefits of the last secret in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas, "Act Like Others Are Watching Because They Are." What started as a solo journey has ended with her whole family being more active, including "date" bike rides with her husband and "family night" at the running track. Her son wants to join the local tri store's triathlon team next spring and together they've set their next goal: to run a 5K at the end of October. Mamacat set out to be mentored, but now she has become the mentor.

I think that new role became crystal clear for her at her second triathlon, which was full of obstacles for her; namely, recovering from a root canal that put a crimp in her training, frigid water and a rainy, cool day. Here's what she said about that race, which includes a great suggestion she got from a fellow Hot (Sweaty) Mama:
When the kids saw me coming through the trail head in the woods, they started calling my name as they waited at the top of the hill. "Come on mom, you can make it, we'll finish with you!" When I got to the top of the hill and rounded the corner to the last few hundred feet, my wee ones were there and running with me and we crossed the finish line together. It was awesome.  
A day or so later I started beating myself up for not going faster or doing a better job in the race. I confessed this to a mom at Moms on the Run and she, after admonishing me for such behavior, gave me a nice little piece of advice. "Write a letter to each of your children. Tell them how you ran your first real triathlon when you were sick and it was cold and rainy. Even though there were times you wanted to give up, you didn't. You kept going and kept trying and you finished it. Doesn't matter how fast, it matters that you didn't give up. Write this letter to them now while it's fresh in your mind. Let them open it later in life when they need to remember all the reasons why they should "try" or "do the best they can do" or why they "shouldn't give up." It'll be quite a gift for them and a beautiful lesson. " 
Love it!

Whether because impressionable people are watching or your actions to mentor are intentional, paying it forward is part of living a fit lifestyle. 

When Iron Girl sent me their post-race email, they included this quote, which I think sums up Mamacat's event, as well as her quest to become a Hot (Sweaty) Mama. We should all aspire to do this definition of success:

Success is a peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.
--John Wooden, former coach of the UCLA basketball team

Monday, September 19, 2011

Getting to (Another) Point about the Pelvic Floor

As often happens when I interview someone for an article, sometimes we get off topic. I am notorious for starting a conversation about one thing and leading soon to something entirely different, but eventually circling back (because I'm convinced background is incredibly important) and returning to the topic. My husband has cut me off more than once: "What is your point?"

What IS my point? My point is, I learned something in this interview that would be superfluous background for the article but fascinating for me nonetheless and so worthy of sharing with my blog readers.

But first I have to tell you about the woman I interviewed (see, more background!). Her name is Elizabeth Noble, a physical therapist and author of a book I read 8+ years ago after picking it up from the bookstore on the way home from that 20-week sonogram appointment, which revealed not one but two babies. Her book, "Having Twins," is still on my bookshelf. I especially enjoyed the passage where I learned that my love of sweet potatoes might have had as much to do with my twin pregnancy as my family history and age. My twins were conceived between Thanksgiving and Christmas--the height of yam eating season.

Oh grief, I'm really off the point now.

Sort of. I was speaking to Elizabeth Noble, who also wrote the book "Essential Exercises for the Childbearing Year," for an article about positions that can help relieve discomforts of pregnancy. And in that conversation she shared this revelation with me:

"What pregnancy does is reveal to a woman her strengths and weaknesses in her muskuloskeletal system. She would have those problems eventually."

Wowza, huh?

So here we are going around blaming our pregnancies for this or for that (ahem pelvic floor disorder, anyone?) when we actually have our pregnancies to thank for getting us to, and addressing, our future body sooner. Of course, ideally we should prevent those problems in the first place, but we have so much working against us... like chairs and cars and computers and televisions...

Anyhow, "those problems" almost always have everything to do with a weak pelvic floor. I believe increased athletic activity can also illuminate pelvic floor weakness in the same way a pregnancy can. When you're demanding a lot from your body and you have muscle imbalances and pelvic floor weakness--where, begins the genesis of our movement--the low back, knees, hips, even feet, will eventually feel the effects of those weaknesses.

Noble, who also is an anthropologist and founder of the Section on Womens Health at the American Physical Therapy Association, echoed a strategy heard here before by Katy Bowman: Start squatting.

She said, "The pelvic floor attaches to the external rotators of the hips; when you come out of a squat, you tighten the pelvic floor." The problem, she added, is that few people in the western world squat anymore. Even when she travels to Asian countries even the younger people aren't squatting like their grannies.

I found this passage in her book interesting:
The comforts of modern life have more and more removed us from the routine physical work that compensates for these structural weaknesses by muscular development. We sit too much. We use laundry dryers instead of bending and stretching at the line. If you ever drive a car without power steering, or use a manual typewriter after an electronic keyboard, you have felt how labor-saving devices make us weak. Worst of all the "modern improvements" is the water commode--the porcelain throne on which people sit to perform functions that should happen only in squatting. Alas, around the world squat toilets are disappearing and pelvic problems for both men and women are increasing in proportion.
She told me she squats on her toilet seat. "I climb on to them," she said. "I put my feet on the rim of the toilet. It can be a dangerous position; one day my foot slid in." She also said there are platforms people can buy or make to modify their toilets so they can squat on them.

Naturally, I had to try.


It was high time I cleaned my bathroom floor anyway. Part of the failure was that I was trying to watch (wouldn't you, I mean, to make sure you hit the target?) but in bending my neck down, I also tilted my pelvis forward. That meant missing the bowl. Another obstacle: this can't be done with panties around your ankles.

While the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation is in the process of reinventing the toilet for the developing world, we might ask to include a new design for industrial countries so we can take back our pelvic floor.

Meanwhile, I harken back to Katy Bowman's advice: just use your shower to squat and pee.

What else did Elizabeth Noble leave me with? She says if you have to sit, sit on an exercise ball. I sat on one when I worked while pregnant but had since gone back to the chair. Now I'm back on the ball (as I type this on Sunday afternoon my 2-year old is sitting on it behind me and bouncing mightily).

Which brings me to something else she said (a side story? more background? information to support my point? Hell, I don't know anymore) that's worth repeating: The exercises that are good for you to do in pregnancy are good for you to do for the rest of your life.

Keep up those post-partum exercises. F-O-R-E-V-E-R.

Everything I know about pelvic floor health is posted on my website,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Update #8 from Mamacat

Back when we started following Mamacat's journey to becoming a Hot (Sweaty) Mama, her goal was to finish the Bloomington Iron Girl Duathlon on September 25, now less than two weeks away. Girlfriend is ready. How do I know? Because she was able to pre-empt this goal with her first triathlon on August 27.

I think someone has the bug and couldn't wait to compete.

I got to hear all about that first triathlon finish the next week when we trained together on a 20-mile ride and 15-minute run (by the way, it was her idea to go farther than we planned). What she knows, and will reminded every time she finishes a hard workout or steps over another finish line, is something we say in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom about crossing over from "exercise as dreaded task" to fitness as a lifestyle:
The reason exercise becomes habit-forming is because it provides you with a sense of power over your life: You can control what you do with your day and take time to do something that makes you feel good. It literally makes you feel strong and powerful. Exercise is a bridge between mind and body, and it empowers them both. Once you're been exposed to that power (like the endorphins) it's hard to give up. This positive force is self-perpetuating. Now fitness is more than a habit; it's a lifestyle.
You'll see what I mean as Mamacat shares her race experience. She is definitely in a place where her fitness is self-perpetuating. In her words:
I'm am overjoyed to report I finished my first triathlon, something I never in my wildest dreams would have guessed I'd ever say. There was as much mental effort as their was physical effort involved in me getting to this point. But I did it. I had all the tools, all the support and all the drive. Had I never read Hot (Sweaty) Mamas, I never would have dreamed that I'm not the only woman to struggle with finding time or more importantly, find the WILL to make it happen.  
The thing I kept with me the whole race was Kara's encouraging words the night before the race: "you have trained for this, you are ready"...without that mantra, I may have given up before getting across the start line. She was right, though, I did train and I was ready. Was I a, but I had worked for this and was able to apply both endurance and free will to cross that finish line.  
Mamacat in pink, just steps away from her first triathlon finish.
WHAT A FEELING. Better than any job promotion I had ever received, which is noteworthy because so often it was work that stopped me from finding time for fitness. My kids and my husband were so proud, which is noteworthy because it took away the guilt I had put upon myself when I choose to run, bike or swim instead of get an extra time with them. My body did it, which is noteworthy because of all those times I told myself I never could and it never could...and then it did! And I feel so much better these days...why would I ever deny myself this healthful way of life? 
I was so elated to finish this triathlon that I signed up for a second one just one week before the  Iron Girl Duathlon. Who'd a thought? I'm as nervous for the Iron Girl as I am excited. All those women. Athletes. Racing against themselves. Racing against each other. Pushing their bodies to peak levels of fitness and knowing the reward of accomplishment awaits at the end. And no matter what, NO ONE CAN EVER TAKE THAT AWAY from you. How awesome.  
My Moms on the Run comrades were so supportive and all Hot (Sweaty) Mamas for crossing their own finish line at the Silvera Run the same day of my triathlon. I wish I could have run with them but I was there in spirit and now glad to be back with them for the fall program. 
My husband was so inspired by my inspiration that he's hogging my Hot (Sweaty) Mamas book, a book that I pick up often just for a little mental juice to keep me motivated and trying new ways to make time, take time, share time or snare time. He's replacing "mom" with "dad" and starting his own journey of fitness par excellence! (Man, talk about smoking me on the bike trail yesterday!) 
Less than two weeks until the Iron Girl and less than one week until the next tri. I'm committed....100% committed! 

What about you, is your fitness self-perpetuating? Crossing a finish line is powerful for a lot of people (me and Mamacat included) but if you're not one to register for an event, what is it that empowers you?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Update #7 from Mamacat

How is Mamacat doing these days? Remember, the end goal for her is the Bloomington Iron Girl Duathlon on September 25. 

Some days are good, as I learned in this report:

On my way out the door this morning for a bike ride before the heat set in, I bumped into my neighbor who was also on her way out for a ride. We ended up venturing off together, hitting a state trail and 17 miles later had a long ride under my belt for the day. It was nice to have company. She's a biker so keeping up with her was a good workout for me. 

Some days are more challenging:

I rode to Moms On The Run this morning, ran for 30 minutes and pushed myself harder than I have been. Then I proceeded to ride 17 miles up hilly terraine. If the duathlon was 2 miles running then 22 mile biking and that is all, I know I could do it. But the thought of getting back into running mode after already having run and done the bike ride does not sound like my body will love it. I won't give up but today this is a mental hurdle. Tomorrow is a new day and perhaps I'll forget how I would have rather put screws in my eyes than run again. On the flip side, I had a great ride and I'm comfortably exhausted. 

I told her that feeling of, "would rather put screws in my eyes than run again," is the training effect. She's pushing her body to new limits. The next time she'll get to that same place and be able to go farther. That's how you get stronger, but you never know until you push those boundaries. So what did she do? She pushed boundaries: 

I took a trip to the local Tri store to find some skorts that actually STAY in place and ended up not only with a few new cute outfits but also asking myself when my first triathlon would be. WHAT? Did I just say that? Before I picked up your book, I would have never in a million years even contemplated any kind of race and I actually had myself wondering if I could do a tri! It's a big question for myself but the first step is just thinking about it, right? You've influenced me in so many ways!!! 

She went from thinking about it to:

I am officially signed up for the "MY First Tri" out of Tri Fitness. I started swimming with the masters swim class on Thursday nights up at Square Lake. It is a deep, cold lake and you can see a lot of 'lake things' with your goggles on...that creeps me out. I did go ahead and rent a wetsuit and swimming was pretty easy peesy with that thing on. Getting the wetsuit on was like a bad spanx experience. Putting my swm cap on my fat little head and bulging eye goggles on top of that made me look more like a weeble than a snausage but heck, I tried it and it was fun.

I'm so proud of her and her bulging eye goggles I could bust out in a bad rendition of "We are the Champions." Oh, I know, she hasn't finished these races yet, but I believe signing up for the race is the hardest part. Committing. That's hard stuff. And Mamacat knows this as someone who has also battled alcohol addiction. Turns out her commitment to sobriety has a few things in common with her commitment to fitness:

Early in this journey, we said we'd talk about recovery and how one can committ to staying fit just as one commits to staying sober. It has not escaped me. And these worlds are not so far apart. It's about commitment, making habits, educating yourself and being present in the world you want to be living in. Right now. Not sometime, but right now.  Specifically, in an effort to stay sober one must do a few things and it's called "working a program." It's also called having all the tools you need to find success: 1) Make a routine to go to meetings. 2) Read The Big Book or any of AA/AA approved reading material when things start to get tough. READ READ READ to remember what it was like before you were sober and how great it is now that your are sober. 3) Surround yourself with sober people. 

In fitness it appears to be the same 1) Make a routine out if it. Go to your run club or your favorite weekly classes at the gym. See the same people in the same positive patterns. 2) Read. For me, I am reading Hot (Sweaty) Mamas when I need to get back on track. I carry it with me and it has become my Big Book. Any fitness related (read: inspiring) article or magazine will work, too. I like the fitness magazines as a second choice because I can pick up some much needed fashion tips. I now know who Lululemon is and she's not the skinny bitch in the Latte line. I've learned that running bras do come in big girl sizes, that there are more places to shop than the picked over fit section at Target, that neon is making a comeback! Lastly, 3) Surround yourself with fit people. I could go on and on here but I think you get my point. And you can tell I've had a good workout today because my endorphins are dancing. 

Keep dancing Mamacat! She's motivated and working hard. And like an answer to the Serenity Prayer she earned a massage with Serenity Now Healing Center. I know Mamacat knows what a good massage feels like, as this is her treat when traveling for business ("What else am I going to do," she says, "I can't go sit in a bar.") When I asked about her massage from Serenity Now her eyes rolled back in her head. She couldn't even find the words, just some "Aaahing" and "Ooohing." I think I could make out the words, "Sooooo Goooood." When training this hard I'm one to believe that a good massage is a necessity, not a luxury. We all need to include a massage in the "cost of doing fitness."

Now Mamacat is not only becoming a Hot (Sweaty) Mama, she's also becoming a triathlete. Want to give this first timer some encouragement? Any other similarities between living a fit life and sober life? How long has it been since you've had a massage? Too long?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Second Annual Pelvic Floor Party: Kegels ARE Invited!

Yes, Kegels are invited, you can bring them along like a date for your super strong booty, but only if you do them right! That means if you're following the advice of such notable experts as Dr. Oz and Dr. Laura Berman (love ya both, but ya'll need to brush up on your pelvic floor advice) then you won't get through the door.

So who decides if you get in? The Kegel Queen. She is the perfect party guest (because she wears a crown, after all). And don't even try to sneak in the back door (ha!) because she will find you and give you a royal talking to.

I know because it happened to me. Not kidding. There's video to prove it. What would you think if you saw someone wielding a skeletal pelvis at you? (The pelvic floor anatomy lesson is absolutely worth the time it takes to watch the video.)

There were a lot of people talking after that Pelvic Floor Party: Kegels NOT Invited post and the follow up post, Pelvic Floor Encore, and the Kegel Queen was one of them. After she posted the You Tube videos (the one above is part two of two), Katy Bowman interviewed the Kegel Queen on her blog. It. Is. Hilarious.

I can't help but like her. So, of course, I checked out The Kegel Queen (a.k.a. Alyce Adams, RN) and liked that her Kegel lessons did not involve the mainstream approach that Katy Bowman shuns in "Pelvic Floor Encore," where she explains her problem with Kegels which, incidentally, is also a problem for the Kegel Queen. It's nice to know that the Squat Queen and Kegel Queen are not at war over the same territory.

Loaded with all this new information, I realized I had spread that mainstream, useless approach myself in an old post I had written about Kegels in April 2009. At first I didn't concern myself with it, after all, that post was buried in the archive of my blog. Who would see it? Then, to make sure, I Googled "Kegel," and saw that my post  appears on the first page of results. Crap! Rather than delete the post, I think it needs a makeover. Who better to lead the makeover than the Kegel Queen herself?

We started with this sorry paragraph:
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 Kegel Queen would like to send me to the dungeon for that. For starters, I include three of the biggest Kegel mistakes in that short paragraph. Here are the Kegel Queen's list of five biggest mistakes:

Kegel Mistake #1: Moving the Wrong Muscles
Kegel Queen says that the pelvic floor and only the pelvic floor--not your butt, your abs, your hip flexors--should contract during a Kegel.

Kegel Mistake #2: Making the Wrong Movement
A Kegel, says the Queen, is a contraction that lifts the pelvic floor up and forward.

Kegel Mistake #3: Doing Hundreds of Kegels a Day
Not so, says Her Majesty. A few will do, so you don't overwork the muscle.

Kegel Mistake #4: Doing Fast, Light Squeezes
Just like any other strength training, Kegels should consist of several strong and sustained reps.

Kegel Mistake #5: Making Kegels Complicated
Devices that require you to take off your pants will eventually collect dust in the back of your underwear drawer, says The Queen.

In the next paragraph of that doomed post, I launch into another Kegel Queen No-No:
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.
To do Kegels correctly, the Kegel Queen wants her subjects to please, please not do them anytime, anywhere, especially not while driving. Why?
  1. To do a strong and sustained contraction requires focus. Could you dead lift your max weight while driving? Impossible, of course, but even if you could do this move in a car, you wouldn't because it requires too much concentration.
  2. Having a routine is what makes any exercise program succeed. Saying you can do Kegels anytime doesn't mean you will. 
  3. A proper Kegel includes fully relaxing; letting the muscles go completely soft, and letting your mind go with it. Not something you want to do behind the wheel.
Now that I am wiser about Kegels, I thought I should get more insight from Her Royal Highness.

Kara: I was intrigued by the notion that relaxing the pelvic floor is as important a step as contracting it. I understand it from the perspective of lengthening the muscles, but love incorporating the relaxation piece as described by a commenter in one of the earlier Pelvic Floor Party posts. Here's what she said:
As a counseling student, I've become aware of valuable information about pelvic floor relaxation in trauma work and in bodily health (the idea being that if we live in a constantly stressed state, in the "fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system, our bodies will burn out, hence the need for an effective way to relax). The pelvic floor is the only part of the body completely surrounded by muscle, so by relaxing the PF for 20-30 seconds, the rest of the body is triggered to relax and switch into the parasympathetic nervous system. 
You said that by incorporating this relaxing piece into a routine that it will help you enjoy it more, which of course, will help you want to keep doing it. How should we fully relax after a Kegel?

Kegel Queen: In our culture--literally starting with diapers--we’re taught to cut ourselves off from being aware of what’s going on “down there.” We’re taught that sex, pee and poo, our periods, and birth are shameful or dirty, that they should be hidden. The word “pudendum,” the medical term for women’s external genitals, comes from a Latin root that means “shame.” Seriously! Couldn’t they have named it something just the teensiest bit more positive? 

Since we’ve all grown up surrounded by attitudes like this, it’s no wonder that for most women, just consciously connecting with the pelvic floor and starting to contract and release it can be a big learning experience.

So simply becoming more aware of your pelvic floor, and giving the contraction and relaxation your full attention, is a great first step. 

Once you have a grip (oops, no pun intended) on contracting and releasing the pelvic floor, you can start intensifying the contractions and relaxing more completely. There’s a lot you can do to relax fully, and we talk about it in detail in the Kegel Queen Program. Keeping the rest of your body, and your mind, relaxed is part of it. Another piece is deep breathing in a particular way so that your breathing helps the pelvic floor relax and expand.

One thing you should never, ever, ever, ever do is push out or bear down on the pelvic floor to help it relax and expand out. Some people (yes, even professionals) will tell you to push out as part of your kegel workout, but pushing out like that can actually cause prolapse, or make prolapse worse. So you want to allow the pelvic floor to relax, but never push.

Kara: While a routine is important should you change up your position? Since the pelvic floor will be called to duty while standing, sitting, and lying down (wink, wink) should you rotate?

Kegel Queen: Yes and no. First, let me say that I’m absolutely in favor of experimenting with different positions for kegels and whatever else you might like to do (nudge, nudge). Yes, practicing kegels in different positions is a great way to prepare for those times when you’ll need to consciously engage your pelvic floor in real life. Using different positions is also a great way to understand your pelvic floor better. You’ll increase your awareness and control with those muscles.

Also, different positions affect your other muscles in different ways. Remember Kegel Mistake #1, Moving the Wrong Muscles.

What you want is to contract only your pelvic floor and no other muscles. Often there’s a certain muscle group that really wants to contract along with your pelvic floor, or instead of it.

Let’s say that for you, it’s your glutes. You can make kegels easier by choosing kegel positions that help the glutes relax. Or you can challenge yourself by choosing a position that invites your glutes to tense up, then focus on relaxing your glutes while you do kegels in that position.

All that said, the bottom line (whoops, another pun) is that kegels have to be DO-ABLE. All the different kegel positions in the world won’t help you if it makes doing kegels too complicated and you don’t end up actually doing them.

Remember Kegel Mistake #5: Making Kegels Complicated.

Anything that makes kegels complicated, whether it’s some device or worrying about your position too much, is not your friend. DOING kegels in one easy position is approximately one million times more effective than NOT doing kegels in a variety of positions. Know what I mean?

Kara: When should you "let go" of the contraction? And should you time them, to try to build on the time (like you might for holding a plank?) Or, is there a certain time to work up to?

Kegel Queen: All this is a huge part of my kegel course, and I could never do it justice in this short post.

One of the main reasons most kegel instructions don’t work is that there’s not enough detail there to show women exactly what to do. A lot of women think that if they know how many kegels to do and how long to hold them, they’re all set. But actually, if that’s all you know, odds are you’re not going to see the kegel results you want, like dry undies, relief from prolapse symptoms, and mind-blowing sex.

Women need a lot more detail about working up to the full kegel workout as well as breathing, positions, how to stick with kegels over time, and more--all covered in depth in the Kegel Queen Program. Once you learn how to do kegels right, it takes just a few minutes a day. But it’s critical to get the right information, ALL the right information, so you have the best foundation for success with kegels.

Women can look up the kegel instructions on the Mayo Clinic web site to start getting an answer to the question you ask. The information there is basically accurate. But it’s only two short web pages. In my experience with hundreds of women, you need a lot more detail to make kegels really work, like what you’ll find in my two-hour kegel course. When you do have complete information and you consistently do kegels right, the results can be spectacular.

Kara: I recently caught a few minutes of the Dr. Laura Berman show and dang if she wasn't spewing the old 200 Kegels a day advice. I remember it took (and still is a problem) a long time for OB/Gyns to come around on exercising while pregnant and letting go of that 140 heart rate--is this sort of the same thing, where the research hasn't caught up with the professionals? Where's the disconnect? Why does this bad information prevail?

Kegel Queen: That 200 kegels a day thing just keeps on coming back, doesn’t it? It’s everywhere! Here’s why we don’t do 200 kegels a day. Kegels work by increasing your control of the pelvic floor muscles, and by building mass and tone in the pelvic floor. How would you build mass and tone in any other muscle in your body? As anyone who does weight training knows, you’d do a small number of strong, sustained reps. Not 200 “quick flicks,” or 200 anything! Your pelvic floor is no different. We have decades of research to tell us what types of kegel programs work. Why aren’t more people using it?

Why does bad kegel information continue to prevail? I have spent years asking this question and in all honesty, I am still looking for a decent answer. Kegels aren’t the only situation in health care where the research and clinical practice don’t match up. For example, I have a book on my shelf called Obstetric Myths versus Research Realities, and it’s almost four hundred pages describing the ways conventional maternity care is not supported by research. 
One problem is that kegels don’t make money for the health care industry, so there’s no incentive for them to get good kegel information out there. Surgery is an expensive, dangerous treatment for incontinence and prolapse that often fails. But this type of surgery is a multi-billion-dollar industry. 
Here’s another problem with the way the health care business is set up. Imagine that Doctor Jane Doe wants desperately to teach women how to do kegels right to help them with incontinence and prolapse (and better sex!). Since all her HMO employer allows her is a seven-minute office visit with each patient, she just can’t teach kegels effectively no matter how much she wants to.
Unfortunately, the market drives a lot of what happens in health care, and there’s no big market force making sure women know how to do kegels right so we can care for ourselves at home.

I know I did my readers a disservice by oversimplifying the Kegel. Knowing how to properly contract our pelvic floor is essential for a host of reasons, beyond that, a real Kegel can be a risk-free solution to incontinence or prolapse. She might be the Kegel Queen but she also makes a great Kegel Coach. More about her program can be found on her site, And she offers a special deal on her program for those who watch the webinar available on her website. Party favor! Thanks for coming to the party Alyce!

Everything I know about pelvic floor health is posted on my website,

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How's Your Pelvic Floor?

Not everyone looks this good with a pelvis on her head:
Katy Bowman rocks the look and the pelvic floor advice.

It's been more than a year since I interviewed Katy Bowman, biomechanical scientist extraordinaire and founder of the Restorative Exercise Institute. In that post, "Pelvic Floor Party: Kegels are NOT Invited," you might remember, I asked her about Kegels, expecting to hear something insightful about alignment. Instead she informed me that too many Kegels can actually cause pelvic floor dysfunction, and she said that deep, regular squats were the answer to pelvic floor strength. From that day forward this blog (hello to any of the 70,000 visitors who discovered Mama Sweat by reading that post) and my pelvic floor hasn't been the same. To be clear, both are better for that discussion.

Katy and I wanted to check in with each other via our blogs (you can read her interview with me here). A lot has happened in a year. Katy's biggest news is that she became a mom herself. Her site should be required reading for anyone thinking about thinking about becoming pregnant. She is also gestating a few books. But I'll let her explain...

KARA: OK, smarty pants big-brain biomechanical scientist... Now that you've been pregnant and birthed a super-adorable human does the real-life experience change the text-book experience? That is to say, were there any surprises about pregnancy and postpartum? You have fantastic info for pregnancy and postpartum moms on your site, does it change at all now? (And how many different ways can I phrase that question?)

KATY: I'm glad you called me smarty pants big-brain as opposed to big-pants smarty brain. I DID have a wonderful birth, at home. (In fact, he's looking at me now, all nestled in his very own bean bag chair, wondering why I am typing on the computer instead of cooing at him all the time which is what I am usually doing.) I am also super-happy to say that I gave birth au naturel. Well, I wasn't super-happy at the time because MAN that was some intense sensations (WTF!) 

KARA: I know, huh? A little like hanging over the crater of a volcano and just when you think you might fall in you heave yourself back over the top. And while as unbearable as it could possibly be the exhilaration prevails. It's some kind of awesome. A reward in itself, along with the baby, of course. And from what I can tell, you got yourself a cute one. I hope he got your brains, too. But what I really want to know is what did that big-brain cutie pie baby do to your pelvic floor?

KATY: In regards to my pelvic floor (hey, thanks for asking about my perineum) I didn't have a tear or a rip or nada. So, no, I wouldn't change anything about my pregnancy prep, which, of course, includes alignment throughout my pregnancy and lots of correct pelvic floor use via my glutes.

KARA: And all that pregnancy pre-birth prep will soon be found in a great prenatal package through the Restorative Exercise Institute, and I might add is much more useful than knowing how the size of your embryo at different weeks compares to various types of fruit. Like a good scientist you tested all that great information out on yourself. Thanks for that scientific contribution. Any observations to share?

KATY: Well, I'll have to admit that, I WAS NOT PREPARED for how birthing felt afterward. I truly believed I would feel up to going to go hiking the next day. Turns out that a cough or a sneeze was causing panic--my body was that out of whack. It is amazing to think that, in a few hours, you can totally lose touch with a part of your body. I guess that's what happens to the pelvic floor and the core muscles after delivery. And I was glad that my pelvic floor wasn’t super-tight, fighting against me during deliver. That would have caused actual damage to the muscle, instead of just weakness due to stretching.

And, fun fact: It took me about four weeks to be able to Kegel and find these muscles.  Even then, it felt like my pelvic floor was in the other room. That’s a cool feeling...not.

So, professionally--while my pelvic floor info remains the same--everything else has changed. Like sleep. And my hair (chop). And other important things that I can't remember right now. Oh yah, memory. That's different, now isn't it.

KARA: What was the question again? I can't remember much anymore, either. I lose things all the time, too. But sometimes that's the kids' fault. Just wait till your adorable son starts taking off with your keys, cell phone and favorite lip gloss. But I'm getting ahead of myself. You're not chasing him around the house yet, but you ARE a Hot (Sweaty) Mama now and I'm quite certain you're finding ways to get your body moving. How have you been able to sneak in fitness so far?

KATY: Well, I made the mistake of opening my big hunter-gatherin' lovin' mouth and started quoting research about the peoples waaaay back and how women used to walk over 900 miles a year, carrying their babies, and that strollers were anti-alignment and natural strength (which is true, but...) 

So now in my quest to use my human body in the way it was designed to be used, I carry this kid all of the time. That is a huge workout. That, and I haven't driven my car in two months, which means you can find me walking 3-5 miles a day running my errands while working out my arms. Which are buff now. (Hunter-gatherin' Bonus!)

Because I am walking tons, my glutes and legs are super-strong. My arms and abs are super strong carrying the little man. The one piece of fitness that was totally lacking was the stretching part though. And I am a stretching freak (strength is all about those muscles being the right length, after all.) So, after reading your book I realized that I was not going to be given a magical Why-Don't-You-Go-Take-A-Yoga-Class while I sit here quietly sleeping, not pooping or crying or needing you (and that's just my husband) moment. And I started stretching in one or two minute increments. And doing my exercises when and where I could--a squat here and there, a pull up when I pass by the bars. I even stretch my chest and shoulders (great for that breastfeeding neck tension) when I'm done changing the little man, he coos on the table and I stretch like this: 

Or, I lay him on my mat and do downward dogs over him, taking breaks from one-minute holds to give him kisses. And, P.S. I mean the kid, not the hubby.

KARA: Quick though--can I make an appeal here for the best way to carry your baby? I didn't figure out till the fourth kid that I needed a baby-carrying device that distributed the weight on my hips as well as back. There are certain carriers (like Ergo and Moby) that are so much more comfortable and functional. The carriers that just drape over your shoulder seem to cause more problems, at least they did for me. I'm sure you're right about the stroller, but there is a time, there is a place (says the woman who once had three children under 2). So, how can a stroller-pushing-mum save her spine/strength?

KATY: Well for starters, use the stroller to push the kids and not as a crutch. Remember when people used to hang themselves over the stairmaster? That’s what I see a lot of. Running with the torso leaning forward of the legs...really bad for the back and, funny enough, is minimizing caloric expenditure cuz you’re using gravity to help you fall instead of your muscles to push you forward. And there’s no BUTT muscles working in a woman fallin’ forward. You catch my drift?

KARA: You got into with a lot of Kegel lovers last year. Bottom line, what's your Kegel policy? 

KATY: My kegel policy is unchanged from last year as referenced in your post because it wasn’t my "opinion" as in "Hey! I like orange cats because they're pretty..." as it is a theory based on, you, know, the physics and physiology of muscle.  

KARA: Readers can learn all about that policy, by the way, in Katy's online course, "No. More. Kegels.

KATY: In order for the pelvic floor muscles to function properly, long term, you have to (HAVE TO) have strong and supple gluteals and deep hip rotators (like your piriformis). When you are having a pelvic floor issue, yes, the pelvic floor muscles are weak, but most likely due to the fact that the opposing muscle group is affecting their ability to contract correctly, i.e. shorten and release.

So, I don't have a Kegel policy as much as I have a butt policy. It's called, Get One for optimal pelvic floor function. Now contracting your pelvic floor is something you need to be able to do. If you can't "find it", then you need to increase this motor skill, but any good physical therapist will be able to tell you that the research shows that people who can't contract their pelvic floor (a Kegel) is more often associated with OVER TENSE muscles, not under used ones. Unfortunately we've got people getting their health information from fitness magazines or reading the abstracts of research articles they don't thoroughly understand.

KARA: I think a lot of people (and I used to be one of them) believe the Kegel is something as easy as swallowing. We oversimplified it, and in doing so took some short cuts (the relaxing/stretching part) that rendered the exercise useless or even in some cases problematic. It's our sound bite culture. I also think a lot of women kinda resented being told to do them all the time. When the Pelvic Party Post happened last year, we (all females, everywhere) were in the process of a collective eye roll over being told to keep Kegeling when we intuitively knew that something wasn't right. Now we (all females, everywhere) are thumping our heads with the heel of our hand and saying, "of course!"

KATY: I agree--pelvic floor function has been oversimplified to “do your kegels” and really, you are talking about an area of the human body that you can study at the university level for YEARS. I was actually surprised by the number of people saying stuff like they didn’t believe that kegels could cause Pelvic Floor Disorder or that needing to squat was not research-proven. I don’t think people really understand what gets researched, what that research means, and how things not yet researched are not false. But, if your kegels work for you, then keep doing them. For those who are doing their kegels and still having problems, being open to new science-based theories are a good idea. And from the volumes of positive feedback, I am so glad you ran the post Kara.

KARA: Those Kegel posts got the attention of a lot of people for sure and I hear a book deal for you. How did that come about?

KATY: Well, the phone rang and a publishing fairy said "can I pay you to write down a bunch of stuff you love to write about?" It was amazing. And then the fairy gave me one million dollars, which was exciting, because I got into pelvic floor science to make money and not because women's health was my passion.

Just kidding.

I actually just finished writing "Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The NEW Science of Healthy Feet," in which I allude to the fact that your Pelvis is attached to your thighs and your thighs to your knees and feet, so you should start down at the bottom. The next book on Pelvic Health via da Butt and correct gait patterns (not via Kegels) will actually be a self-publish on Amazon. 

The publishers I talked to said that they thought people weren’t really interested in the pelvis. And then I said, “you mean the 80 percent of the population who will eventually have a pelvic floor disorder aren’t interested?” and then they hung up the phone. No, really, I just decided that women need this info NOW and not in a couple of years by the time a book gets published. Soon you can just download it. Bam. Isn't technology amazing?

And, by the way, if any of you readers would like to submit "your story" of how your switch from Kegels to squats, or doing the "Down There" exercises from my DVD helped you with PF or hip issues, I would love to include it in the book. And, if I use your story, you get a free copy! Does that motivate you? How about if I sign it. How about if Kara signs it too?

KARA: You're getting my squat story. Where should we submit them and what's our deadline?

KATY: You can share your story on the "Pelvic Floor Party Anniversary Special" post on my blog and I will be taking your stories through the end of August.

KARA: While there has been a lot of pelvic floor talk on my blog this last year, Katy has been super busy answering questions and addressing issues. Here are links to a few of the follow up posts she did:

And the conversation continues between Kara and Katy over at Katy Says! How have those squats worked for you?