Quick preggo update: 36 weeks!
I’ll give you the full scoop next week, but here’s a sneak peek at the belly progress:
(It counts as a sneak peek because my head is cut off. Clearly.)
When you talk about pregnancy—and especially, pregnancy + fitness—at some point, kegels are bound to come up.
I used to not care about kegels at all (besides squeezing a few in—pun totally intended—anytime I saw the word “kegel”), and I barely gave them the time of day during my first pregnancy. But then I had a near-9 lb. baby…and then this happened (quick summary: a 10K + severely compromised bladder control)…and then I got serious about figuring out this pelvic floor muscle business.
And that’s when I learned that maybe kegels didn’t deserve all the hoopla they got after all.
Here’s the deal: kegels are designed to tighten the pelvic floor muscles, right? So they can, erm, hold things in?
Well, it’s a common misconception in fitness that a tight muscle is strong and a loose muscle is weak. (If that were true, why would we ever foam roll a tight muscle?)
The perfect muscles are balanced, with just the right length and tension. Katy Bowman (body alignment expert/one of my girl crushes) recommends thinking of the perfect PF muscle not like the hammock we often hear about, but like a trampoline: taut, but supple.
(Also, how did I not know that in-ground trampolines existed?? Genius! I mean…if you don’t care about having a flat lawn…)
Here are 2 key things to know about kegels:
- Kegels can actually create pelvic floor problems. Weak glutes + too many Kegels = pelvic floor disorder.
- What really matters for pelvic floor health = the GLUTES!!
Technically, the real goal is to balance the glute and pelvic floor muscles. (You know how the body loves balance!) So it’s not necessarily about ditching kegels entirely, but incorporating more glute work alongside the kegels (and doing way less kegeling than you might think you have to).
I’ve been incorporating tons of squats into the workouts for my prenatal exercise class, in part for this specific reason.
Here’s the other thing about kegels: it’s not just the “clenching” part of the movement that matters. The releasing part is just as important! We need to be training our PF muscles to relaaaax—meaning: not a neutral state, like you’re just not kegeling anymore, but like you’re THIS CLOSE to peeing yourself.
That relaxation part is especially critical during pregnancy, since we want our PF muscles to be ready to let go of the baby when the time comes. (Tight muscles and a stressed mama = bad news for childbirth! In my research AND experience.)
If all we ever do is train our PF muscles to “hold things in,” how do we expect them to know how to let a gigantic baby OUT?
What to do instead (per Katy):
- Do regular, daily squats—preferably, all-the-way-down “eastern” squats. When you get to the bottom, gently squeeze and FULLY release the PF muscles 10 times. (Katy’s also an advocate for squat-peeing in the shower, if you’re into that!)
- Stretch the backs of the legs to free up the pelvis. (I like the forward fold stretch in yoga.)
- Avoid crunches and other exercises that force you to bear down on the PF. Go for stabilizing exercises like planks instead.