Physical Health Rachel Warner

The Advice You Should’ve Gotten

by Rachel Warner MAT, ATC, LAT

I didn’t receive helpful advice from my doctor regarding exercise when I became pregnant. I asked all the questions and got the same canned answer, “just keep doing what you were doing before you got pregnant.”  Just for the record,  I was deadlifting  300lbs and playing soccer. Not things I should have been doing without modification, at the very least. Needless to say, I did not leave the office feeling educated or empowered. 

The lack of clear direction tends to make moms overly cautious during pregnancy, oftentimes avoiding exercise all together, and too quick to return in the postpartum period. So what is the actual advice for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology? Light to moderate exercise during pregnancy is advised for nearly every pregnant person. It has been shown so many benefits including better sleep, lower rates of depression while pregnant and postpartum, decreased risk of preeclampsia, decreased risk of urinary incontinence, decreased risk of cesarean section, and decreased chance of excessive weight gain during pregnancy. 

So, what could you do if you did not exercise prior to becoming pregnant? First, check with your doctor to ensure that light to moderate exercise is safe for you, there are some absolute contraindications for exercise such as restrictive lung disease. Once you get the go ahead, start with lower intensity and shorter bouts of exercise. Gradually increase the time and intensity as your body becomes conditioned. The goal is to start with 1-2 hours a week broken up into multiple 20 to 30 minute sessions. Keep your perceived effort at a moderate level the majority of the time, you should be able speak sentences, but a full conversation would be difficult. Be sure to listen to your body, stop and notify your doctor if you begin experiencing dizziness, chest pain, muscle weakness affecting balance, calf pain or swelling, vaginal bleeding, regular painful contractions, or amniotic fluid leakage. 

There are a few activities you should avoid while pregnant, to ensure your safety and that of the baby. 

  1. Any activity with a high risk of falling. (skiing, surfing, off road- cycling, gymnastics, horseback riding)
  2. Contact sports. (soccer, football, boxing, hockey, rugby, and basketball)
  3. Scuba Diving
  4. Activities in high temperatures (hot yoga, hot pilates) 

If you are not doing any of the activities above, you are likely good to keep doing what you are doing as long as you feel comfortable. Keep in mind, pregnancy is not the time to PR. Modifications to training are recommended and oftentimes required as pregnancy progresses. If you are accustomed to high levels of activity, it is advised to keep high intensity training short. 

If you are unsure what is safe of how to modify an activity consult a healthcare provider specializes in pre and postnatal fitness. 

Visit Rachel and learn more about what she does at:

Cassandra McCoy Physical Health

The Top 5 Functional Exercises You Should Be Doing During Your Pregnancy

By Cassandra McCoy MAT, ATC, LAT, RYT

Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program during pregnancy.

I know I have stated that these are the top prenatal exercises; however, anyone can benefit from these simple, yet effective exercises to help pain in your hips, strengthen the deep core and improve breathing! 

Let’s dive into my top 5 exercises that every soon to be mama needs:


     I can’t think of anyone who can’t benefit from this one. A pregnant woman can begin to naturally default to a chest breath, as baby fills her central cavity and presses into the diaphragm. That makes breathing just plain uncomfortable. This is an exercise you should try first on your back with your legs up, and as you get a better connection between inhale and exhale, you can do this anywhere! My favorite time to practice this breath is on my car rides!

  1. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your lower tummy. Take a deep breath in and try to send the air all the way down to your lower hand. Feel that area exhale and grow. And then as you exhale, send all the air up and out your mouth. Feel your lower abdominal fall back down steadily to its resting state.

   I would love for you to also build to adding the pelvic floor engagement; however, I HIGHLY recommend you go see a pelvic floor physio or a women’s health specialist, because if you happen to have what is called a hypertonic pelvic floor, you will need to be given a specific action to do during breath that will help to lengthen the pelvic floor.

 Bridge into Thrust

This exercise can be done until you feel laying on your back is uncomfortable. Then this exercise can be swapped out for a thrust with your back elevated on a couch. 

    Who doesn’t love the bridge. It is just so adaptable, easy to explain and to do on your own, and its progressable and beneficial for the body. Lay on your back with both knees bent and walk your feet back towards your hips then let them rest on the floor hips width apart. a) Press your ribs down towards your hips and engage your lower abdominal muscles called the transverse abdominals by giving yourself a little cough.  b) Squeeze your glutes (booty muscles) and press through the feet to lift your hips high in line with your knee and shoulders. c) Slowly lower back down to start and relax your muscles. Start with 2 sets of 10 repetitions and go up from there!

     Here are just a few favorite variations that help to stabilize the lumbopelvic area as well as work pelvic floor without you even realizing it.

Here as a great video showing a way to progress from a pelvic tilt into a glute bridge:

    Pillow Squeeze: place a pillow between your legs and squeeze it as you move.

    Band pulse: put an exercise band around your legs just above your knees. 


   Who doesn’t love a good squat? Well if you are pregnant (even if you aren’t), squats are essential for prehabbing the pelvic floor. Doing squats is also working the whole hip muscular through your maintainable range of motion, while working balance and low impact cardio depending on how you execute the exercise. One key thing to remember is that you need to be breathing throughout the movement.

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Toes can turn out slightly depending on what feels comfortable to you. Press your ribs down and give that little couch precontraction of your lower abs. Pretend like you are sitting back into a seat behind you while keeping your chest proud, ribs down, glutes engaged and knees pressing out in line with your toes. Sit down as low as you feel comfortable while maintaining the engagement.
  2. Press through your feet while maintaining engagement of your core and glutes and c) come back to standing

Hinge (deadlift)

   You do not have to have a barbell or special weight to do this exercise throughout the day or during your workout. We need to make sure we have an understanding of what a deadlift (hinge moment) is versus what a squat movement is. This is good prehab for life PRE AND POST baby. Picking up things off the floor has never been such a reality than it is now.

  1. Stand tall with no weight to start with and then add the weights resting on your thighs. Keep your chest wide and ribs down throughout the movement. Pretending like you have a string around your waist that pulls you straight back, send your hips back towards the wall behind you and allow your knees to soften and bend. b)Remember to send the hips back, not down. You might feel tension in your hamstrings.

C )Engage your hips and send them forward to come back to standing.

Farmer’s carries

    No mom goes a day without grabbing a car seat out with one hand while reaching for a bag with the other. Or maybe holding your baby at the hip while grabbing grocery bags out of the trunk for the famous “one trip into the house”.  Also, during pregnancy, our core training strategies need to change, as we move into focusing on proper breathing and engagement while not front loading the abdominal wall at all.

   As we begin our prehab for pregnancy we always need to think about those everyday activities we will need to be strong in, post birth. So working the body with multiple different loads.

With farmers carries, try to carry a weight on one or both sides (maybe pull out that carseat for a test run). Everything from the waist up stays engaged and does not move at all. Be sure you are firmly gripping whatever you are holding to improve shoulder health. Now begin to walk as normally as possible around your home or down the hallway, again keep the upper body nice and tight. 

Don’t forget to start light and slowly progress up as you feel comfortable. Contact your local pelvic floor physical therapist, women’s health athletic trainer or pregnancy exercise specialist to help you dial in these exercises as you need!

Next up: Top 5 Functional Exercises You Should Be Doing After  Baby

Mary Holtrop Mental Health Physical Health

The Losing Battle Against Ice

By Mary Holtrop

One of my passions is walking.

While I walk I am able to enjoy one of my other passions which is reading (via audio books). But for the past five years I was not able to enjoy what brings me peace, time to meditate, enjoy sunshine, get vitamin D and of course, listen to books.  It was March 9, 2015 and it was beginning to show signs of spring in Northwest Illinois.  The trees were starting to bud and the snow and ice were melting. I rushed home from work to get in my first real outside walk since November.  Mind you, I do walk in the winter. But mostly it is a shuffle which includes avoiding patches of ice.  This walk, would have been a real walk. I was so happy and excited when I stepped outside, started my walk and suddenly I was experiencing intense knee pain.  I was not going to be defeated. Anyone who knows me, knows that throw me a brick wall and I will climb it.

I walked 3 miles that day.

But, I also stopped about ten times to rub my knees and wonder ‘what the heck is going on’? To clarify, I exercise almost daily. I had been exercising in my basement all winter long. I was sure I “did something.” I didn’t. My left knee, which had been a bother since 2010 decided it was done. I was not going to walk again until I did something about this. So I visited an orthopedic who went through the cortisone treatment and the gel injection treatments and though the cortisone worked the gel injections didn’t. This knee was done.

Then I moved about 40 minutes further west, closer to my work.  In fact I work four blocks from where I live. And ignoring all the signs and pain I started walking again. But after two good walks, my knee spoke to me. Another two years passed and I finally contacted a local orthopedic in my area. This doctor put me through the same cortisone and gel treatments. They are obligated to take the necessary steps to treat patients in the least evasive method as possible. After my cortisone shot I literally danced I was so happy. I was so happy I could walk, I almost ran. But insurance was going to baulk at some point. These quarterly cortisone shots were going to start costing me money. So there I am, facing knee replacement.  It was February 14, 2019 when I had my surgery. One of the worst winters for ice and cold in Illinois history. But more on that another time.

This is about my walking. How I now get to walk anytime and all the time. Until we had our first snow storm in October.  I immediately got depressed. This cannot be happening so soon. As I tell my son who lives in Denver, “you might get 12” of snow but the next day the sun is shining and the snow is melting.” When it snows in northern Illinois, it sticks around for at least 4 months.  I am a member of our local Park District gym and there are treadmills but it is not the same. I will use the treadmill if I have to, but I am not a fan. I need to be outside. I need fresh air and sunshine. Well that October snow did melt but there was more to come. And it did.

After a brutal storm of ice and slush I was walking to work one morning. Ok, it was more of a shuffle with me mumbling to myself “ice, watch for the ice….you don’t want to fall…” when two separate runners passed me by. Here I am shuffling, staring at the pavement, stressing and worry and they just run on this ice like it is not there. In fact they climb those little curb hills that develop where people don’t shovel and the plows pile the snow high. And they just run. No worries. And then I notice two boys standing outside my work waiting for their parents to pick them up and there it was again, ice, snow all my fears and they just run to the car, climb that snow bank like it doesn’t exist.  So there was my question. ‘When did I stop just being and start fearing?’  I then remember my mother saying “I don’t mind the snow, it’s the ice.” And there I am, my moment, I am my mother and I fear the ice.

I offer no morals to this story. There is no advise, suggestions, or recommendations.  At least not yet. But I am going to work on figuring this out. I don’t want to walk in fear. I just want to be. Walking in fear takes the joy out of my walks. It takes the bounce out of my step. I paid a lot of money for that new knee, that piece of hardware as I refer to it that I am going to find a way to make sure I bring to me, that peace and joy that I get in my walks, all winter long.

Physical Health

Change your posture, change your life

by Julie Loder

In the classes I teach, one of the most profound things I witness is the life-transforming benefits of improving our posture.  By “improving posture” I am talking about strengthening the muscles that lengthen and decompress our spine against the downward pressure and force of gravity, not referring to a goal of achieving any particular spinal curvature or pelvic angle.  The number of all-too-common aches and pains that derive from compromised posture and a compressed spine that is not adequately supported by the muscles of the core and lumbo-hip complex (among others), is extensive. When the spine is not supported it can result in generic low back pain, to sciatica, bulging and herniated discs, neck stiffness, pain down the shoulders and arms, limitations on range of movement to reach, bend, and twist the spine as part of movements in daily life, and on and on.  Developing strength and coordination in the muscles that decompress our spine can be a major part of alleviating these kinds of pain.

One of the benefits of becoming more aware of our posture is actually tied to a different kind of pain and a different form of healing.  Our posture is a huge part of our identity, our personal history, and our way of relating to the world. Our current default posture – the way we automatically tend to stand, sit, and generally hold ourselves upright — is a result of the sum total collection of many of our experiences that impacted our body. Our decisions we have made about how to physically show up in our own bodies, as we introduce ourselves to and navigate the world.  

From beautiful, if physically taxing experiences such as pregnancy, having a child, and the years spent holding our baby on our hip/chest/back. Traumatic events that were beyond our control, like car accidents, surgeries, or other injuries we have sustained.  The events themselves and the physical scarring can indelibly alter the shape of our spine and body, and the way we feel.  

What about the actual deliberate decisions we have made about the way we would carry and present our body to the world?  Decisions that were also not health promoting, self-affirming and resulted in compromised posture?

I hear so many examples of these stories from participants in my classes.  A woman with pronounced rounding and severe atrophy of the muscles of the upper back, told the story of having such painful and embarrassing acne as a teenager that she spent years uncomfortably and antisocially hunched over to hide her face with her hair.  

Another participant with similar physical symptoms expressed that she had been hunching her back since before adolescence as she was very tall and had a very developed chest at an early age.  Being of a shy nature and not wanting to stick out, she hunched over during critical years of physical development and now, in her 40s, has really struggled to even regain the ability to feel or consciously activate the muscles of her upper back, which of course play a central role in our postural health.  

What about other more seemingly innocuous decisions like regularly wearing high heels to achieve a certain look, despite the foot, knee, and back pain they cause? 

These are decisions where we arguably betray our bodies and physical best interests as a result of personal shame and social pressure.  Sometimes these betrayals started in our earliest and most physically and emotionally vulnerable decades of life. Over the years we pay a steep price both physically and emotionally, as the initial betrayal becomes embedded in our muscular patterning.  It leaves a pronounced footprint in the form of aches and pains, and an outward self-presentation. It’s a non-verbal communication with the world – a posture — that is marked by this history of self-betrayal.    

When we become aware of and seek to strengthen our default posture as an adult – for all the incredible physical benefits it can yield — one of the things we are doing is simply learning about our musculature.  We are re-awakening muscles we do not regularly use, and inviting them to perform the work for which they are attached to our skeletal frame. This is a physically challenging and sometimes frustrating process, as the brain struggles to reacquaint itself with muscles and entire movement patterns. It can take a leap of faith to believe we can even begin to feel those muscles again.  It takes a great deal of persistence, patience, mental discipline and mind-body connection practice to overcome that neurological impasse and to be able to access the muscles with the brain. This is the first step in strengthening them.  

This is a physically challenging and sometimes frustrating process, as the brain struggles to reacquaint itself with muscles and entire movement patterns. It can take a leap of faith to believe we can even begin to feel those muscles again. 

-Julie Loder

At the same time, as we become aware of and do physical therapy on our default posture, and take the measures to rehabilitate it back to a healthier, more anatomically and mechanically friendly, health-supportive degree of strength, we very literally do immense emotional therapy for our spirit.  As our body changes, we uncover those old sources of shame, and we reconcile them emotionally and physically. We stand taller. We empower our bodies to move and rest without pain. We can completely change the energy we project and the impression and impact we make, and for the better, since it will come from a healed, dignified self, not one beleaguered under old hurts.  

As we embark on this important personal work and physical challenge of strengthening our posture, let us pair the patience needed to help our brains find our muscles with emotional openness and curiosity, compassion for, and love of self.