5 Things I Want Every Female Athlete To Know
By Gillian Boyd
My life has made a huge shift in the last two years; pregnancy and parenthood. Anyone that has experienced both of these events (or even just one of them) knows how life-altering they can be.
I did not enjoy being pregnant. I struggled to be in the gym. “You’re so fit!” they would all say. “You’ll have such an easy labor and delivery! You’ll bounce back in no time!” Those words while well-intentioned ended up being so hurtful.
I didn’t have an easy labor and delivery. I didn’t “bounce back” (what does that even mean?!?!?). I felt lost. I was exhausted. I felt like a failure because I wasn’t doing all the things people said I would. Did that mean I wasn’t fit before? Does that mean I didn’t have a fit pregnancy? Ack! So much anxiety, fear, and hurt.
At the same time, I am also thankful for the experiences I had because they ended up inspiring me to learn anything and everything surrounding pregnancy and postpartum training. Everything about fitness, nutrition, and health for women. I dove head-first into Brianna Battle’s Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coaching Certification. I connected with amazing coaches out there doing incredibly positive work for female athletes. I read, researched, and studied. I’m still learning,but it’s time that I share some of it.
The next five things are just the tip of the iceberg. I want you all to read these things, get curious, ask questions, and tell your friends about them. Let’s take better care of our women. Let’s take better care of each other. Let’s take better care of ourselves. Knowledge is power.
#1). YOUR PELVIC FLOOR MATTERS (this is really important for women AND men):
Did you know that your pelvic floor is part of your “core”? Many people know how important your core is for preventing injury and providing stability, but how many of you when cued to engage your core think about contracting your pelvic floor? Most people that I know don’t. We mostly just think of the main abdominals: the Rectus Abdominis, the Obliques, and the Transverse Abdominals. The truth is that these abdominal muscles function best when working in concert with both your diaphragm and your pelvic floor (and they all function via your breath!). When they don’t work well together, dysfunction happens. Symptoms of dysfunction can be hip, back, or pelvic pain, incontinence, feeling heavy, or feeling pressure down below. I know many of you suffer from chronic back and/or hip pain. I did too, pretty much my whole life. But you know what’s crazy? Since learning about my pelvic floor, how it functions, and how to train it to work together with the diaphragm and abdominals…I’ve had little to no back pain! Seriously, this breathwork and awareness is life-changing.
If you are interested in what the pelvic floor looks like and how it functions, here is a little video.
Want to see a cool MRI of the way your core works with your breath? Check this out.
If you are currently experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, I highly recommend going to see a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist. They can help you. This stuff matters. Even for you dudes.
#2). No, peeing yourself, pelvic pain, and having a poochy tummy are not “part of being a mom”
You see this message in Poise commercials. You hear your girlfriends say it. Maybe you’ve even joked about it before. The message I want to get across is that while these things ARE COMMON, they are NOT NORMAL and you don’t have to live with them. There is help. As mentioned above, peeing yourself even when you sneeze or jump is a sign that your pelvic floor isn’t functioning properly. With proper training and help from a professional, you (most likely) will resolve your issue (I put most likely in there because there are rare cases where surgery is needed, but even then the issue is usually resolved). The same goes for pelvic pain. It’s a symptom that something is wrong, just like if your knee was hurting. Most of us would see a doctor for bad knee pain, but yet women “just put up with” pelvic pain because they think they have to. That’s bullsh*t. Lastly, do you hear mom’s complain about the appearance of their tummy post babies ( I’m specifically talking about when the lower abdomen “pooches” out)? What if I told you that often this is just a combination of Diastasis Recti that didn’t heal properly post-delivery and mismanagement of abdominal pressure? That’s right, training the pelvic floor and core through specific breath work and physical therapy might change the appearance of your tummy. Did your mind just explode? Mine did when I found that one out. It’s not always the case, and sometimes there is more at play for this one, but I want women to know there is help other than crash diets and punishing yourself in the gym.
#3). The way you exercise through pregnancy and especially postpartum (1st year or so) MATTERS.
Not a lot of people are comfortable saying this, but I think it needs to be said; Pregnancy is hard on your body. Labor and delivery (in all forms) is traumatic injury/surgery to your body. We have exhaustive rehabilitation protocols for knee replacements, shoulder surgeries, and even sprained ankles. We have no rehab recommendations AT ALL for the nearly 4 MILLION women giving birth every year in the US. Did you know that it’s estimated that around 3.3 million women in America have Pelvic Organ Prolapse? Or that Stress Incontinence (peeing while jumping/sneezing/etc) affects nearly 15 million women in the US? Both of these are usually caused by or exacerbated by pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum habits. Both can also be managed/reduced/eliminated by proper education, care, and exercise. Are you pissed? Im pissed.
I want to change this. There are doctors, nurses, coaches, physical therapists, and so many others that want to change this. Unfortunately, quality information is still hard to find and the internet is rife with misguided recommendations and guidelines. So I’m here to tell you, and I hope you tell your friends too; there are considerations you should make to your training during pregnancy. There are ways to ease back into training that help to rebuild the core and pelvic floor, reduce diastasis recti, and progress you in an intelligent way.
You don’t need to exercise through pregnancy to keep weight gain down (your body does what it needs to do to build a healthy baby. Surrender to that, focus on eating a quality diet). You don’t need to slave away in the gym and go right back to “doing what you were doing” to “lose the baby-weight”.( #buzzkill) You’ll probably gain a lot of the weight you lost post-baby back once you stop breastfeeding (because #hormones *whomp, whomp*).
There are so many more ways to nourish your soul, your body, and your mind than “punishing” yourself in the gym. You’ll likely end up discouraged, peeing your pants, and in pain if you rush things. If we rebuild your core, pelvic floor, and strategy in an intelligent, individualized way you are more likely to return to doing what you love, the way you want to do it, without any complications. Doesn’t that sound like something every woman should experience?
#4). Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Training
Yup. You read that right. It’s not a myth. Understanding how your hormones affect your training will help you to understand what you are feeling and experiencing in and out of the gym.
Let’s do a crash-course: Your cycle begins right after you finish menstruating with the follicular phase which lasts, on average, about 14 days. You have an increase in estrogen and normal progesterone in this phase, and an average body temperature. Ovulation happens around day 14 and is characterized by a peak in estrogen and rising levels in progesterone. Your body temperature also rises. After ovulation, you enter the luteal phase where estrogen declines, progesterone increases and your body temperature is elevated. Menstruation then follows.
Now, what does all of this mean for your training and recovery? The follicular phase, or beginning of your cycle is the best time to train hard. You will have a higher tolerance to pain, increased endurance, and your insulin sensitivity levels are higher making your body more tolerant of carb-fueling your workouts. Your basal metabolic rate, or the number of calories your body needs to keep you functioning at rest, is also at its lowest during this phase, dropping to its lowest point one week before ovulation.
During ovulation, you are the most primed to make PRs! You have the highest sheer force generation capacity during this phase. It’s important to note though that studies have found that it is also the time you are most susceptible to injury. Soaring estrogen levels can influence your neuromuscular control and affect collagen metabolism. So be mindful of your form while going for those PRs! Your metabolism is also starting to go up, so you may feel more hungry.
During the luteal phase, you will be retaining water making you feel bloated and uncomfortable. You experience higher cardiovascular strain and your endurance will decrease. This is a great time to step back form intensity, and focus more on moderately paced efforts. Metabolically, you will be at your lowest point, yet your body will really crave a lot of carb-rich foods. Try to stick to quality, high fat foods like avocados as your body is primed for fat-burning for fuel during this phase.
The last phase, menstruation, is a time to transition back to high intensity training, which will peak in the following phase.
Now, wouldn’t it be fun if we could all time our 1RM testing to our Ovulation phases?!?
#5). Consistency and Kindness
This one I’m going to keep short, but it may be the most important:
Consistency over time is THE MOST CRUCIAL factor in weight loss, fitness, health, and wellbeing. There are no quick fixes. Keep your head down and keep going. It will pay off. I promise.
Kindness to yourself. You need it. When you lack it, you won’t be consistent. If you veer off course and then beat yourself up over it, you are less likely to get back to being consistent. Lack of consistency leads to lack of progress. You see the loop this is forming? Do yourself a favor and be kind to yourself. You are doing great. Seriously you are. Now tell yourself that too, because you need to hear it from you!
If this info sparks your curiosity, you need support, or you want to talk more about this stuff, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or text/call (831) 234-3506. I am here for you, no matter what you are going through or what your goals are.