Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm on Cribsheet Today

Today an essay I wrote a while back for my beloved Motherwords class is published on the Minneapolis Star Tribune blog Cribsheet. Click on over to read Namaste, about doing yoga at home with sick kids. What? You've done this too? Fun, isn't it?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Childbirth Workout

If you watch television or movies, you might believe that labor is something you do while lying in bed. Mom is flat on her back, the soles of her feet waving to the ceiling. This scenario has become so etched in our pop culture molded minds that most people have come to believe that's just the way childbirth is done.

If you're like me and you gravitate toward moving versus being still (and of course you do if you're reading this blog) then step with me outside the box of Hollywood's (and modern medicine's) model of childbirth. If you're an active mom, childbirth is a great workout so long as you...

Don't take labor lying down. I woke up February 11 thanks to a jolt from my uterus. It made my eyes pop open, made me say "wow," made me take stock of the rest of the week. But I went on with my day, which by the afternoon consisted of a nesting frenzy (shoulda known what was coming next). My doula suggests that women labor like pioneers, who no doubt didn't crawl into bed when labor started. There was work to be done on that farm! Children to care for, meals to make, chickens to feed! So I took my prairie woman role seriously and carried on with my modern prairie woman routine sans chickens--by cleaning out kitchen cabinets, my pantry, my laundry room. By that afternoon I thought all the contractions might be due to my activity level. Rather than lying down, though, I took off to the pool. There is something about pregnancy that makes me gravitate toward water and its weightless wonder. I figured the water would slow things down if it was meant to. When things didn't slow down I figured I had better get out and go home: I wanted a water birth, just not at my gym. 

Move things along by moving along. After a proper dinner (a jalapeno cheeseburger--should have seen the look on the nurse's face when I told her what I had eaten last) we kissed our girls good bye and set out for the hospital. We arrived at about 9 p.m. and learned there was only ONE room left on the maternity floor. Despite having 6 to 7 contractions in an hour I was still in early labor. In my grand plan I didn't want to get admitted until I was further along, but I also didn't want to give up the One Room Left. So I put on my sweatpants and made the hospital my track. I walked, squatted and lunged for an hour, until my contractions were such that they made me stop, made me close my eyes, made me breathe deeply and purposefully. Most everything about labor interventions is designed to "move things along." Sometimes those interventions are necessary no matter what we do, but I'm one who wants to take the initiative and try it on my own first. In the words of my three-year-old, "I do it."  It kinda reminds me of what my barbell strength instructor said about doing push ups on your feet. "Get off your knees ladies! If you don't try doing push ups on your feet, how will you know if you can do push ups on your feet?" She makes a good point, don't you think?

Go with the flow. The thing about being nine-months pregnant is that you can't move too quickly. The body is pretty cumbersome at this point. Lying down is a comfortable position until... you get a contraction. When I feel a contraction coming on, my first instinct is to lean forward, either standing against something or on my hands and knees. If I'm lying down, not only can I not flip over fast enough, it hurts worse in trying. That, above all, is why I avoid being in bed during labor. If you're uncomfortable, the contraction is going to hurt worse. If you fight the contraction, it's going to hurt worse. The body will want to take you where you need to be if you listen (and I mean to your body, not a bunch of people telling you what they think you ought to be doing). At about 11 p.m., when I got back to the One Room Left, I took the birth ball in the shower, where the warm water hit the small of my back and I bounced, bounced, bounced and leaned forward when the contractions came on. Around midnight the big bathtub was ready for me and -- heaven! -- I submerged my body in the support of the warm water. The nice thing about being in water is that you can change positions quickly. Forward and back, side to side, flip turn (just kidding) in an instant. 

Remind yourself you can. I love a good challenge. Sometimes these challenges can hurt, in a good way. Most every hard race I've ever done has hurt at least a little in the end. Not enough to make me quit. Not enough to make me believe I couldn't go on. Just enough to make me appreciate how strong I am. I realize not everyone embraces such challenges or has the need or desire to experience such challenges. And as Henci Goer said to me in an interview once: "Every woman has her enough point." The thing about the "enough point" is that you have to be the one to decide that--not a nurse whose job will be made easier if you're not screaming like a baboon; not your partner or other family members, who don't want to see you in such discomfort; not even your pansy alter ego, who might be leaning over that one shoulder saying, "C'mon, c'mon everyone's doing it!" As a mother athlete you have to know what you want and go for it. But just like in a race, you can't do that at all costs. If you get to your enough point, honor it. And like that race, surround yourself with a support crew. In that room with me was my husband, a midwife, a doula, and several nurses. All were positive, encouraging, supportive, upbeat--they were in my court, cheering for me, I never had one ounce of self doubt because there was no place for it in the atmosphere. 

Revel in the endorphins. Pushing was harder than I remember from my previous birth, when JC seemed to just slither out. While the water was definitely a natural analgesic and most definitely kept "damage" to a minimum, the babe was still nine pounds. Okay, Okay, technically 8 lbs. 15 oz., but I figure since we had a water birth all the birth gunk got washed away, which would have weighed at least one ounce... But what? Could I walk away at that moment? Say, this is too much, I'd like to be done now? Although I've written before that giving birth isn't like a triathlon, this time I could see an analogy. The swim is early labor, relatively easy, the warm up for what is coming. The bike is active labor, a long, steady effort. And then while you're in the transition area you realize--Crap! I'm tired! My legs ache! But I still have to run! There's no other way to get to the finish line. There are no short cuts. You must run through it. And then, at 1:47 a.m. there was a baby on my chest. During the pregnancy we opted not to find out the sex of our baby, but having three daughters already, we were prepared mentally and physically to be parents of four girls. But then a strange thing happened. I heard this: "It's a boy!"

When the workout was over that's when I took to the bed to rest. You know what? It felt good to lie down. But sleep? You ever find it hard to sleep after an especially challenging workout? I was too pumped, too energized, too consumed with the memory of what had just happened. And, also very hungry. I'm not sure how many calories I burned during my childbirth workout but I'm quite certain I earned my eggs, sausage, hash browns, fruit and muffin that morning.

Well, that's it. My last fit pregnancy post. When I'm ready, I'll start blogging about postpartum fitness. I'm not even thinking about it yet. What's been your postpartum fitness experience? After giving birth are you itching to get back to fitness or do you take your time? How did you know you were ready?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Something Else to Read While I Nurse My Wounds

What do men who run marathons and nursing mothers have in common?

Photo Credit to Andy Carvin at Creative Commons

I am too sleep deprived and/or brain dead to write anything worth reading, but I found a great article I'd love to share from Baby Fit, called 11 Things Children Can Teach You About Exercise. It's the sort of thing I'd like to think I could write if I could stay awake. 

Most articles/books about exercise make hyperbolic promises or offer advice that is far from intuitive. This article, however, reminds us that fitness is simple and the secret to success is right under our nose (or boob).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fit Pregnancy Questions Answered: Interview with an Expert

(Thank you Christina for all the great photos.)

I expected to still be pregnant when I posted this interview. Alas, I am NOT! As of Thursday, February 12, I am the mother of a SON! You’d think we have our own Jonas Brother by the giddiness of his big sisters. The Boy already has groupies. We’ll talk more about him and my last pregnant workout later this week. For now, I need to get to this unfinished business...

Since this was my most fit (and final) pregnancy, I paid close attention to my body, noting the differences in this pregnancy relative to my last, less-active pregnancy and how workouts have evolved during this pregnancy relative to my unpregnant workouts. I’ve had some interesting observations to be sure, but also some questions, which I can’t stand to go unanswered.

I took my questions to Catherine Cram, MS, who I had the pleasure of meeting two years ago when I was a student in her prenatal and postpartum exercise certification course (which no doubt served as a huge motivator to exercise during this pregnancy). Cathy is the author of “Fit Pregnancy for Dummies” and has consulted on various other prenatal/postpartum books, exercise videos and magazine articles. She is also the maternal exercise consultant at and I liked Cathy from the start because of her sensibility, which happens to stem from science and research. It’s too bad most physicians don’t have a grasp of the knowledge she has about prenatal and postpartum exercise.

Assuming my questions could benefit someone else out there, I’m going to allow everyone to eavesdrop on the conversation we had a few weeks back.

Kara: For a year I've been taking a "barbell strength" class. I was almost always sore after these classes. Until I got pregnant. I've even loaded up on weight, taken a class with an instructor who is "Jillian-like," and still, not sore. I've got to imagine this has something to do with pregnancy hormones. Relaxin at work? Something else?

Cathy: I’ve never seen any literature on that.

Kara: Leave it to me to stump the expert.

Cathy: I can make a lot of interesting guesses: Because of the relaxin the ligaments could have more stretch to them. Relaxin is the hormone that effects the connective tissue. It’s why the diastasis recti (the thinning and widening of the connective tissue that joins the two sides of the recti muscle in your abdominal wall) widens, to allow the baby to grow, and it widens the pubic bone about one inch for birth. This can explain much of the discomfort in pregnancy: the pelvic bones have to do a lot more support; the lumbar curve is more exaggerated. Every time the baby has a growth spurt, the bones and ligaments must compensate and stretch. Or it could be a factor of cardiovascular changes and hormonal changes. During pregnancy a woman has a 40 percent increase of cardiac output. With better blood flow you can get waste products out sooner and heal muscles more quickly.

Kara: Those answers make sense to me. So keep lifting?

Cathy: As long as you feel good and the baby is growing normally then you’re fine. Just be careful of the strain part--your body is already at a push point.

Kara: Right. Would not want to push this baby out during barbell strength class. But I know what you mean about feeling maxed out. If I've had a somewhat strenuous workout, I find myself more sleepy and/or tired than on days I go easy or don't workout at all. I'm assuming this is my body's way of needing to recharge. I remember with triathlon training the advice was for every hour of hard effort in training, you should sleep an extra hour. True with pregnancy too?

Cathy: During pregnancy you’re already going through a training event all day long.
It’s like you’ve been wearing a backpack for 30 weeks, which keeps getting bigger and bigger. A month ago your backpack was 10 pounds and now it’s 20.

Kara: Actually, a month ago it was 30 pounds and now it’s 40.

Cathy: That’s a lot to carry around and we’re not even counting metabolic changes. At 30 weeks you’re doing 1/4 more work at the same intensity on top of carrying that load all day long.

Kara: So rest, isn’t actually resting unless I’m completely off my feet and lying prone.

Cathy: Yes, and after a half hour of exercise you will feel as tired, but not necessarily as challenged, as an hour did a few months ago. But as an athlete you know the normal of “I don’t feel like doing this” versus “I ‘m really fatigued.” If you feel like you haven’t recovered from your last workout, then don’t do the next workout. If you feel like activity is what you need, ease up on the intensity. Pay attention to your body. Exercise is good for the baby but you need to put rest in the equation even more than before. Modify. Play around with the equation. Women who do a lot of exercise during pregnancy and don’t rest end up breaking down a lot.

Kara: I love the growing backpack analogy and I think we do forget that we’re working even when we’re not working out. My legs certainly feel that way going up my stairs several times a day. Another thing I’ve noticed in this last month is a lot more Braxton Hicks contractions when I work out. What do I do about those little critters?

Cathy: It’s likely the movement in the abdominal area and weight bearing exercise that triggers the Braxton Hicks contractions. The up and down motion can irritate the round ligaments and abdominal wall. They’re very normal. If you stop they should stop. Just slow down until they go away. Determine where that threshold is in your workout where the contraction starts and then slow down or stop just before it strikes. You might be able to extend the duration you can exercise before getting a contraction. Just exercise right below that threshold.

Kara: It reminds me of heart rate training--to workout out below a certain heart rate threshold to train your body to work harder at a lower heart rate. We could use fetal monitors at the gym like we use heart rate monitors.

Now, about weight gain...I find it interesting that even with working out 4 to 6 days a week, I've still gained as much weight as my sedentary pregnancy. Are women just destined to gain a certain amount of weight during pregnancy--what their bodies need to carry a child--or, am I just eating more to compensate for all the exercise? OR, because of all this exercise, could my placenta possibly weigh 10 pounds? Ummm, 20 pounds?

Cathy: Some women just need to gain more. As long as you’re eating healthy and exercising your body is saying, ‘this is what you need.’ As long as your diet is healthy, it’s pure, healthy weight gain.

Kara (In thought): How healthy are Cocoa Crispies?

Kara: But my placenta will be bigger, right?

Cathy: There is one-third more blood flow in the placentas of women who exercise 5 to 6 days a week, which is why you see fewer complications in labor and birth for exercising women. The baby still can get enough oxygen in stressful labors because it’s learned how to do that over the course of the pregnancy during periods of exercise. It’s your baby’s strength training. Babies of exercising mothers adapt just like mothers adapt to the exercise stimuli. To use weight training as an example: If we do it correctly, we slowly load muscle. Then we rest and the muscle rebuilds to meet that load we put on it. When a woman exercises, the baby is having to deal with little bouts of reduced blood flow that causes the baby to adjust to the reduced blood flow, which gives it a safety valve or reserve for times of greater stress. But we’re talking little bouts; incrementally and carefully. You’re not overloading. As with weight training, if you overload it you injure it. [Note: I distinctly remember getting monitored at some point during labor and the midwife commenting to the nurse about baby's heart rate during a contraction. She said: "Baby isn't phased at all."]

Kara: I’ve continued to exercise regularly through this pregnancy but now I’m unsure how to approach the postpartum period. Do I follow that “nothing for 6 weeks” recommendation?

Cathy: That 4-6 weeks is a vague recommendation and doesn’t take into account each woman’s level of fitness, her postpartum recovery rate and whether or not she’s healing from a cesarean section or birth injury such as a tear or episiotomy. Go by how you feel. If you’re still having fairly heavy bright red bleeding you should hold off on exercise. If you feel energetic enough to try a little go for it. The rule of thumb is, if you have increased bright red bleeding during or after exercise it’s a sign that your body isn’t recovered enough for that level of exercise. A woman can try two things: ease up considerably on her intensity and duration and see if she still bleeds, or wait another week or more before trying to exercise again. Brown spotting postpartum is normal, it’s the change in color and amount that is cause for concern. If you do have increased bleeding then you over did it, or you’re not ready.

Kara: How soon can I get back to that barbell strength class? [Note: I can't even believe I asked this question. Furthest thing from my mind right now...]

Cathy: Do weights on your own first, so you don’t get caught up in the class atmosphere.

Kara in thought: I think what she’s saying here is that even when we know we have nothing to prove, we will be tempted to show off anyway in front of an audience. “Look at me--I just gave birth and I can lift 60 lbs, with my pinkie finger!”

Cathy: During that postpartum period your center of gravity is returning to what it was prior to pregnancy, and your muscles, joints and ligaments are having to adapt to an overnight like change in your body shape and weight. Organs are pressing back into place. Any stress-bearing activity needs to be approached with caution, so just be careful. Give yourself a month on your own before going back.

Kara: Thanks Cathy for your motivation and your continuing enlightenment. You’re a huge help to many mamas and mamas-to-be! 

Oh, and here's that "After" shot!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mama Sweat at Culinary Competitor

I thought about posting today, but why should I when I can simply redirect you to this post at Culinary Competitor? You already know I love Culinary Competitor, but now I love them more because they interviewed me for their site (promotion, what's not to love?) I answered all their questions late one night/early morning when I couldn't sleep. So the length of my answers is a reflection of my insomnia. If you make it through the post (or get bored) do browse through their many recipes. I try several each month and I've never been disappointed. Yum, yum, and more yum.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Isn't Life Goldy?

When I returned home from yoga class yesterday, my husband and our daughters were putting coats on and heading off somewhere.

"We're going to a basketball game!" K said enthusiastically.

"You are? Who's playing?"

"Minnesota," my husband answered.

"Wow girls, " I said squatting down to button a coat, "Did you know daddy played basketball on that team?"

"We're going to watch the girls play," my husband corrected. (Should have known since we had just watched the boys play on television the night before--pregnancy brain interference).

My husband was taking our three daughters to watch girls college basketball. Was it Valentine's Day already?

Aside from the fact being home alone would allow me to score a two hour nap (and it was heaven), my daughters were going to their first basketball game--ever. The impression they'll be left with is that girls play basketball. When I grew up, and this was post Title IX, girls played sports, but not to the extent they do today. Plus, I didn't grow up watching other women play sports. When I went back to my high school reunion last year I found out the pom pon squad (full disclosure: I was on it) no longer existed. I asked our teacher what happened and she said that all the girls play sports now. Fantastic news, even if it did come at the expense of pom pons.

When my daughters came home I learned all about Minnesota Women's Basketball. First of all they won--making them the only team in the Big 10 undefeated on their home court; that they played Iowa; that 8000 people attended; that their favorite players were Zoe, Emily and Kiara; that cheerleaders were there and they danced at half-time (more full disclosure, I was a pom pon girl in college too and we never danced at the girls games); and then they showed me how to dribble a ball and shoot a basket. 

Somewhere around my house I have my old pom pon uniforms and the pom pons, too. They'll stay boxed up for now. It took me a long time to figure out I didn't want to be on the sidelines cheering for someone else. I think my girls are getting a good start knowing that they can be in the game. Thanks to girls like Zoe, Emily and Kiara, and especially their dad.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Exercise Guilt Redux

I am supposed to be here to motivate you to exercise. Sometimes, though, we can't, won't or don't. Does it help the situation to heap huge piles of guilt onto our already guilt-addled mind?

Like any question worth answering: it depends.

Let's start by splitting people in two very broad categories: Those who are living a fit lifestyle and will never let go and those who want to be fit, maybe have attained fitness, but go about it in, shall we say, "fits and starts," so that it's more an on-again, off-again relationship. 

For the later, a little guilt behind the eyeballs is going to help. If feeling guilty about missing a workout helps you be accountable, then guilt may be all the Jillian Michaels you need screaming down your neck to get moving.

For the former, those of us (and I do include myself in that group) who know any absence of fitness in their life is going to be temporary (whether it's two days of missed workouts, which is usually my tolerance level, or say months, due to illness or injury) guilt has no place. 

Good Reasons Vs. Bad Excuses

Nine times out of ten we miss a workout because of a bad excuse (even though we might think it's a good reason). Bad excuses take on many forms, but 99.8 percent of the time it boils down to "I just don't have time," or "I am just too tired." If I haven't convinced everyone reading this blog that we can always find time to exercise, I've failed you miserably. Same goes with the too tired excuse. Thirty minutes of exercise trumps 30 minutes in bed in the morning. Does that mean you can never use a bad excuse to skip a workout. Nah! We all need our indulgences folks. Sometimes I eat two desserts in one day! Gasp! Sometimes I get a massage when I don't feel like I need one! Ohhhhh... naughty! Sometimes I watch Oprah without folding clothes! Throw the woman a box of bon bons! Sometimes I don't workout for no good reason! Hey, we all need to indulge every now and then, even Michael Phelps. Poor kid. If anyone deserved a hit off a bong, he certainly did. 

Wait, where am I going with this? OK, yes, bad excuses: covered. Now, on to good reasons to miss a workout. This is especially important for those in that fit lifestyle group; we don't always see a good reason to skip a workout when we should and tend to exercise at all costs. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. I could give you all sorts of pertinent examples, but only you can know when skipping a workout to do something else makes sense. For some people a bad excuse may be a good reason and vice versa. In this way, we not only have to "know our body" but also, "be real with our mind." 

Weighing the Trade Offs

Life is always about trade offs. I'm not here to tell you you can do it all. I'm sure someone else is blogging about that. However, I believe you can do as much as you want over the duration of your life. That requires making choices. 

To bring it back to fitness: This week has been an exercise in trade-offs, which is to say, that's the only "exercise" I have had. To wit:

Monday's choice: Get up and workout at 5:30 a.m. or take my children to the zoo in the afternoon. 

Monday's decision: How is that an either/or decision, you ask? I don't want to use being 37 weeks pregnant as an excuse to skip workouts, but the reality is two-fold: for one, the early morning workouts require downtime in the afternoon these days, and two, with a newborn soon come, I'm not sure when we'll get back to the zoo. I wanted to do something fun with the girls. As it turned out, they like to run from one exhibit to the next, so walking the zoo for two hours was more of a workout than I expected. 

Monday's outcome: No guilt.

Tuesday's choice: Go to the gym after preschool or go to the new American Girl Doll store at the Mall of America.

Tuesday's decision: I have three daughters who have only seen American Girl dolls through the catalog (interesting how we found our way on their mailing list). My children have been pleading for weeks. In this case mother guilt trumped exercise guilt. And, if you've ever been to the Mall of America, you know I got another great walk workout in.

Tuesday outcome: No guilt. And I didn't spend a dime in the store. Another victory of sorts.

Wednesday's choice: OK, I'm now going on two days of unofficial workouts. But the day is packed with things to do. The list is long and time is limited for me. 

Wednesday's decision: I fall back on allowing the last two days of walking the zoo and the mall to count as workouts and blow through my to-do list, which I can only do because Work Out Partner Pam is watching my children all afternoon. I feel victorious at my accomplishments: I even took care of renewing my expired license and a trip to the dentist to replace my 11-year-old and now cracked night guard (mild mannered during the day, but don't get between my teeth at night--some vicious clenching going on).

Wednesday's outcome: No guilt, but I miss the gym.

Thursday's choice: I would normally go to the gym after preschool--especially if I haven't had an "official workout" in days. But, my friend Christina is in town and this is the only day we have to spend together.

Thursday's decision: Don't be silly, of course we're hanging out, what kind of worm would I be?

Thursday's outcome: Don't be silly, of course I won't feel guilty over spending time with her instead of at barbell strength class. 

But come Friday morning I am out of good reasons to skip exercise. I will work out. If anything keeps me from the gym it will only be a bad excuse.

Now my good reasons may not be your good reasons. But we all have them and need to honor them from time to time (or sometimes all in the same week). Sometimes we need to make trade-offs in life. And little indulgences? Yeah, don't deny yourself those, either, just be wary of people taking photos. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Three Good Children's Fitness Books

We read a lot at our house. Olivia, Suess, Fancy Nancy and Skippy John Jones are always at the top of the heap. Fortunately these books are enjoyable for both parents and children. Is there anything worse than having to read a book you despise? And then getting called out when you try to skip over a page or two?

A few of our other favorites are fitness books. As I go about preaching fitness as a family value, they're the books that drive home the message right before drifting off to dream land, where yoga poses and fun runs dance through their heads. 

The Busy Body Book, by Lizzy Rockwell. There aren't many books out there that show kids getting fit or kids engaged in fitness. Very little exists beyond your standard hare and tortoise story. The Busy Body Book, however, covers kids fitness without ever mentioning the word "exercise." The book explains why it's important to move your body, and then what happens inside your body when you're busy and why good nutrition, hydration and rest are important, too. My kids love the anatomy lesson and all the pictures in the back that depict kids engaged in various physical activity. 

My Daddy is a Pretzel, by Baron Baptiste. If your children have ever watched you practicing yoga at home, or better, if they've tried to join you in various poses, then I highly recommend this book. It's a cute story with the explanation and illustrations for nine different kid-friendly yoga poses. My girls now know the names for each pose and how to do them, without the assistance of the book. Besides, doing a little yoga before bedtime is never a bad idea, and if you haven't managed to squeeze in your workout yet, then join them and let that count!

See Mom Run, by Kara Douglass Thom. Oh, right... that's me! What are blogs for if not for a little shameless self-promotion? The truth is, I wrote this book before becoming a mom. But you know what? I wouldn't change the story one bit. Penny's a little girl who "helps" her mom train for a marathon. Her mom becomes that role model I believe is so important for young kids to have if they're going to grow up being fit, too. And, by books end, Penny is running in a fun run with her mommy. My twins were three before I included this book in their personal library and I didn't bother explaining that mommy wrote the book (even if they did understand, would they care?) and I'm delighted to say that I don't ever have to pick the story out for them--they choose it on their own (thank goodness or my dreams of making it as a writer would be crushed).

Those are our favorite children's fitness books? You have any to share, too?