You’re Not Out of Shape, You’ve Just Had Babies

“I used to be pretty fit before I had children. Now I’m just completely out of shape.” I hear this type of statement often from mothers of young children. They have tried getting back to physical activities that they used to do before having children, but find they have more difficulty. They usually wind up in my clinic discouraged and with some sort of injury.

It’s Just Too Much Effort

A common theme I find in these clients is they feel that physical activity has become very effortful. Something that they could have done with their eyes closed, like running 5km or playing a game of volleyball, now requires colossal effort and leaves them exhausted.   Inevitably, they draw the conclusion that they are just “completely out of shape” and, in true mom fashion, beat themselves up for it.

What I generally find upon doing a full body assessment is a significant lack of stability, particularly through the hips and pelvis. This doesn’t seem surprising given what happens during childbirth. Aside from the muscles of the lower back, abdomen, and pelvic floor getting stretched to the limit, the hips get pushed up and back to make way for baby hanging out in front.

Lack of Stability is the Culprit

What is surprising is how long these stability issues can last, and how much they can affect the feeling of lack of fitness. If left untreated, the lack of stability through the hips and pelvis can persist indefinitely. I have seen women with adult children who have told me “things just haven’t been the same since I had my kids.” Upon taking a detailed history, what comes to light is a longstanding lack of stability that has lead to many subsequent issues such as back pain, balance issues, and neck pain to name but a few.

The feeling of being “out of shape” relates back to the lack of stability.   When things are unstable in takes more effort to hold them together. Let’s describe it in terms of efficiency using this analogy. Imagine you had to transport 10 litres of water, which weighs 22 pounds or 10 kilos, to your neighbour’s house about ten doors down. If you had a small barrel with a sturdy handle that just fit 10 litres of water (i.e. there would be minimal sloshing around), it would be heavy but manageable. What if you had to carry that same amount of water in a big flat storage container? Now the water is sloshing around, the container feels unstable in your hands, and you have to exert a lot more effort to transport it.

I Feel Loosey-Goosey

After giving birth and trying to get active again, moms almost always tell me that everything feels “too loose” and even “out of control”. The effort required for them to literally hold themselves together while being physically active is greatly increased over what it was before, and this is why they feel that exercise is too effortful. They are trying to contain those 10 litres of water in the big flat storage container all the time. The increased muscle effort required leads to increased demands on our oxygen supplies so it also leads to more shortness of breath and thus the conclusion that “I am just out of shape”.

The hallmark sign that lack of stability is the issue, is that even with regular exercise, this feeling of being out of shape does not improve. Normally with regular exercise we increase our aerobic capacity, which means that over time we find the same amount of exercise requires less breathing effort and feels easier. If stability is the issue the improvement either doesn’t come at all or appears minimally. This is where women get frustrated, blame themselves, sadly often give up, and succumb to that litre of Häagen-Dazs.

If any of this sounds familiar, then you may be suffering from issues of stability related to childbirth, even if that was many years ago. So put down the spoon, pick up your chin, and give us a call. It is not your fault. You are not doing anything wrong. You just need some help to replace your flat storage container of water with a nice tight barrel.

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