Mothering a new baby is a tough job, requiring the constant lifting and carrying of an ever-increasing weight (the weight of a newborn is averaged at 3.5kg and rising) not to mention the countless squats and lunges performed throughout an extremely long “working day.”
New mothers need to be high-level athletes, but in the wake of childbirth they find themselves severely lacking in energy, vitality and functional strength, especially with regards to their core and pelvic floor – the foundation of all true strength.
As fitness professionals seeking to serve this client group, one of our major challenges is to create exercise programs that mirror the activities of daily life for the postnatal client, ensuring we create “match fit mums” who are truly fit-for-purpose.
In order to restore strength, function, muscle tone and energy while simultaneously reducing unwanted pregnancy fat stores, we need a highly effective but time-efficient and non-draining exercise solution. Enter the principle of vibration training.
Vibration training, combined with the principles of restoring Lumbopelvic Stability(4), works to “supersize” and accelerate the results of each exercise session without a corresponding increase in effort for the postnatal client who is typically sleep-deprived, time-poor and energy deficient. Most new and not-so-new mothers desperately feel that they need to exercise for all the feel-good and fat loss benefits alongside vital strength gains but usually just don’t have lots of time and/or energy. Vibration training fulfills the brief as it involves short (under 30 minutes), highly-effective, multi-tasking workouts that effectively target the main areas of concern for the postnatal client – the core, pelvic floor and fat loss.
The physiological and system changes that occur during pregnancy can have a lasting legacy well into the postnatal period and need to be considered when planning restorative exercise for this special population.
Possible Issues for the Postnatal Client
- Changes to posture/biomechanics – typically Upper and Lower Crossed Syndrome (possibly leading to muscular/joint pain and discomfort).
- Decrease in muscle tone and strength, proprioception and balance.
- Core Dysfunction (may include Rectus Distension, Pelvic Floor muscle weakness, tissue and/or nerve damage, non-optimal breathing, lack of function in erector musculature and fascia, reduced sensation and neurological disconnection to abdominal muscles especially if C-Section).
If you are new to the concept of vibration training – in basic terms – when whole body vibration is incorporated into an exercise session, both target and non-target musculature is stimulated unconsciously by the multi-directional vibrating plate and absorbs the vibration at hugely increased speeds of between 30-50 times per second. This leads to a highly significant rise in muscle contraction and fitness gains without the traditional increase in loading (i.e., lifting a progressively heavier weight). This major factor creates the potential for a shorter workout compared with traditional earth-based training. (1)
Vibration Plate Exercises for the Post Natal Client
Here is a selection of exercises designed to restore the post natal client and improve Lumbopelvic Stability along with the rationale that demonstrates their place within modern exercise prescription for the post natal client:
- Vibration Plate Settings: Good practice would involve starting work with a beginner postnatal client on the lowest level of vibration combined with a modest work/rest ratio. A frequency of 30Hz for 30 seconds on a LOW setting is ideal. As the client improves in strength, stamina and ability, the period of work and the level of vibration can be advanced using standard fitness progression protocols.
Resistance Band Deadlifts
In the flexed-hip, neutral spine position, the client is asked to contract the TVA (transversus abdominis). The abdominals are challenged by a combination of factors: resisting gravity, TVA contraction and unconscious stimulation via vibration. The vibrations also provide unconscious work for the pelvic floor. Additionally, the resisted bend-to-extend pattern of the “Deadlift” fires the core by providing work more specifically for the Lumbar Multifidus, Erector Spinae muscles and Thoracolumbar Fascia. (8,3) (See Image 1.)
Image 1. Resistance Band Deadlift
A familiar "total core" exercise that is then supersized by adding whole body vibration. When performing this exercise on the vibration platform you will find that your stability and consequently your core are even further challenged. (See Image 2.)
Image 2. "Superman"
Restoring glute strength in the postnatal period is a vital component of improving both posture and functional strength. This exercise asks the client to work with an inverted front foot to activate the Gluteus Maximus even before we take into account the weighted lunge and the added vibration! This move will bring life to even the sleepiest of postnatal bottoms and also provides great work for the thoracic postural muscles. The model is demonstrating this exercise using the Power Plate® Pro 6 complete with Upper Body Device but this exercise can also be performed using a resistance band attached to the fixed handles of a standard machine.(8 )(See Image 3.)
Image 3. "Faster" Ass
Kneeling Scapular Retraction
Again in the flexed hip position, the client is asked to contract the TVA (also firing pelvic floor muscles). The vibration plate provides extra unconscious work for the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. While simultaneously maintaining TVA activation, the client draws the resistance band apart providing work for the thoracic postural muscles, while the lumbar and erector muscles and associated fascia are stimulated by maintaining the hip-hinged position and TVA activation.(8,3) (See Image 4.)
Image 4. Kneeling Scapular Retraction
Bridge with Adduction
A great multi-tasker – the bridge position obviously simultaneously fires the glutes, hamstrings and low back and coaching the client to maintain a neutral pelvis is the most ideal position for pelvic floor activation. Adding adduction by squeezing a ball between the knees creates further stimulus for the pelvic floor muscles by stimulating the adductors as synergists. (See Image 5.)
Image 5. Bridge with Adduction
Kegel Hip Hitch
Working on the principle of providing eccentric and concentric work for the pelvic floor muscles in relation to their attachments to the Ischial Tuberosities, the client is coached to maintain TVA contraction throughout and on performing the hip-hitch (concentric for pelvic muscles) after first lowering the foot towards the ground (eccentric for pelvic floor muscles) she is also coached to perform a Kegel pelvic floor contraction simultaneously. This revolutionary mode of working the pelvic floor is also hugely accentuated by the addition of vibration providing unconscious work. And just for extra measure, there are also great toning benefits for the glutes and musculature of the standing leg.(7 )(See Image 6.)
Image 6. Kegel Hip Hitch
Neutral Spine Hand Pushes
Entry-level exercises for the early post natal client. While maintaining a neutral spine, TVA activation, isometric double-handed presses are coached. These two moves provide great stimulation for the whole hoop of the core (including the pelvic floor) and accelerated muscle activity is provided by the addition of vibration. (See Image 7.)
Image 7. Neutral Spine Hand Pushes
This move combines the core muscles resisting the effects of gravity in the prone position with extra stimulus for the pelvic floor through pelvic tilting plus simultaneous Kegel contractions. As the pelvis is moved into the neutral position and the client reports pelvic floor activation (heightened by the vibrations), she is also coached to perform a simultaneous Kegel contraction.(7)(See Image 8.)
Image 8. Ab-Scooping Kegels
Plate Scoop & Crunch
A crunch but not as you know it! Here we are performing Rectus Abdominis flexion and extension in the prone kneeling position. The client is coached to activate the TVA throughout and the trainer helps the client truly visualize the concentric and eccentric phases of the exercise as the knee is brought in and then the leg is extended out. Again, vibration creates extra stimulation to the whole core and greatly accelerates the benefits and results of this exercise.(3) (See Image 9.)
Image 9. Plate Scoop & Crunch
“The Campbell Crunch”
A six point box position is adopted by adding a step platform close the plate. The client is coached to contract TVA (working the prone core against gravity) and then lift her knees two inches off the plate whilst maintaining the TVA contraction and a neutral spine. When performing the entry level version of this exercise, the client is coached to lift and lower the knees (each move being held for approximately 2 seconds) but this exercise can easily be progressed by asking the client to hold the elevated position for longer or by also incorporating palm lifts. (See Image 10.)
Image 10. “The Campbell Crunch”
The information and exercise within this article represents just a tiny snapshot of the potential of vibration training within the health and fitness scenario.
By the way, did you know that there were nearly 750,000 live births in the UK alone in 2008...that’s a lot of potential postnatal gym members and personal training clients!
References, Further Reading & Education Resources
- Van der Meer, G., Zeinstra, E., Tempelaars, J. & Hopson, S. (2007). Handbook of Acceleration Training – Science, Principles & Benefits. Power Plate International.
- Burrell, J. (2007) Post Natal Assessment and Exercise Prescription, REPs Endorsed, 1 – Day CPD Workshop. Burrell Education. (Available via PTontheNet Box Office)
- Power Plate Post Natal Assessment and Exercise Prescription, 1-Day CPD Workshop, J Burrell, Burrell Education & Power Plate International, 2009. (Available via PTontheNet Box Office)
- Richardson, C., Hodges, P. & Hides, J. (2004). Therapeutic Exercise for Lumbopelvic Stabilization, 2(nd) Edition, Churchill Livingstone.
- Gray, G. (2003) Functional Digest Series: The Pelvic Floor, V3.3.
- Carriere, B. (2002). Fitness for the Pelvic Floor. Thieme.
- Franklin, E. (2002). Pelvic Power. Elysian Editions, Princeton Book Company.
- Burrell, J. (2010) The Crunchless Core DVD, www.crunchlesscore.com.
Before considering any exercise session with the Post Natal client using a vibration platform, the fitness professional should be both certified as a pre/post natal specialist and have undergone a foundation level of education for the use of vibration platforms with this and the general population. Fitness professionals are also advised to carry out a full pre-exercise assessment specific to this client group before commencing any physical activity in order to create safe and bespoke exercise prescription specific to the client’s needs.