If you are pregnant, may want to get pregnant one day, have had a child, are a woman, or know someone that fits the bill, then this post is for you. I speak to alignment in terms pregnancy and postpartum but this really applies to everyone in terms of pelvic floor functionality. I am continuing on a series of what the terms used in all things Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism mean, and why we should care. If you missed my last post I wrote about coning, you can check it out here.
Proper Alignment. I had never even heard of this until I found Brianna Battles and eventually took her coaches course about six months or so after I had my son. Man, do I wish I had known before! I realize looking back that I was really hindering my breath and body’s functionality by being out of alignment. I constantly had my rib cage tilted up (which I still work on, especially when going overhead I tend to flare out).
But that’s why I do what I do – so no other woman has to say, “I wish I knew”.
It’s easy, especially in the middle of an intense workout or mindlessly standing in line at the grocery store for that matter, to lose proper body alignment. And for some (maybe even MOST) of us, we don’t even know what proper alignment looks, or feels, like. This is a term used frequently when talking about pelvic floor health, diastasis recti, prolapse and incontinence, and yet may not always be extensively explained unless you work with a coach 1-1. It’s also one of those things you may not have even picked up on within an article or post you’ve read, or this could be the first time you are hearing of the term.
So. What is Proper Alignment? Proper Alignment is getting your body into the position where your body is going to function at it’s best. This can also be referred to as “neutral”. The main focus here should be to keep the ribs square over the hips, ribs level, and hips untucked. Some of the typical positions that we see are:
Rib cage tilted down – Ribs sink down into abdomen, tendency to grip the upper abdominals, breast trajectory points down, and tendency to lead to belly breathing.
Rib cage tilted up – Ribs flare upwards, over lengthening of the abdominals, breast trajectory points up, and tendency to lead to chest breathing.
Posterior pelvic tilt “hips tucks under” – This is very, very common in pregnant and postpartum women due to the changes our bodies go through during these chapters and compensating for the baby bump/weight carried in the front. With this position our hips are tucked under and typically it will appear as though the bum is much flatter than it may actually be. It can even look as though the top of the bum is flat, while there is something going on at the bottom of the bum.
Anterior pelvic tilt “bum pushed out” – Think of this as if you were trying to make it appear as though you had a larger bum than you do. You’d roll the pelvis, sticking the bum out, and likely cause this overarching of the back.
*I do want to take a moment to say that every individual is unique, and so will be each individual’s “neutral”. It is best to work with a professional to find the Alignment that works best for YOU and your individual needs.*
Visuals will make this all come together for you, so please see the examples of all we discussed above, below. *Please keep in mind these are exaggerated examples so you can see the differences and aspects of each.
Why does proper alignment matter? We all know that it’s “good” to have good posture, right? We can physically start to feel symptoms from being hunched over all day, or staring at the phone too long: our neck, back, shoulders, and well, everything, starts to hurt to let us know that our body is saying, “Hey! Straighten out up there!”. Keeping ourselves in proper alignment, though, is more about what’s happening on the inside. Therefore, it can be a little more difficult to realize when we aren’t quite there. We may not have physical cues that tells us something is off, making it so much harder!
The short story is that being in proper alignment can have a big impact on our pelvic health, on how effective our breathing strategy is, and our performance in the gym. Our main players here are the diaphragm and the pelvic floor (I promise this is related to alignment, stick with me). Our goal is to get the most we can out of our breathing strategy which is mostly comprised of these two pieces. The TA (transverse abdominis) connects the two, and maintains their relationship.
As we breath in, our diaphragm expands, and since it expands the intra-abdominal pressure in the path of that expansion has to go somewhere right? When we utilize our piston breathing, we breath in, the diaphragm expands, and at the same time our pelvic floor relaxes to allow space for that pressure to move straight down. As we exhale, our diaphragm contracts back into place and we gently lift the pelvic floor (this movement of everything going down and up at the same time is why its referred to as “piston” breathing since it resembles a piston 😊 ).
Now, how does this relate to our body alignment? This is where it all comes together. If say, our ribs are flared up and we take a breath in, we are likely chest breathing and the diaphragm isn’t going to go directly down towards the pelvic floor. With the ribs tilted down, it is likely to be a belly breath with the diaphragm again unable to move straight down. It is going to go down and slightly forward. If our hips are tucked under or pushed out, we don’t have that straight up and down pathway, or piston shape anymore, which can inhibit our breathing strategies. With a neutral position we are able to take a nice, even piston breath with both the chest and belly slightly rising, and pressure moving straight up and down. Check out the photos below for a visual.
How do I know if I’m in proper alignment? Julie Weibe is such an amazing resource. (If you haven’t heard of her, check out her youtube videos and her Pelvic Floor Piston Course*) There are a couple of ways to know if you are in proper alignment. The first is to check yourself out in the mirror, or take a photo to analyze and correct. I would suggest doing this in a bra/underwear to easiest see your current tendencies. After you take a look at where you currently are, I would recommend doing the ski jump technique to put you into proper alignment (again, every individual is unique, and so will be each individual’s “neutral”. It is best to work with a professional to find the Alignment that works best for YOU and your individual needs) . Check out Julie’s video here for the step by step and see photos below. ( I would also highly recommend watching the subsequent video in her series here where she discusses alignment and the oh so talked about disappearing Mom bum, so good!).
I know this is a LOT of information! I tried to keep it as concise as I could, but if you have any questions – please leave a comment and let me know! I encourage EVERY woman who is pregnant, postpartum, or experiencing any kind of symptoms (incontinence, feeling like something is “falling out” down there, pain etc..) to contact a pelvic floor physical therapist. If you are in the US you can visit this website here and scroll down to the directories. If you are in Rhode Island, I can recommend an awesome PT! Please contact me directly for more information.
I also recommend that you work with a Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coach to help you bring these strategies into the gym and get you training safely. I am available to work with you in person in Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts, and also can work with you remotely. For more information about me and how I can help you through this chapter, please visit Grace Fitness and Nutrition.
Stay strong, stay beautiful!
*This is an affiliate link for Julie Wiebe’s course