3 super simple, do anywhere moves to wake up those sleepy core muscles for a safer + more effective workout
Something I saw a TON in the clinic- in men, women, young + old- are inhibited core muscles.
Given what pregnancy and childbirth do to us mamas’ cores, teaching women how to properly care for their core should be standard issue education for all women during prenatal and postpartum care.
First, what am I even talking about? The deep core muscles I’m referring to today are pelvic floor muscles and the deepest abdominal muscle the transversus abdominis (TA). These are the two main players. Additionally, your gluteal group (you have 3 glute muscles in each butt cheek) plays a big role in core stability which has far reaching impact on the rest of the body, though most of us think right away of the low back or lumbar spine.
So here’s the deal. Muscles can get “turned off” for different reasons, meaning that the brain doesn’t send the signal to these muscles at the right time and/or as much as it should to create a desired effect. We aren’t even aware these compensations are happening because it’s happening at an electrical level. To oversimplify this a bit, it’s like the brain isn’t flipping a switch to turn on a specific light.
Sometimes we see this inhibition when the body is trying to be super efficient. Why walk over and flip that light switch if you can just rely on all that sunshine coming in the window? I see this a lot in athletes and very active individuals because their bodies are trained to make adaptations quickly.
Other times, we get these sleepy muscles from strength and/or flexibility deficits. A great example is somewhat cheekily called “dormant butt syndrome” (pun totally intended).
This is when the glute group gets turned off because the hip flexors (front of the hips) get shortened and the glutes are lengthened from sitting a lot. When the glutes aren’t being utilized enough, we start to see a lot of knee pain, hip pain, low back pain, foot/ankle issues like plantar fasciitis, and even shoulder and neck issues.
Traditionally, this is addressed by stretching the hip flexors which is mostly a mechanical method- simply pulling the two ends of the muscle away from each other.
However, we get the most benefit when we start at the brain by reminding it that there are very strong glute muscles available for things like walking, climbing steps, bending, lifting, and all the other ways we move our bodies in big ways.
Now, this particular issue has the cute “dormant butt syndrome” name, but really, we see this phenomenon throughout the body. With pregnancy, we see a similar pattern with the pelvic floor muscles being stretched from the weight of everything in your uterus as well as with the (TA). In opposition, we often see a lot of tightness in muscles like the inner thigh (adductor) muscles, the piriformis (that muscle in the corner of your butt cheek that drives everyone to request pigeon pose in yoga class), and even the obliques.
And I’m not even going into the ways that muscles get inhibited from the trauma induced from childbirth or the overly active muscles trying to compensate from all of the changes as you grow that baby that can also contribute to these sleepy muscles. But, you just grew a human- or multiple humans as the case may be- so you get there’s been a lot going down in this body of yours.
So- here’s what you can do.
You want to isolate these muscles and perform high reps to help re-educate the brain about how it should be working. The more reps the better, but here’s the key- these have to be quality reps. If you just do a million reps without really paying attention, you’ll just reinforce the poor motor activation patterns (compensations) you’re trying to avoid. Now, don’t let that worry you. You definitely can multitask, but you need to spend a little time with just you and these muscles at first to set you up for success later. Then- multitask away, my friend!
Most mamas sneak these in during meetings, at stoplights, waiting for something to cook, while brushing their teeth, nursing their babies… you get the idea. When you’ve integrated them into your day, you brain learns more quickly how to use these muscles with everyday activities which then improves your risk of not throwing out your back the next time you bend over to pick up another damned Barbie shoe.
BUT- here’s my secret that has worked super well with so many of my patients over the years: do these right before your workout, your run, or yoga class. I mean, literally, as soon as you’ve tired those shoes or sat down on your mat.
Here’s the exercises ( for ultimate brain training, do these in this order!)
For all of these:
You’re going to hold these for 5-10 seconds, or until you feel your control over the repetition flutter away. For some women, this may be 1 second, and that’s okay. Meet your body where it’s at, but as you feel your strength return, start to lengthen the holds.
We want lots of reps to retrain that brain, but you also have a workout to do, so do somewhere between 10-20 depending on how long you can hold and how much control you are feeling.
As you’re holding, try to scan and make sure these are the only areas you are clenching. You might notice tension in your bottom, your thighs, or your neck/shoulders. If so, try to relax these areas!
You should be able to do any or all of these during a meeting with your boss or while talking to someone you really want to impress without them knowing. They really are that small of movements!
so there’s way more ways to do a kegel than most people realize, but we’re going to stick with the old-fashioned sustained hold here. You’re going to lift up through the pelvic floor- from front to back (urethra, vagina, and anus) as if you’re trying to hold in pee and gas at the same time. You can also think of pulling the urethra towards the anus- just focus on lifting over squeezing as this can cause some folks to bear down instead.
2) TA activations
you’re going to gently pull your belly button in towards your spine and very slightly up as if you’re sliding your abs under your ribs. You can exhale during this a few times to ensure your diaphragm isn’t trying to help you out. There’s usually a lot of cheating with this one.
this is extremely subtle, so if you find yourself tilting your pelvis, lifting your shoulders, or tensing anywhere else try to perform the move with less intensity as you’re brain is likely recruiting other muscles.
3) glute squeezes
for these, you’ll just squeeze your tush and hold. If you’re standing, you might feel your cheeks come together, but it’s not necessary since we’re not really looking for movement- just tension.
many people are surprised to find that they can’t do a single one of these. If that’s you, try a different position. Sitting or lying with your hips bent will be harder than standing or lying on your belly.