Ask Amanda: Mommy Tummy

Let it be known: I have zero kids.  I am 34 years old, in good-to-excellent shape, with great genes, and I love exercising,  Believe me, I take none of those traits for granted – and I know that once I do become a mother, some of those things will matter more than others in how my body responds to pregnancy.

That said, I train a ton of mommies currently, and I’ve trained lots of women from before they were pregnant, throughout their pregnancies, and afterward.  I see how their bodies change (not everyone in the same way, by a long shot) and I see what problem areas recur again and again after giving birth (hello, pelvic floor – don’t skip those Kegels!).

The most common postpartum body complaint?  Mommy tummy.

Even if you’re not personally familiar with this area, “mommy tummy” can be summed up in a single, profound image:

mommy.jpg

Mommy.  Tummy.

I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I am in no way body shaming or judging the above image.  If you earned this by growing and producing a life, you should walk around bearing your belly like a baws anytime you see fit.  However, most of the moms I know aren’t super happy with the stretch marks, loose skin, and extra fluff that tends to hang around the midsection after having a (or two, or three) kiddo.

Depending on your prenatal moisturising routine, your genetics, your age, your weight, and the natural elasticity of your skin, you will have wildly different responses to the necessary expansion of a pregnant belly – and there are a lot of different treatments (including radiofrequency, which I offer at my personal training studio) available to help return your midsection to its former glory.  I’m not going to take time addressing those options here, but rest assured that in certain cases, no amount of exercise is going to fully reverse more severe skin issues related to pregnancy, and you may need to seek some cosmetic work if that’s your prerogative.

Furthermore, if you have diastatis recti (abdominal separation) postpartum, you will also need to make some more significant considerations on what you can and cannot do to help tone and tighten your tummy post-baby.

Anyhoo, let’s assume you’ve got the run-of-the-mill mommy tummy and let’s assume you’re healthy enough to get your workout on to address it.  That’s my specialty.

First off, you want to focus on a couple specific kinds of exercises: twisting (to narrow the waist, which can widen with each pregnancy) and TVA contracting (the deep “pulling” of the transverse abdominus that helps lean out and lengthen the appearance of your entire stomach).

tva.jpg

Get familiar with the muscles you’re workin’ with.

You may be wondering at this point: “but what about my lower abs?  That’s where my little ‘pooch’ seems to settle!”  And believe me, mommies, I hear ya.  But the reality is this: your lower abs tend to be the weakest after pregnancy, particularly soon after delivery, so targeting them with more aggressive contractions may cause pain and in many cases won’t deliver the results you’re thinking (Britney Spears circa 2001).

I prefer to help my clients strengthen their waist and deeper abdominal muscles (the aforementioned TVA) to help pull the muscles “up” and again, lengthen and lean out the appearance of the entire stomach (including that persistent little pooch).

Without further ado, here are the exercises I recommend to actually do that:

  • Russian twists – with or without weight, these help trim and tighten the oblique muscles that support the waist (more advanced: windshield wipers)

    russian

    Add weight if you’re feeling like a baws mama

  • Knee-to-elbow – activates the TVA and gives you a twist through the core as you reach the knee to the opposite elbow (more advanced: add a downward dog

    crossover

    Really aim for the triceps, not just the elbow

  • Heel taps – incorporates TVA, rectus abdominus, and unilateral core engagement yet is safe for all levels and is a great “kickstarter” to return to your abs workouts after baby (more advanced: reverse crunches)
    heel

    Move slowly and tap the heel lightly on the floor

     

  • Double crunch – as the name suggests, this movement requires a deep contraction from both the upper and lower abs at the same time (more advanced: V-ups)

    double

    Make sure to raise upper and lower half simultaneously, and keep feet together

  • Plank twists – more challenging when done from the elbows, this exercise combines both dynamic and isometric contraction to strengthen, lengthen, and lean out the midsection while redefining the sides of the waist as well (more advanced: rotating side plank)
twist

If you can’t make it all the way to “tap” the floor, that’s OK!  Do your best.

As always, check with your doc before doing any of these exercises to make sure they’re safe for you – but if you’re cleared for exercise, complete each of the above five movements for 10 reps each, three times around.  If you want a harder workout, complete the BASIC version of the set followed by the ADVANCED version of the set (so, 20 reps per exercise) three times.  Feel the burn!

A quick note on both genetics and nutrition – they will both affect, to an even greater extent than exercise, the way your body looks after baby.  If you have stretch marks, you can’t just exercise them out.  If you have loose skin from a large pregnancy or multiples, crunches might not be the (sole) solution to a tighter tummy.

Similarly, if you eat junk off your toddler’s plate and/or order in pizza more nights than you cook and/or drink more wine than you do water, you probably won’t see visible results – or at least they won’t be anywhere near what clean eating, regular cardio, and solid sleep will get you (easier said than done, I do understand).  Consider that your abs are just one little indicator of an entire lifestyle of fitness – and make the changes you can, incremental as they may feel, to your food, sleep, exercise, and stress levels (self-care counts too!) instead of focusing on one area on your beautiful, life-giving bod.

Do you struggle with your midsection – and what are your fave exercises for that area?

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Ask Amanda: The Bulk of the Issue

There are a lot of keywords in health and fitness that drive me crazy because they mean absolutely nothing yet are used ad nauseam.  “Natural” is one of them (in terms of describing food products).  “Fat-burning zone” is another (in terms of justifying boring, low-intensity exercise).

But the worst offender of all, in my opinion, is “toning.”

Toning is a fake fitness word that savvy marketing execs invented to sell weirdly-wedged sneakers, tiny little hand weights, and complicated thigh-squeezing contraptions.  The gentle and often feminized concept of “toning” gives women the (misguided) idea that they can firm up / tighten / reduce the size of their body parts without having to – dare I say it – lift heavy weights in the gym.

tiny weight

I can legitimately GUARANTEE that THIS woman does not only lift THOSE weights.

Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of Instagram-famous influencers and trainers out there that have bodacious bods that they may (or may not) have gotten though one or more of the following “toning” go-tos: body resistance exercise, yoga, Pilates, barre method, or pole fitness.  But the reality, gals and gents, is this:

  • if you are a man, you need to lift heavy weights and build muscle mass to maintain your testosterone levels, stay energised, ensure proper posture, and keep your central fat deposits from accumulating
  • if you are a woman under 35, you need to lift weights and build lean mass to protect your bone density, especially if you plan on having a healthy pregnancy, and speed up your metabolism while you still can
  • if you are a woman over 35, you need to lift even heavier weights to maintain your lean mass (as it starts to decrease with every passing year no matter what you do, sigh), kick your slowing metabolism in the booty, and make sure certain body parts (read: tush & tummy) don’t fall victim to the insidious threat of gravity

And don’t be fooled, folks – pretty much ANY exercise (and in many cases, none at all) will “tone up” a genetically stick-skinny twentysomething subsisting on a steady diet of gluten-free oxygen puffs and armed with an endless set of Photoshop and photo-filter tricks (and on a semi-unrelated note, a bunch of those booty-licious internet babes claiming to have gotten their backsides from a few cable kickbacks and good genes may be uh, as they say, hiding some implants under the hood as well).

wut wut

Spoiler alert: this is NOT from a SQUAT

Snark much?  I digress.

But the main point of what is unexpectedly turning into a rant is this: lifting heavy weights (often heavier than you think, even weights attached to bars) will not make you bulky. Lifting weights in excess of 4KG / 8 pounds will not make you masculine, or hulk-ish, or broad. Very few women (and I’ve trained over 100 of them of all ages, races and sizes for over 11 years) start a serious weight-training regimen and get bigger – unless gaining mass and size is her goal.  As I’ve noted before:

lose weight

Lots of women carry around excess body fat precisely because they don’t lift weights, and therefore can’t build or maintain enough lean mass to help burn off the calories they eat – plus they tend to undereat protein and overeat carbohydrates, which is a post for another time (but still a common and significant issue).  And as I’ve said so many times before:

cupcakes

Ok, so enough of making the case.  What exactly should you be doing in the gym (and kitchen) to achieve the “toned” look (sigh, but for the sake of the post, humour me – and know that the “toned” look can of course mean different things to different people, just like the term “bulky” can mean different things to different people)?

 Allow me to give you some true trainer-tried-and-tested tips:

  • first, get a trainer.  Shameless self-promotion?  Maybe a tiny bit.  But before you start picking up heavy things, you should make sure you have at least one session with a trainer who can show you how to pick up heavy things correctly.
  • next, streamline your goals.  Do you want killer arms (hello bench presses and pull-ups)?  An overall lean bod (try compound movements like thrusters)?  Legs to kill (meet your two new best friends, squats and deadlifts)?  Six pack abs (spoiler alert: these are actually made mostly from protein and salad; less from crunches)?
  • third, get a program.  Whether the aforementioned trainer writes it for you or you get it from a reliable source like figure competitor Jamie Eason, make sure you have a specific, measurable weight training program to keep yourself accountable to – and don’t forget to keep records of sets/reps/etc. to make sure you’re on track
  • fourth, progress yourself.  A lot of my clients have sailed through steps 1-3 but then hit a wall, thinking that once they know “what weight they use for stuff” they’re good to go forever.  Not the case for getting lean n’ mean.  You’ve gotta keep upping the ante and building your body stronger (and yes – leaner in the process) within a reasonable program of progression.  Again, a trainer really helps with this.
  • finally, eat your protein.  Even the best-toned of intentions fall flabby when they’re not coupled with a high-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet.  If you’re looking to build lean muscle, consider 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (about 2 grams per KG), and if you’re looking to maintain your muscle, consider about .75 grams per pound (1.5 grams per KG).  Lean protein sources are best here, so think about egg whites, chicken breast, protein powder, white fish, and Greek yogurt.
protein.jpg

Clean, lean and mean (I mean, that fish is giving me the eye) protein

My lovely people over at Girls Gone Strong sum it up best:

“Lifting heavy” doesn’t give you one particular body type.  Lifting heavy will give you a strong, sexy, fit, kick-ass version of the body you were given.

Mic drop.

Ask Amanda: Size Me Up

I meant to write this entry weeks ago when the whole Lady Gaga body shaming thing came out, but other #AskAmanda inquiries came up, and I had to save my little soapbox for a while.

bodyshame.jpg

ZING!

But now, I’ve been thinking about my dear Lady as well as some other recent body-related posts I’ve seen (female boxer Alicia Napoleon on what being “beautiful” means; H&M’s new body positive advertising) and I just feel like it’s the right time to talk about an issue that underlies so much of the communication, presentation, and function of the fitness industry – especially as it applies to women*.

(*Male readers, by the way, don’t think you’re “excused” from the conversation – if you choose to leave, you’re just part of the problem.)

“The problem,” by the way, is this: the true definition of fitness as an ideal should be a strong, healthy body, mind and spirit – but the working definition of fitness in our culture is a muscled yet somehow miraculously lean body without much attention to the whole “mind and spirit” thing and even less to the whole “life in balance” thing.  Throw in the fact that many female representations of “fitness” are often just regular (underweight) models wearing sports bras, and I think the issue is quite clear.

skin.jpeg

Not hating on how she lives her life, but it probably doesn’t involve a lot of exercise – or food.

Think of how fitness companies sell their products – whether it’s gym memberships, vitamins, group classes, fancy equipment, clothing, whatever – it’s usually by showcasing these impossibly “fit” bodies (and again, if we’re talking about women, usually “fit” and “skinny” are frustratingly and inaccurately interchangeable, since visible muscles can actually have the opposite effect on sales) and promising that the product/apparel/supplement will deliver them as quickly as possible.

shake

She has no muscles; he has a bunch; somehow they both got the same result from 6 minutes with a hand-held vibrator?  Let’s use our brains here, people.

In a word: wrong.  And in another word: misleading.  And allow me one more: destructive.

Even if these companies have the best of intentions, they’re still delivering the age-old message that the only reason to get fit is to have a hot (thin/muscled, again, depending on gender) body, and if a certain method doesn’t guarantee a hot (thin/muscled) body, it’s not worth pursuing.  Screw you, tai chi.  Forget it, low-impact cardio.  Sayonara, stretching.  Our fitness culture screams push, starve, sweat, burn – rarely if ever, balance; and nearly never, fitness at any size.

Furthermore, advertising and communicating this message does double damage in that it negates the actual reality of achieving hot (thin/muscled) bodies, which is that it often takes much more sacrifice and social isolation than the average person is willing to commit, and that a hot body is no more a symbol of true health than a Louis Vuitton bag is a symbol of true wealth – it’s just an easily identifiable status symbol, and just as shallow.

I once had a client tell me that she would not have signed up to train with me if she didn’t “want my body” – how I interpreted that was, if my body shape and size didn’t meet her ideal of what a fit body should look like, she would negate the decade-plus experience I’ve had professionally training clients and hire someone who “looked the part” better than me.

I’ve had it with that type of bullsh*t.

Because I specialise as a weight loss coach, you may think it’s a bit hypocritical for me to harp on the hyperfocus on body size and shape as a problem, since it’s exactly that “problem” that keeps me in business.  But I counter with this: I specialise in helping people get to their healthy weights, with lots of lean muscle, functional mobility, clean nutrition, and personal growth along the way.

platter

Mmmm, I’ll have an extra large serving of downtime please.

Not a single one of my clients is encouraged to take supplements, go below normal recommended calorie targets, slog away hours of cardio, or even give much credence to the raw number on the scale (I emphasise the importance of body fat percentage and body measurements as the appropriate progress metrics for fat loss).  No one in my gym gets by calling themselves “weak” or “fat,” and I really try to discourage (particularly female) clients from pointing out singular body parts as “problem areas” and rather encourage a full-body fabulous approach to training.

I refuse to accommodate women who tell me they don’t want to get “too muscular” (for the record, it’s never one happened, because gaining muscle is not an easy feat for most of us) from training with weights, and I absolutely have no patience for clients who choose to starve themselves or do hours of cardio to “lose weight” rather than do it the right way.

Before I lose focus (and I know, I’m almost there), I want to leave you guys with the summary point of all this: how you look on the outside is only one (often misleading) indicator of how you’re functioning on the inside, and no one – not even your doctor, not even your trainer – can assess your health and fitness just by looking at your body shape or size.  You control your real health outcomes with attention to clean eating, resistance training, and proper sleep and stress management, and when you do those things well, you’ll see exactly what your healthy body is supposed to look like.

Have you ever had comments about your body, fitness, or size that hit a nerve?  How do you – did you – deal?

On the Red Carpet: Oscars 2016

You guys, it kills me that I am too far away and too time-zoned out to watch the Oscars live.  Some of my fave memories of this time of year contain scrambling to get through all the screeners from Nick’s work, powering through some short films and documentaries online, and then heading over to my friend Andy’s house to fill out our predictions ballot and watch it all play out in real time.

That said, due to the amazing Snapchat skills of a few good friends (cough…Lilly!), I was able to get some of the red carpet highlights as they happened – and it got me really excited to sit down and write this post.

So excited, in fact, that I totally blanked on doing it until being kicked in the butt by a loyal reader this morning (thanks, Terri).  Without further ado, let’s get to the nitty gritty:

rachel

Rachael McAdams, you sexy beast.  Are you aware of your perfection?  Do you know that I have a deep-down longing for women who choose dark jewel tones over black?  Can you teach me how to wear a long tassel without looking like a stripper?  And can you kiss your stylist on the lips for pairing the look with those simple metallic strappies?  I love you.  And I love your August Getty creation, despite not knowing who that designer actually is.

jlaw

And while I’m on a love high, let’s talk about the always-impeccable J.Law (here in Dior).  Girlfriend, you took the peroxide plunge without looking trashy and paired that masterpiece of a lob with peekaboo lace and a beautiful V-cut bodice.  WERK, girl.  Just werk.

char

Charlize.  CHAR.  LIZE.  Like, can you not?  Can you not defeat the sands of time that weather the rest of our faces into wrinkled, filthy messes and look better than you ever have before?  The plunge.  The Dior.  The color.  The diamonds.  Just go on with your bad self.  Ain’t no one gonna touch you.

cate

The internet told me that Cate Blanchett was getting some negative feedback for her g*ddamn amazing Armani Prive dress, and I honestly can’t imagine what the haters are seeing in her utter divinity.  The cut is so flatting, styled so well, and complements both her body and her general way of being so amazingly that I want Mr. Armani to cease production of any further couture should Cate not be the one to wear it.  So let it be written, so let it be done.

margot

I am usually a huge fan of people dressing like gold statues to go to the Oscars (see Stacy Keibler on the Oscar Red Carpet 2012, still one of my all-time faves), and Margot Robbie‘s choice of Tom Ford this year is no exception.  Sure, it’s not the most interesting dress out there, but the cut is impeccable, the color is eye-catching, and she paired it with a dramatic minaudière like a BAWS.  Well done you.

roons

Rooney Mara, I am so sick and tired of you being 1990s heroin-chic that I’m tempted to delete this entire paragraph.  But I won’t, because yet again you nailed it in Givenchy, and yet again I am forced to eat my words about how I hate that “emo chick” look with the slicked-back black hair and emaciated poor posture.  But know I’m not happy about it.

olivia

I go back and forth on the issue of boobs.  I tend to like them on the smaller side if you’re gonna hang ’em out to dry, and on the bigger side if you’re trying to rock a form-fitting but more modest style.  Olivia Wilde’s Valentino look kind of teeters between the two, but the pleats save it from looking totally whorish, and the choker anchors it down to the cool zone rather than sending it off to slutville, so I applaud her careful choice.

maria

My final shout-out for the night goes to the always-lovely Maria Menounos who did the right thing and went with my all-time favorite designer, Christian Siriano, to make her an all-time memorable look.  The cut, the beading, the wavy hair, the shimmer and shine, it was all on point, and all came together beautifully to make her look like a living goddess.  Much applause.

And now for the not-so-much looks of the evening…

Amy Poehler, I can’t with all this – those wizard sleeves, the red hair, the weird appliques – like girl, I can’t.  Kate Winslet, is it because you’re so beautiful (or because your boy Leo FINALLY got his statue) that you’ve decided to stop trying and just wear Hefty garbage bags to the show now?  Pregnant Emily Blunt, I was gonna  call you out big time for wearing both spaghetti straps AND a dress that is nearly your exact skin color, but because you’re preggo and typically knocking it out of the park, I’m gonna let you off with a warning.  Kerry Washington, you are basically the naturally prettiest person on Earth and you show up to the OSCARS looking ratchet?  But why?

And we are not even starting on Heidi Klum.  Not.  Starting.  Because I have to think she had a severe head injury just before the show, causing her to temporarily believe that she was Honey Boo Boo all grownsed up and headed off to prom night with her hillbilly boyfriend.  Because that is the one and only excuse for showing up looking like this.

What were your picks and pans, friends?  Any that you LOVED that I missed?

Sunday Special: Love Your Body 2014

So let’s chat about something we all deal with, shall we?  Body image.  Do you love your body?  Do you loathe your body?  Are you somewhere in between?

On my best days, I feel like a strong, athletic goddess.  On my worst, I feel like a squishy pile of lifeless marshmallow fluff.  On the average day, I feel like an average person – decephoto 1 (1)ntly fit, unremarkable, normal-looking.  But can I truly say I love my body?

Today I was invited to an empowerment event called Love Your Body, held in L.A. at the Luxe Sunset Hotel.  The creators of the event, Karen (of Karen Michelle designs, on Robertson) and Mia, emphasize developing healthy body image, wellness at all sizes, and positive interactions among and between all women (stuff TFB definitely stands for, too, by the way).

The day started with a showcase of amazing products presented by predominantly female entrepreneurs, including the awesome and utilitarian Sash Bags (onephoto 2 (1) of which I am dying to have for my upcoming travels – so functional and cute!), Runway Kids boutique (some of the most fashion-forward yet age-appropriate kidswear I’ve ever seen), and Papa Ben’s Kitchen (the fanciest, tastiest biscotti you’ve ever tried).

From there, we sat down in the forum area to hear from Elise Joan of Red Diamond Yoga (which just so happens to be right by my house -score!) about her struggles with body image, and she shared one of the best quotes I’d heard in a long time about dealing with adversity:photo 5

“The barn’s burnt down, but now I can see the moon.”

I have to remember to use that one for particularly frustrating times (like right this second, when my barely two-year old Macbook Air has gone on the fritz – AGAIN – and this time the repair costs are almost as much as a new computer would cost…sigh).  But I digress – back to the event!

After Elise, we heard from plus-size model (and real-life food addict, who was so candid and honest about her struggles with 6000+ calorie binges, bulimia, and yo-yo diets) Danika Brysha – and girlfriend was laying it down.

She’s seephoto 4n/done it all – the anorexic size-zero fashion industry pressure, the binge-drinking coke-snorting party days  – and emerged instead as a positive body-image role model and owner of a clean eating delivery service in NYC (Model Meals, check it out) who goes around the nation speaking about nutrition and fuel.  Awesome, right?

After the speakers, we sat down (front row, b*tches) for the fashion show – the main event, if you will, showcasing models of all ages, sizes, and body types, in clothing designed and made by women.

photo 3Some of my fave looks came from a brand called Cali Free, a California-style fashion emporium with affordable clothes and laid-back vibes (yep, designer stuff that I can actually afford to purchase), although there were tons of cute, new designs

Watching everyone from the sweetest little girls to
the most bodacious and self-confident sassy ladies walk down the runway with flair was definitely the best part of the day.  I kept thinking back to when I was a little girl and how excited I would have been to participate in an event like this (and let’s be honest, I would’ve probably asked them if I could do a back flip down the runway).  What a truly great opportunity for young girls and women to connect through the universal language of (self) love.

photo 5 (1)Major thanks to my friend and fellow blogger over at Pugs & Pearls for inviting me (and hooking me up as “press”) to this event – I will definitely be back again next year.

That said, the event got me thinking about my question above: do I really love my body?  Do I treat it with respect?  Can I remember the compliments and forget the critics?  Should I make food choices based on how I want to feel or just how I want to look?  These are the tough ones.  And these are the reasons that events like this, that help us silence the critical voices in our heads and focus on the positive, need to keep happening.

What motivates you to self-love?  What activities/rituals/thoughts help you love your body?