Part 2: 7 Cues for Protecting Your Core When You’re Fighting A Cold

In the first article of this mini series on how to protect your core and pelvic floor from diastasis recti, prolapse, incontinence and other unpleasantries when you’re fighting a cold or bouncing around like a maniac on a friend’s trampoline, I wrote about what you can do before, during and after a fit of sneezing, coughing or jumping. Now I’d like you to get a cue!

Cue: A directing word or statement. A phrase or catchy batch of words that sticks with you and clicks with your mind and body, so that when you say it to yourself, all the good muscle things happen at all the right times, in the proper order, with the best alignment possible for that situation. For example: The instructor in the Fit2B video cued me to “Walk like a daughter of The King.” 

Not every cue works for every person. I’m constantly sorting through my massive repertoire of cues I’ve used on myself and on clients over the past 20 years, and with you in our workout videos, re-testing them over and over to see which ones help me connect the best with my core and pelvic floor (PF) in various situations.

7 Cues to Protect Your Core When You Have a Cold - Fit2B


There is a lot of talk in the therapy world about helping clients “find their cue” because what works for one person won’t work for someone else. But good grief! I’d like to note that what worked for me last week doesn’t always work for me this week! Sometimes I need a new cue.

Did you read Part 1 yet? Protecting Your Abs When You’re Coughing & Sneezing {and Jumping}

The list I’m about to give you reflects my notes on cues {because I’m a body nerd like that} that I tested on myself when I was in the thick of a head cold after a hard round of jumping on a trampoline. The specific situation we’re discussing here is how we deal with coughing, sneezing, and blowing our noses when our PF and TA are already a bit tired.

If you want to learn about protecting your core when you’re squatting click here.

If you want to read about protecting your core when babywearing click here.

If you want to read about protecting your core at the gym click here

What about when you’re sick?

Meanwhile, the following cues are applicable to having a head cold which provides a different set stimuli than other activities. Cold symptoms can create a lot of intra-abdominal pressure, so these are about reducing that pressure to avoid even worse symptoms such as leaking, wider diastasis recti (DR), worsening prolapse, strangulating hernia, ripping stitches from recent surgeries, etc.

Protecting your core when you have a cold - part 2

Cover When You Cover:

Cover your tummy at the same time you cover your mouth. When you cover your mouth with one hand or elbow, cover your tummy with the other hand. If your core is weak and not yet handling intra-abdominal pressure very well, the repeated outward push of your tummy when you cough, sneeze or laugh can widen your DR and put downward pressure on your PF that it’s not strong enough (or too tired) to handle. Supporting your tummy with your hand – or even wearing an abdominal splint – can go a long ways to minimizing pressure within your core. When you cough and sneeze, your tummy should go gently inward with that expulsion, and your hand can help remind you to do that.

Look Up!

I already discussed this in the prior blog on this topic, but I love what Kelly Dean, licensed physical therapist and founder of The Tummy Team told me that she tells her clients: “I tell people to look up, support your tummy and cough/sneeze in your elbow. When you look up it is much easier not to tuck your tail and then to better activate your transverse abs (TA) and pelvic floor (PF) at the same time.” Try it and see for yourself with a little “fake” cough right now.

Connect. Cover. Cough.

This is the one that worked best for me. As I prepared to jump on the trampoline, as I felt that first throat-tickle that warned me of an impending cough or sneeze, I would quickly think about my abs and exit points. In my mind, it’s like reaching down and switching it all on: A quick inward and upward “Mula Bandha” flex of my PF and transverse abdominus (TA) right as I’m covering my mouth which happens milliseconds before the work begins.

Here at Fit2B  we provide have 4 different highly-researched routines that modestly teach you how to do these special flexes and releases: Basic Transverse and Mula Bandha, Mula Bandha, and Pelvic Floor Connections (2 versions).

If you aren’t as connected to your core as I am yet, this cue likely won’t work for you. This is why I don’t provide just one cue for your core and PF in this article and in my Fit2B routines. I have to – and you have to – constantly try various things in various situations to make the best connection with our core.

Blow Before You Blow

Before you blow your nose or a sneeze blows out of your mouth with little warning, begin a purposeful exhale before the episode starts. Saying “Shhh” is very effective for pre-recruiting your abdominals and pelvic floor before a stressor strikes because of “sphincter law” which essentially states that “As it is above, so it is below.” Your jaw and lower core are innervated in highly connected ways, so when you flex one the other flexes too! Pretty cool! So… don’t walk around with your teeth clenched all the time or you’ll end up with a hypertonic pelvic floor in addition to TMJ and that’s no fun. A chronically tight muscle can’t flex much further can it? Tight does NOT equal strong.

Go Before You Go

We say this to toddlers when we’re potty training them to save ourselves from suddenly needing to find the loo at the grocery store with a cart full of unpaid items and three more children in tow, right? Well, it applies to us as well when our PF is being hammered by a full bladder full of all those extra fluids we’re supposed to drink when we’re sick, right? Coughing or jumping around with a full bladder can strain sensitive tissues that are already working overtime to hold all your bits inward. Why give them more weight to carry? I’m not saying to go before you have to go – not in the sense that you should always be going “just in case” you might have to go. I’m saying to go to the bathroom before specific activities that cause a full bladder to bounce around a lot. Coughing is stressful, so you may have to “go” more when you’re sick, then taper back to going less frequently when you feel better.

Ribs Over Hips

Duh! Aren’t my ribs always over my hips, Beth? Well, sort of. No. Not really. Definitely not if you aren’t aligned.

In part one of this series, when I said I didn’t just sit back and assume my core would go to work for me, I really meant it. Literally, sitting back in a reclined position with your bum tucked under is the worst position to greet a cough or sneeze… or life in general… Lining up your ribs so they’re right over your hips when you’re sitting or standing or at least horizontally in line when you’re laying down REALLY helps take pressure of your abs and other bits. Thrusting ribs, slouching ribs, tucking hips, tilting hips, all of that throws our internal pressure off. Our “Align It Flat” routine that’s part of our F5 series for new members walks you through several moves to help you practice good rib/hip alignment for daily life. This brings me to my final cue suggestion:

Cough Like A Queen {or King}

Darling, Sweetie, Mon Petite Chou – I know you feel like poo when you have a virus, and I know some of those coughing fits can double you over. But let’s not start that way, okay? Think royalty. Think about wearing your crown. Nose in the air. If you start hacking or bouncing or running in a slouched position, you’re going to be even more slouched when it’s over! Start taller, and you’ll end taller. An elongated torso has more room inside it than a hunched over, compressed torso. 

And queens {and kings, princes, and princesses} do NOT go about with their tails tucked under like shamed dogs.

If you’re too tired to lift your head, let alone be queenly or kingly, then lay on your side with your head supported and your torso as lengthened as possible. Visualize a pillow between each of your spinal vertebrae.

Why? Because when you sit on your tailbone, that pressure pushes your tailbone in closer to your pubic bone which makes your PF sag. Saggy McSaggerson. If your pelvic floor is sagging down, then it’s not ready to handle a large burst of pressure from coughing or sneezing or laughing.

Here’s a way to visualize how your core works:

If you hold a rubberband between your hands so that there’s just a tiny amount of tension in it, and then have someone bounce their finger off the middle of that band, you can imagine how your PF responds in a similar way when your bones are positioned a healthy distance apart – BUT – if you move your hands closer together so that the band sags and have someone try to bounce their finger off it, there’s not much bounce. And how much further down does that band go when something hits it? This is NOT what we want for our core and pelvic floor. We want things to go IN and stay in where they belong, right???

Our pelvic floor muscle (PFM) group is meant to be supple like a rubber band not saggy like a hammock. It should be ready and able to take some twanging without any hanging, if you know what I mean. Muscles that aren’t given enough opportunities to do their job – thus they lack circulation and mobility and flexibility – are often compared to “dried out old rubberbands that are ready to snap.” This is NOT what we want for our pelvic floor… especially during a cold virus!

Yeah, yeah… I know… when you’re busy bouncing around, it’s hard to think about your core and pelvic floor. And no one feels like queen of anything when they’re sick and feeling poorly. This is why it’s great that you’re reading this {and hopefully this too} NOW so you can be ready for next time.

You don’t really know what slogan will sing to your synapses until you’re in the moment. Of course, I’d be tickled pink to hear that one of the cues I offered above nails all your neuromuscular wiring to get all the right muscles firing – I’m a poet, and I know it – But remember: my best jingles weren’t enough for me {ME!} when I was on day 2 of dealing with epic congestive lung butter. My pelvic floor was already tired from bouncing, and I need new material before it fatigued to the point of failure. One cue doesn’t work for everybody all the time.

Practice a few of those cues I just gave you with little coughs now. Practice them with little jumps and hops now. Find a catch phrase now that works for you, and write it down where you can see it. Memorize it and make it your mantra so that next time you’re sick with a real cough, or you find yourself hiking and hopping over rocks to keep up with someone, you’re connected to your core.

But don’t get cocky. Keep this article and come back to it if your cutesy cue and your core don’t shake hands when the real party starts on Day 2 of your gnarly head cold or Request #47 to “Jump with me on the pampeen, Mommy!” That’s what my daughter called the trampoline…

Happy Sneezing!

Love, Beth 



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