Dear Instructors & Teachers

As a mother of two and a group fitness instructor for 20 years, I believe any leader of any physical activity is specially called to be on the front lines of core health. Your words and instructions directly shape the bodies and minds of the people {old or young} in your class, and so I not only want to challenge you to avoid crunches and sit ups {which might leave you wondering what you’d do instead} I also want to come alongside you with some real resources and a few “TummySafe” tips which you can read below…

All of us teach what we know until we know better. We all strive for “best practice” because we don’t want to hurt those who are trusting us with their bodies. We delight in the workings of human anatomy, but it’s hard to stay on top of current research about the true function of the core and it’s myriad muscular layers.

We now understand that crunches and sit ups do more harm than good, and therefore we need to reshape how we seek to train the cores of our students and clients if we are to play our part in stopping the downward cycle of poor alignment, abdominal separation, stress incontinence, chronic lower back pain, and total debilitation that are occurring at shocking levels in our society today.

As a mother of two and a group fitness instructor for 20 years, I believe any leader of any physical activity is specially called to be on the front lines of core health. Your words and instructions directly shape the bodies and minds of the people {old or young} in your class, and so I not only want to challenge you to avoid crunches and sit ups {which might leave you wondering what you'd do instead} I also want to come alongside you with some real resources and a few "TummySafe" tips - Fit2B.com

After making a “letter to your child’s teacher” available in our free printables section which you can see here at Fit2B Studio, many of you who are being handed those letters by concerned parents have written to me, asking for more help and advice, and wondering why you were never educated with better moves that don’t contribute to the prevalence of distended tummies, diastasis recti (abdominal separation), back pain, and “leaking” that we sadly see in people who have never born children. Crunches and sit ups have a detrimental affect on all of those things, and planks can exacerbate those injuries and dysfunctions as well! I’ve heard your queries with a breaking heart:

“I was only taught to teach crunches and sit ups! How do I teach without them? Do I just have my students do planks?”

“What about the Presidential Physical Fitness Test? If we don’t do situps, how will my students be ready for it?”

“One of my clients in my step aerobics class gave me your letter and said she can’t do the abs workout I teach at the end of class, and I have no idea what modifications to provide. I though only pregnant women have this? Help!” 

“After reading the letter a mom gave me, I panicked! Where can I find more info? I think I have this ab separation! And what’s worse, I think several of my students have this, and I hope I haven’t made it worse!”

Here at fit2b.com we have several resources for you, some for free and others close to it 😉

First of all, our blog has almost 300 articles for you to explore, and I have listed some basic “tips for teachers” below that will hopefully set off a few lightbulbs in your head.

Second, you are welcome to access our workout videos and glean information and tips from those as a member of Fit2B which is just $14.99/month with no contracts; learn what you can and quit anytime. We have no issue with instructors copying our moves. The abdominal anatomy can’t be trademarked, and it needs to be understood.

Third, we encourage you to take advantage of our “Experts on Diastasis Recti” eLearning course which features worldwide core specialists who are qualified to teach you about the core from several angles.

Fourth and finally, I’m working with Kelly Dean of the Tummy Team to create an accredited course by the end of 2016 that will educate personal trainers, P.E. teachers, dance instructors, and group fitness personnel on how to modify typical exercise and weight-lifting movements for the client with abdominal trauma from hernia, separated abs, cesarean section, incontinence, IBS, and more.

New eLearning course featuring multiple professionals in the fields of health and fitness UNITING TOGETHER from around the world to take on diastasis recti! - Fit2B.com For now, let’s start with Five Tips for Teachers to get you thinking outside the typical norms of “six pack” training. I’d like to make two points as we begin: One, the 6-pack rectus abs are only the outward most visible part of the entire core complex and contrary to popular thought, their main function has nothing to do with crunching and everything to do with stabilizing and protecting the spine. Two, our clients and students spend most of their waking and sleeping life in a crunched or fetal position, so they don’t need more motions in those directions {have you people-watched lately and seen all the hunch-backed, horse-necked teenagers thanks to media devices?} Rather, we need to motivate motion in the opposite direction! Upright! Elongate! Main joints stacked and not looking like The Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Move away from crunch-like motions – Any movement that encourages repetitive flexing on the spine is undesirable when our participants already spend so much time in a basically fetal position. In my opinion based on 4 years of constant research and case studies, crunches and sit-ups are detrimental to a healing core. After a core is fully healed {1 finger or less at the navel and shallow so we can’t push into the belly} then doing a few crunches here and there likely won’t reopen your abs – I get down and demonstrate them and how they pooch the tummy for people all the time and my DR is still closed – BUT crunches are worthless in my opinion. They hunch your spine. They target just two main muscles: overworking your psoas and rectus abs which actually need more stretching in most people NOT more flexing. Indeed there are better ways to target the six-pack AND hit other muscles at the same time (i.e. better use of your valuable time) Just do some people-watching at a coffee shop or primary school to see how humanity slumps! We need to unfold that, and thus we need to work more on motions that extend the spine, extend the hip joint, extend the knee joints and open the shoulders, right? But how?

Think Vertical – The abdominal muscles exist to support and protect the spine in an upright position. Yes, they are capable of flexing us into many off-center positions BUT we do not want to live in those positions. We want the range of motion, but we don’t want to be stuck in those crunched and twisted postures. We want to spend most of our time in an upright, proud, erect, eyes on the horizon posture, so vertical core training is functionally an awesome way to train the tummy. I am NOT saying to stand and brace or twist while standing, although those exercises have merit. I’m saying to walk, work in your garden, milk a goat, brush down a horse, pick apples off a tree, lift heavy things, carry your children and groceries in your arms, play toss and catch, wash the windows, mow your grass … YOUR ABS ARE ACTIVE AND ALIVE IN ALL OF THOSE. Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.

Think Balance – Many think that twisting is required to recruit the obliques, but the job of your “side muscles” is more importantly to prevent twisting. Remember, the core’s main job is to protect the spine which houses our brain. Staggered stances such as lunge-oriented poses and moves where one foot is behind the other or off to one side are excellent ways to recruit the obliques and deep core, no twisting required. Practice throwing while standing on one foot. Try the Tree Pose and Warrior Poses from Yoga. Have them try squatting whilst keeping their heels on the ground  {a good test of calf flexibility which many are lacking due to positive heeled shoes} without falling over. Can they bend over to pick something up while balancing on one foot AND keeping their hips level? The move I just mentioned wouldn’t be good for a woman in her last trimester or for someone who has an existing D.R. because of gravity’s downward pull on their abs, but it’s fine for someone who doesn’t already have damaged abs, and it’s actually a way to prevent core trauma in the first place.

Think Sideways – Face down moves and spinal flexion are really rough on a healing core, and those types of movements also create a lot of intra-abdominal pressure in those who cannot successfully sustain good alignment and transverse abdominis activation. Once your diastasis recti or other ab injury is healed AND you can keep your transverse engaged so your organs aren’t weighing down upon your healing fascia AND you can maintain neutral spine/pelvis, then you can befriend planks again. Meanwhile, why not side planks or side bridges? How about the Side-Leg Series from Pilates? And who doesn’t love cartwheels? A cartwheel is just a rotating plank that starts upright and goes full circle… the question on that is can you do it off both hands? I can only seem to manage leading with my right hand… 😉

Think Alignment – Pass out measuring tapes and have your participants measure their bellies when slumped vs. sitting up straight. Play with plumb lines or weighted bits of string to see if their ears, shoulders, mid ribs, hips, knees, and ankles line up. Act out emotions to connect their thoughts to how their bodies demonstrate mood, and thus how mood can affect posture. Balance books on heads while walking. All of these methods are ways to connect your charges with their core in everyday ways that they will not soon forget.

Think Playground – Hanging and swinging from bars realigns and activates the whole upper torso complex. Hang from monkey bars and see how it redirects rounded shoulders, decompresses the intervertebral discs, and fires up the entire core cylinder. While I do not believe our need to swing from things derives from any possible genetic ties that humans might have to chimpanzees, I do know we are meant to climb rocks, harvest fruit from trees and – at the very least – reach tall shelves and manage ladders. Take your kids outside and have them observe each other’s cores while they swing about; and put that pull-up bar to heavy use! Upper body strength lays it’s foundation in childhood! Read this interesting article by biomechanist, Katy Bowman for more fodder on the hanging topic.

I’d like to conclude by encouraging you to share your journey with your fellow teachers and instructors – not in a “you need to do what I’m doing” manner – but with love and an attitude of commiseration like, “Hey, you’d never believe what I’ve been learning! Have you heard about diastasis recti? I think some of our students might have it… I’m learning some new moves, too!” Here is one letter I got from a P.E. Teacher:

“Hi everyone! I’m new to Fit2b and I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m a mom of two and a high school Health and PE teacher (my BS is in Kinesiology). My mind is blown about abdominals!! Much of what I was taught and have been teaching is wrong!! Ahh! I can’t wait to get back to school to share what I’ve learned with my students. I’m now a reformed ab shredding, planking, crunch-aholic. I love all the educational articles on this site, too. I’m a big nerd when it comes to stuff like that. I have my Master’s in education. My thesis was on the participation level of girls in co-ed PE classes compared to same gendered classes. The girls typically had a higher level of participation (higher heart rates) in same gendered classes.” -Lori Nyman

Lori posted that into our private member forum, and you better believe I got very excited and asked her to pretty-please {with a cherry on top} write to me more in depth about the changes she ended up making. She wrote me a lovely synopsis and gave me permission to share it with all of you!

Hi Beth,

I didn’t officially write anything up for my school district.  It wasn’t necessary for the changes I was making.  I teach at a small high school 9th through 12th and only about 100 students per grade.  There is only one other PE teacher and classes are still technically separated by gender but we do most activities co-ed anyway.  Our middle school is in the same building and I’ve been encouraging them to go ab safe too.  

Here is a brief list of the changes I made to be more ab safe.  

The first was to change our warm-up routine.  To be honest, I never liked it.  I’ve been meaning to change it for years but I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do with it.  It used to be the classic static stretching, boring (and ineffective before a workout anyway.)  This is my “core” or basic warm-up.  

  • Belly Breathes x 3
  • Belly breathe with 5 count TA hold or Belly breathe with 5 TA pulses
  • An oblique exercise (TA hold side to side or sliders)
  • A modified sun salutation yoga pose series 

My plan is to slowly add new and different things throughout the year.  Last week we did gate poses for our oblique exercise.  

The second biggest change was to the way I administer our fitness testing.  We do fitness testing at certain times throughout the year and we use Fitnessgram which is a test that is endorsed by our association SHAPE (Society of Health And Physical Educators it used to be AAPHERD.)  Fitnessgram requires curls-ups to assess abdominal strength.  Curl ups are supposed to be safer version of sit-ups because “it does not involve the hip flexors and minimizes compression in the spine.”  I used a one minute TA pulsing session and had the students count how many they could do in a minute.  I told them to stop whenever they were tired or couldn’t do any more with good form.  They averaged 22 in the minute.  Hopefully, I can see an improvement in our next set of tests.  

The third change was just to remind them to be more aware of their abs with the activities we’re doing.  For example, with football to exhale during the twisting motion of the throw to draw the abs in.  Also, just general things like their posture throughout the day, checking their alignment and sitting on their sits bones and not their tail bone.  

I didn’t take a lot of convincing with my co-workers to have them change some of their practices as well.  I just talked their ears off during our before school in-services.  They were really receptive.  I think (or hope) they trust me to have done my research.  I also lost three inches off my waist and I think that was also visual evidence of what I was trying to tell them.  

But I guess that’s it for now.  I’m sure I’ll make more changes throughout the school year.  Let me know if I can help you with your teacher’s page. -Lori

People want to get better. They want to have healthy tummies. All they need is the right information and some encouragement. You are positioned to do just that. And you have my blessings and support!

Love, Beth

3 thoughts on “Dear Instructors & Teachers

  1. Pingback: I'm not sore... Am I doing it wrong? - Fit2B studio

  2. Alison B. Marsh says:

    Hi Bethany!
    I found your site looking up the phrase “How to fix diastasis recti during pregnancy” and I am incredibly impressed AND grateful for what you have to offer on your site! This piece Dear Instructors & Teachers is wonderful!
    I am a Pilates instructor in Las Vegas, NV specializing in posture and pre and postnatal Pilates. My studio is AM Pilates & Posture. I started a website years ago for my business AMPilatesandPosture.com, and then as I began to specialize in pregnancy, I started a blog YourPregnantCore.com all about pregnancy Pilates; my focus being on Pilates instructors who teach pregnant and postpartum women. I talk extensively about the transverse abdominals during pregnancy and postpartum. I call it Hugging the Baby. (My blog use to be HugtheBaby.com, but after learning a bit more about blogging, realized people didn’t know what hug the baby was.)

    I am incredibly interested in your business and blogging practices! How long has your site been up? How often do you blog? About how long does it take you to research the information, and write a post.?
    How do you balance all you do with a family??
    I have been searching for a successful woman entrepreneur in my field to learn from, like yourself.
    Any information on the business and blogging standpoint would be amazing from you!!
    Do you offer a mentorship program??

    Anyway, thank you for your amazing contribution to this field!! Hope to hear from you soon!
    Alison Marsh

    • Beth Learn
      Beth Learn says:

      I’d love to connect and mentor you as far possible, Alison! I’m not in this alone. Fit2B has grown to where it takes a whole team, and I’ve hired lots of help to get our message out there. Feel free to book a personal consult with me here > fit2b.us/shop and then we can go from there!

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