Did you ever wonder how things get out of your body? Things like food? And snot? And babies?
The human body has great equipment for expelling various items. Smooth muscle creates wave-like motions that move items through the body (like food through your digestive tract, or particles up through your sinuses). Specialty muscles like the diaphragm (generating upward forces for coughing and vomiting) and the uterus (vaginal delivery) are well-designed and can really get the job done for you.
Then there are *other* ways of getting stuff out of your body. These methods include YOU choosing to do something *extra* to help Mother Nature along. The skill most commonly utilized to *help* move things out is the Valsalva Maneuver. Even if you have never heard of this world-famous maneuver (going on tour this Summer with the Heimlich maneuver for a Maneuver Extravaganzaaaa!) chances are, you've already used it three times today. Maybe even once while you were reading this blog, if you read blogs while on the toilet.
If you've ever:
- Cleared your ears at altitude
- Strained to go to the bathroom
- Held your breath or inhaled while lifting weights or doing abdominal exercises
- Held your breath and PUUUUUSSSSSSHHHHEEED during vaginal delivery
then you, my friend, are quite familiar with the Valsalva (rhymes with Kalsalva) maneuver. The Valsalva is taking in a breath, sealing off any way for that breath to escape, and then pushing against that "balloon", causing it to bulge in various directions (up or down, mostly).
If you look at the physiological and biomechanical properties of the tissues that expel things, one would ask, "Why is anyone straining to get things out if there is equipment there to do it for you?"
And the answer would be...
Because we have over-developed habits that work against the natural expelling tissues, making elimination of all types more difficult.
Oh yeah, like what? (Please read in your best Tough Guy voice.)
I can tell you that you probably have one habit, that you've been practicing every day, all day long, that creates a force that is messing with your Let Me Out functions.
Are you ready?
It's sucking in your stomach. No, really. That's one of the worst things you can do for your health (even though it may be one of the BEST things you can do while being photographed in your bathing suit).
Most people have replaced deep, abdominal activity with “sucking their stomach in." The belief held by most is that "sucking it in" constantly uses one's abdominal muscles, but really, the sucking-in motion creates a pressure (like creating a vacuum) that pulls the abdomen’s contents up (not in). It doesn't do anything for core strength (except weaken it over time) or back health (increases the loads placed on the intervertebral disks).
Try this: Stand up in front of a mirror looking at your side-view. Now let it all go. Let it all hang out. If you pay close attention, you will see that your stomach really drops down as it moves forward. If you notice a LOT of mass there on your six-pack, then you are regularly increasing the pressure in your abdominal cavity by squeezing all your goods into a tight space. Please, do not mistake sucking in your stomach for abdominal muscle use. It's not the same thing. Sucking in your stomach doesn't even use the abdominal muscles...it uses a vacuum (no calories were burned or strength generated by creating a vacuum!) and you can actually get LESS TONED in the midsection as a result. So stop it.
The constant upward motion of "sucking it in":
1. Interferes with the wave-like motion of your intestines, causing a delay in digestion (excessive gas, anyone?) and the need to physically PUSH your waste into the toilet. Your waste-removal system is not designed to have you working against it, so you end up Valsalva-ing to get stuff out.
2. Reduces circulation of blood. Because of location, the constant upward tugging on your guts ends up reducing the full circulation down into the legs. This is a biggie, because the less blood that makes it into the smaller blood vessels in the trunk and lower extremities, the more blood (and higher the blood pressure) in the main arteries.
3. Reverses your motor programming with your diaphragm. Doesn't seem like a big deal, especially if you don't know what these words mean. Let me break it down for you. The act of coughing is an expectorant - an upward movement meant to clean out items trapped in your lungs or throat. Your body uses coughing to prevent accumulated fluid or phlegm in your lung tissue.
Test Your Cough: Lying on your back, place your hands on your low belly. Cough. You should be creating an upward (towards your head) force. If your lower belly bulged out when you coughed (and it DID, didn't it!!?) then your constant sucking in your stomach has smashed everything up against the bottom of your diaphragm so now when you cough it isn't pushing 100% up any longer, but has a downward component. (Which is why a lot of people pee their pants when they cough or laugh...)
Which brings me to the pelvis.
As last discussed in the Super-Kegel post, prolapsing organs are a huge deal. Many people are trying to fix the situation by doing various types of exercise, which is fine, but what they are NOT doing is realizing that these organs did not drop out...they were pushed out. By the owner of the aforementioned organs.
Keep in mind that Pelvic issues are multi-factoral, but, there are physical situations that increase the strain on the ligaments. (No, your body weight is not one of them.)
1. A lifetime of sucking it in typically results in a regular downward strain when bathrooming. If you've dealt with chronic constipation, then at least once a day (hopefully!) you've been pushing those organs down and out when trying to get the *other* stuff out.
2. If you were given extremely out-dated directions while birthing your baby (think being TOLD to Valsalva, "Take a deep breath, hold, and push") then you could have created a large downward force on the organs, not just the baby itself.
3. If you regularly do high-impact activities, you are straining the ligaments on each landing.
Our misguided solution to these items is to strengthen the Keep Em' Ups to offset the damage, but, unfortunately, it doesn't work that way -- much in the same way you can't do cardio exercise to offset the harmful affects of smoking.
Fixing prolapse in the long term requires that you stop the downward habits in addition to strengthening your musculature. If you are in the process of getting things back up and on (or in) the saddle, check out your downward and upward forces. Have you been messing with your mechanics???
To really stretch out your sucker-inners, do this exercise: Start on your hands and knees. Good. Now, relax your stomach alllllll the way. And, make sure you aren't tucking your tailbone under. Let the spine relax all the way too.
Check out our (brave) volunteers showing what they've actually got up front,
Looks good, buuuut, it creates disease and injury, so not such a good habit to cultivate. (And, P.S. where do you think all that stomach excess is going when you suck it in?) Better to release and learn how to really use that transverse abdominal group and really increase your metabolism, which is how you really get rid of body fat accumulation. For a quick abdominal toner, read this post from last year http://nutritiousmovement.com/what-a-waist/
The moral of this story is: All expelling is not created equal. You have great (amazing!) systems in place, but we've disengaged these natural functions and are instead doing a hodge-podge of other things (maneuvers) that seem almost the same, but are quite different mechanically and will lead to tissue damage.
Pay attention to any forces you are creating that go against natural functions. Then, learn to stop creating these inappropriate forces. Upward forces lead to downward pressures, which lead to ligament damage, which leads to things falling out. Of your body. Sucking in habits in conjunction with Valsalva habits can also cause other upward strains, like in the blood vessels in your head. Or the decreased ability to inflate your lungs with each breath. It's a really big deal, man.
Next post: Push-Em Out, Part 2. Birthing Mechanics...and How To Use Your Uterus.