Strengthening your abdominal muscles is so much more than endless sets of crunches. Loaded carries are a safer and more effective way to strengthen your core.
The next time you find yourself having to haul a load, envision performing a loaded carry exercise such as a suitcase carry or farmer’s carry. This will allow you to promote optimal posture, effectively engage your deep core local and global stabilizing muscles and prevent injuries. Let me let you in on a little secret: the business of mom life allows for countless opportunities for you to practice exactly this exercise without ever stepping foot in the gym.
Do you feel like you never have time to exercise anyways because you’re always running around doing mom things? Getting the family groceries, volunteering at another school function, returning what you spontaneously bought at Target last week because it was the wrong size and spending more time and money in that addicting merchandizing hole than you intended to… These are just a few of the tasks that consume our time as moms.
While trekking from errand to errand with your infant in tow, have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself in a store front window though? What does your posture look like? Are you engaging your core muscles to stand tall and upright, or are you leaning to the side being weighed down by that heavy infant car seat? There are some simple strategies to change this.
Performing loaded carry exercises are great ways to incorporate strength training in to your daily to-do’s. Two popular loaded carry exercises are the suitcase carry and the farmer’s carry.
A suitcase carry is similar to when you haul your baby along your side while trekking to your next errand as if you were carrying a suitcase in the airport.
If you have ever caught yourself carrying a 2 year old on one hip and a 9 month old on the other, you are performing a farmer’s carry. It is also comparable to when you unload groceries. Because if you are like me, you may try to put every single bag on one or both arms to avoid making another trip to the garage but instead risk tripping or, worse yet, causing pain due to poor abdominal engagement. This can lead to excessive strain on your back or hips.
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Proper form for each of these loaded carries consists of a strong upright posture:
- Ears back over shoulders, no forward head posture; pretend you’re listening to someone talking quietly behind you but don’t want that person to know you are eavesdropping by performing a gentle chin tuck
- Shoulders pulled down and back and shoulder blades pinched together
- Ribs stacked over your hips, consider both forward and backward and side to side views when assessing your ribcage position
- Eliminate any excessive arching in your low back or the opposite extreme of your bum tucking under and a very flat back
- No weight shifting to one side or the other, but stand tall; imagine that there is a string being pulled from the top of your head straight up to the ceiling
Start out by walking a distance of 20-40 feet 2-3 times per day (with the weight on each side). If you want to make it easier on your body, if you are in the early stages of postpartum, during pregnancy, or if you’re currently suffering from back, hip, or pelvic pain, keep the weight equal side to side. To increase the challenge, choose different sized weights to put in each hand to force your trunk muscles to help with counter-balancing the asymmetric load and ultimately lead to improved motor control and strength.
And if you can’t make time for these exercises, consider parking a little further away in the Wal-Mart parking lot next time. You can get a mini-work out in carrying your baby into the store while being mindful of your posture and engaging you deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.
The way you carry your infant car seat doesn’t have to lead to back or hip pain. Use the suitcase carry to help you train away from pain and dysfunction. Despite your best efforts at mastering the suitcase carry hold, it can still be challenging to lug that seat around (sometimes because of your height or body type).
Consider these alternative strategies to transporting your infant.
Try this hold when your baby is a newborn and still lighter in weight. Keep the weight centered within your body frame. Don’t let your shoulders hike, but instead, pull shoulder blades together with your upper back muscles. Avoid letting your hips shift forward and bum tuck under. Stand tall.
As your baby gets heavier, try this grip. It can be a game changer as it more safely distributes the weight. It tends to be a lot more comfortable too. Loop arm under the handle, turn hand to face the car seat, exhale, engage your abs, maintain a flat back, and stand up.
However, as your baby gets even bigger, using a stroller to push the car seat can be the safest option.
In doing these loaded carry exercises, whether as part of your work-out routine, or simply being mindful as you do your daily errands, you will be training for that mom life. Please stop thinking that you need to do hundreds of crunches to get strong abs. It’s just not right. Loaded carries are a far more functional abdominal activation exercise that strengthens your core.
By moving more mindfully while carrying your baby (or babies) around, you will move better. By moving better, you will feel better, and ultimately mom better.