Staying Low Impact in the Impact Zone

I’m very excited to bring you my second interview in my blog series about the least boring pelvic floor-friendly exercise options.

Madeleine Newton is an ex-pro surfer who happens to also be a women’s health physiotherapist working on Queensland’s Gold Coast. I don’t know much about surfing, except that it looks like an awful lot of fun – and potentially a great all-body low-impact exercise that might be a good pelvic floor-friendly option. Imagine that, surfing for your pelvic floor! Madeleine set me straight on a few things, including how and when it is and isn’t pelvic floor friendly, and how your body might feel when you first try to get back to it after childbirth. There’s plenty of stuff here to get you amped about surfing!

How did you get into surfing?

I have always had a love for the ocean and was always in it, from as far back as I can remember- swimming, bodyboarding, you couldn’t get me away from the beach or out of the water! My parents signed me up for Nippers and I competed for years in that, which was great for developing surf safety skills and learning to save and help others. But one day at a Nippers competition, in between events, I was out in the water practising and just started to stand up on my Nipper board and surf. The feeling was amazing, I was instantly addicted and I just couldn’t stop! My older brother bought me a lovely little old surfboard and I just never looked back! I started competing in local events and started getting really good results and had a heap of major sponsors, so that lead me to compete around Australia in the junior and school titles and on the Australian junior surfing series until I made it onto the world qualifying series (WQS) which took me to USA, South Africa, Europe, Indonesia and all around the world.

What was your best result?

I was ranked in the top 16 in the world one year and came 2nd in the Australian Junior Titles and 3rd in the world grommet titles also.

What do you love most about it?

Being in the ocean, there’s something healing and magical about it! It’s freedom! And the feeling of being one with the ocean diving through waves and riding them. The old saying “only a surfer knows the feeling” really is true. It’s hard to describe the feeling and nothing else really compares!

How long did you have off surfing after having your baby?

Despite desperately wanting to be back in the water after having my first baby, it took about 6 months before I got back to surfing. My body was just not ready for it. The combination of extreme tiredness, low iron, recurrent bouts of mastitis, learning how on earth to feed and look after this gorgeous little human properly and having quite a difficult first birth meant I just wasn’t able to get back into the water. As much as I love surfing, it just wasn’t a priority for me at that stage, and I felt it had to be put on the back burner while I concentrated on the most important job in the world (and just surviving really!). Some women just ease straight into motherhood and make it look so easy, but that wasn’t the case for me. My body was so heavy, sore and tired, and having a little creature to look after and care for 24/7 was a huge shock for me (especially having been quite independent previously), it was a very steep learning curve. I’m very lucky though, to have the most amazing and supportive husband in the world who continuously encouraged me to get back into the water!

What did it feel like to get back on the board for the first time after bub?

Because it had been a while, I had lost a lot of muscle tone and strength (and had put on a lot of weight too) and I was still quite sore. I remember struggling, fitness wise, to paddle out the back and getting quite frustrated, as I used to be such a high level surfer previously. I also remember doing a breastroke kick to propel myself onto my board and my groin muscles and pelvis killing me with pain. I think I only stayed out for about 10 minutes and came in and cried to my husband! But just as I had persevered to get to an elite sports level in the past, and with some help from a personal trainer (doing a mums group training session 1-2x/week) I eventually regained the strength, found I was still able to surf just as well, lost some of the weight, and was back surfing in 6-8ft Indonesian waves again, within 1-2 years. I guess it’s not the picture perfect answer you might have been expecting, but I guess my point is, that for some mums, it’s a bit of a struggle after having kids, but if you keep persevering, setting and achieving small goals, you will eventually get there, just as long as you dont give up!

Was your experience any different following the birth of your second baby?

Yes totally different. My second baby was a breeze in comparison. I was surfing on a rubber mat right upto the day my second baby was born. I was a lot stronger and fitter, I seemed to handle the pregnancy better (no back or pelvis pain this time), labour better and I knew what to do with the baby the second time round. I was back surfing at around 6 weeks. Being a physiotherapist with a special interest in women’s health, I knew the dangers of going back too early and the risks of injury due to joint laxity (and also mastitis from lying on or hitting those enormous boobs) and I was very cautious to only go out in small safe conditions. My main worry was slipping on the board and stretching already lax ligaments, but that never happened and I found surfing helped me get stronger, fitter, healthier and much much more happy!!! I was a better mum for it too.

Do you think surfing helped you bounce back after having a baby?

Definitely! I felt human again. It gave me “me” time (alone or with friends) in the surf. The feeling was amazing. I felt refreshed and started regaining my strength and energy. It’s just an awesome sport for lots of reasons.

Do you ever think about your pelvic floor muscles when surfing?

I don’t really think about them, but since having children I am much more aware of my pelvic floor muscles and a correct contraction, and I do notice when they are contracting. For example during paddling, along with some of the other back (multifidus & erector spinae) and core muscles (transversus abdominus), I sometimes feel the pelvic floor muscles co-contracting aswell. And sometimes I am aware of them ‘bracing’ prior to and during certain maneuvers and turning the board and so on. Surfing definitely helps strengthen all muscles including the pelvic floor. And SUPing (stand up paddle boarding) has been great for small days too. SUPing is great for the core, arms and legs.. well, the whole body really!

As a physiotherapist, a surf coach, surfer and mum, what advice would you give to mums trying out surfing for the first time?

Just have fun with it. It’s your time away from the kids to enjoy. Expect (& embrace) a bit of a workout, and allow yourself some time to learn. It usually takes a few sessions to get up and standing. It’s also worth getting a qualified surfing instructor to give you some tips to start off with, even the tiniest tips, can help you stand up and ride that wave right through to the shore. Keep persevering, because once you get that feeling, you won’t want to stop! Oh and also, the learn to surf boards can be heavy so make sure you buddy up with someone to help carry your board down to the water to protect your pelvic floor and back, especially if your women’s health physiotherapist has advised you not to lift! Just be aware also not to strain to get the surfboard into position, you can ask your instructor for easy ways to manage your surfboard without having to lift or strain to position it (things like pulling the board around from the leg rope on top of the water rather than trying to lift the board against the water current etc). Even just laying down and paddling in some safe, flat water is a great low risk way to get used to the board, get a bit of fitness in and get out in the water with your friends!

And great bonus news, mums…you can see Madeleine as your women’s health physiotherapist at Pindarra Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine on the Gold Coast. But whatever you do, make an appointment and don’t just drop in – it’s the ultimate surfing no-no!



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