While scrolling across Instagram recently, I came across a video that made me stop and gasp out loud.
No, it wasn’t a video of something delicious and food-related (my usual go-to Instagram obsession) or even something scandalous. Instead, it was a video of a mother completely sucking in her sizable pregnant belly until it seemed to virtually disappear.
Yeah, I know. Crazy, right? The jaw-dropping videos come thanks to The Bloom Method, an exercise program out of Boulder, CO that is focused on pelvic health and abdominal strength designed by Brooke Cates, CPT, CES, HHC, CRS Pregnancy and Post Birth Exercise Specialist. I spoke to Cates, 35, to find out more about her fitness method and how she is revolutionizing what it means to be healthy during pregnancy and post-birth.
“I saw a need for it,” Cates explains of her decision to found her company over five years ago. She notes that she witnessed many women expressing unhappiness about their bodies due to the rigors of childbearing and giving birth, and the feeling that they had to “give up” their bodies in order to become a mother. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a negative way to see becoming a mother,'” she says.
She looked around and realized that so many women, even those who led athletic lives pre-motherhood, were being incorrectly advised by their doctors to slow down their activity levels — suffering physically and emotionally as a result. She likens birth to one of the most physically challenging experiences a human can go through, and thus, something women should really be training for in a focused and intentional way.
Cates calls labor “The Birth Marathon” based on her findings that the average woman in birth expels three times the amount of oxygen a runner expels in a single marathon. She developed her program on the principle that women should be empowered and equipped to give birth; finding themselves stronger and more fulfilled on the other side of motherhood.
Her method, which combines her background in exercise science and childhood development, focuses on rewiring moving and breathing patterns throughout pregnancy by using their deep core in totally new ways. She offers online and personal training, education, and on-site group classes at her studio in Boulder for pregnant and postpartum mothers.
The videos showcase some of Cates’ clients and instructors demonstrating one of the foundational exercises in her program, called The Belly Pump.
The move is a play on diaphragmatic breathing, which Cates teaches as a mainstay of her system. As babies, we naturally initiate breathing through our diaphragm instead of our chest, but as we age, we tend to learn to breathe through our chest instead. Breathing through the diaphragm, Cates says, helps keep the body in a state of parasympathetic nervous system activation, which helps keep us calm and de-stress.
Cates believes that because of our high-stress lifestyles, we gradually shift as we grow to become chest breathers. This activates the sympathetic nervous “fight or flight” system, leaving our body in a constant state of stress, sending signals to every cell in our body that we’re in danger.
After learning the Belly Pump and how to correctly breathe from the diaphragm, moms in The Bloom Method classes then learn how to perform deep core activation and awareness. What instructor Rachel is doing in the video is activating her transverse abdominal muscles to “hug” her baby, which creates a contraction between the pelvic floor and deep core muscles and lifts and activates the pelvic floor.
And don’t worry, the baby is completely safe with this move — the baby simply slides up into the rib cage during the core activation. In fact, Cates says that The Belly Pump actually helps the baby in the womb get the right signals to remain calm and learn to move in the correct direction.
The Bloom Method helps not only keep mothers’ core strong during pregnancy, Cates boasts that her first-time moms experience an average of only 20-30 minutes of pushing during labor without lower back pain. She also explained that it helps prevent diastasis recti and pelvic floor incontinence postpartum.
Cates adds that she and her husband will be trying for their first baby in the next few months, so she will hopefully soon have the opportunity to practice what she’s been preaching all these years. “I’m greatly looking forward to having my mind completely blown when I go through pregnancy for myself,” she says with a laugh.