About Julie Wiebe
Julie Wiebe, PT, DPT has over 24 years of experience in both Sports Medicine and Pelvic Health. Her passion is to return women to fitness and sport after injury and pregnancy and equip pros to do the same. This passion led her to pioneer an integrative approach to promote women’s health in and through fitness. A published author, Julie is a sought-after speaker to share her evidence-based, integrative approach internationally at clinics, academic institutions, conferences, and professional organizations and remotely through lectures and online coursework. Julie maintains a clinical practice in Los Angeles. She promotes innovative solutions and educated hope for women through her blog, videos, social media, live and online courses. When not trying to change the world one pelvic floor at a time, Julie is happy to focus on her first passions: being mom to the Z’s (Zoe and Zack), and wife to David.
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About This Podcast
Julie and Kathryn talk about what the core is, and how it is currently being redefined. Kathryn asks about popular topics like alignment, and why we hear the cue to “drop your ribs” so frequently. They always bring it back to a biopsychosocial perspective and discuss how everything from language to posture and expectations will affect the core. Julie Wiebe is one of the core trailblazers of our time and this interview recaps the more up to date research on this confusing part of the body.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:00:08]
Hey folks. I’m Kathryn Bruni-Young, and this is the Mindful Strength Podcast. On this show, I talk to yoga teachers, physiotherapists, and other clinicians about mindful movement, yoga practice, pain science, body politics, and how we can incorporate these ideas to create a sustainable practice. Let’s dive in. Hi everyone. Welcome back. Today, we are going to be hearing from Julie Wiebe. Julie is a master of pelvic health, the core and specifically women’s core and pelvic health. She has been working in this field for quite a while.
You’ll hear more about her as we get into the interview. Julie and I talked about everything from what the core is, how we might define the core, to alignment and posture. We talked about the ever-popular cue about pulling or drawing the ribs down and how and why this might not work for everyone. That was definitely a highlight of this interview for me. We also talked about restoring the core. And Julie’s work is so powerful because she focuses not only on getting back to day-to-day function, but working with people to get back to their strength and fitness goals like heavy lifting and running and more high-impact exercise.
So if you’re interested in the core and core restoration and breath and pressure systems and posture, you are going to absolutely love this interview. And I highly recommend you go take a look at Julie Wiebe’s online courses. She has a number to choose from. Her work is just so incredible.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:02:02]
Before we get into the podcast, I want to remind you all of the Mindful Strength membership, which is my online studio. And it’s more than an online studio. We’ve got classes with Kyle and I. We have two live classes every week that are open to anyone in the membership. We also have classes with guest instructors that are different styles of movement.
And then included in the membership are a number of practice series progressions. So we have a push-up progression, a handstand progression. Kyle is currently working on a kettlebell progression. And also included is a 30-day Practice Progression. So if you’re new to strength building and you want to get started in a really nice progressive way, you are going to love the Mindful Strength membership. If you want to learn more, head over to mindfulstrength.ca. You’ll see it there. You can read through some of the information and get started. All right everyone. Here is my conversation with Julie Wiebe.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:03:10]
All right. Julie, welcome to the podcast.
Julie Wiebe: [00:03:15]
Good morning. Hi. How are you?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:03:17]
I’m so good. I am so glad to be having this conversation with you today. I have had a lot of physiotherapists on the podcast and a lot of them have referenced your work and so I’m just so excited to have an opportunity to ask you a few questions. I feel like I’m going straight to the source here.
Julie Wiebe: [00:03:38]
Yay. Well, thank you so much. I’m excited to have a chat.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:03:42]
In case some of the listeners don’t know about you or your work, do you want to take a couple of minutes and just tell them a little bit about what you’re really focused on?
Julie Wiebe: [00:03:51]
Yeah. So my background is actually in sports medicine, and so I sort of came into pelvic health from a sports medicine viewpoint and I still hold that view. My default bias, I guess, is what I would say. And after I had my first – my daughter is now applying to university, so she is almost 18 now – I struggled with my own pregnancy recovery and trying to figure out how to get back to fitness. And I found at the same time the core was sort of a thing, becoming a thing, and the pelvic floor was part of it.
So trying to understand the interrelationship between pelvic health, I– and I actually wasn’t experiencing any typical pelvic health considerations after I had my daughter, but I understood that it was a part of the system that I needed to recover in order to get back to fitness. And so at the time – again, this was 18 years ago – if you had any kind of pregnancy or recovery issue or pelvic health consideration, the answer to a fitness question was no. It was always no. Like, “You cannot do that.” Oh, well. You can’t run anymore. Oh, well. You can’t do X, Y, Z.
Julie Wiebe: [00:05:03]
And as a former athlete and as a sports medicine PT, my patients– I, mean I was working at the time with a whole range of athletes. Their response to that was, “Thanks for the advice.” And they would tie up their shoe and run out the door. You know what I mean? They were like, “Yeah. I’m good. I’m going to keep running.” So it became my mission to try to figure out how to help them rather than shut them down. And so that’s really been the path I’ve been on for the last 18 years. Is how do we help women recover from and return to the activities they enjoy? And to no longer remove it from their programs, but actually what I have ultimately learned to do is use their fitness as their rehabilitation.
And that’s really the heart of what I do is to build new strategies for them on how they use their body inside whatever fitness it is that they want to do. And so if you’re a runner, my job is to help you get back to running. If you’re a CrossFitter, my job is to help you go back to CrossFit. And understanding the limitations of that, depending on the level of injury. So that’s really been my path is to try to find the intersection of sports medicine and pelvic health and to follow it and make that pathway clear for other pros and for women.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:06:19]
So you’re super focused on the core. Like I mentioned before, a lot of people who have come on the show who have talked about the core have referenced your work. And I’m wondering, our idea about the core seems to be changing and it seems to be kind of always changing, and different people have different ideas about what the core is or what it includes. And I’m wondering if you could tell us how you define the core?
Julie Wiebe: [00:06:49]
So let me define it this way, and that’s in the way that it functions. The intention of our understanding of the core or why we pursue it is what we need to understand first. Which is we understand, for example, in development with babies, they need to get some kind of a foundational center so that they can start to use their arms freely and then sit up against gravity and then stand up against gravity and then move through space. You need some kind of a central foundation in order to establish movement in a sort of developmental sequence and we understand that.
And so recreating or confirming that folks have a good connection to that foundation is sort of the purpose, or it should be the purpose, of that central stability programming or central control programming. I think that’s where we’re all trying to get our language too. So understanding that, there are elements of that. And so there’s a deeper element, which sort of sets up kind of an anchoring contraction, and we think that’s the diaphragm, TA, pelvic floor. The multifidus is usually lumped in there, but I don’t tend to focus on that, and we can have a conversation about that if you want. And there’s the superficial central musculature, the trunk musculature. But they work together to create a controlled central strategy of interrelationships that help us do our day, do our function, do our fitness. And so that’s sort of maybe a broader definition. If you want actual muscles–
Julie Wiebe: [00:08:23]
The reason that I focus so much on pelvic and abdominal health in and around pregnancy is because those systems tend to be disrupted during pregnancy. And disrupt may be too strong a word, but they get– I actually prefer to say they’re imbalanced. They lose their balance during the pregnancy. Though the balance that they create, that they strike, is actually appropriate for pregnancy. They’re trying to help us compensate through a major change in our body. And when we get unpregnant, when we no longer have an abdomen that is stretched out all the way around a growing baby, then we need to rebalance that system.
And so that central system, which is intended to create that foundation, is disrupted. It’s not just the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and the TA that are disrupted. The whole abdominal wall. And again, I don’t like the word disrupted. I’m sorry that I even started down that path. But that it’s changed. The situation has changed. And we need to address that in order to help people re-establish that foundation so that they don’t compensate with overusing their low back or their hamstrings or their shoulders or their necks. They can sort of work again with the dynamic that we created during development, which is to work from your center. To move off of a foundation that allows you to do that with efficiency and effectiveness. Did that make sense?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:09:41]
Julie Wiebe: [00:09:42]
Is that what you were–?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:09:43]
So the word disrupted, I’m curious about why you don’t want to use this word?
Julie Wiebe: [00:09:47]
[laughter] You know what, it’s because there’s a lot of– and let me just pause for a second and find the best way to move forward on that question. So disrupted, I think that word holds some negative connotations. And it’s not that, really, it’s a problem to be solved, but I think that it can feel overwhelming to some women to find their way back and to find the guidance they need in order to do that. Yeah. So I think that there’s probably better words that I could have chosen there. There’s stuff that needs to be addressed and stuff that needs to be guided through, but I think for me, a lot of what I have ended up treating over the last– I mean, I’ve been– again, I’ve been doing this for a really long time now.
Partially, because of social media, because of some of the things we’re learning, I treat a lot of fear in my office. I don’t just treat physical pieces of the puzzle. I treat a lot of fear. A lot of women are very nervous about what they’ve read online. They think they’re broken. They tried to find help and they can’t and there’s contradicting information. And so I just want to be a part of the communication strategy that says, “There’s help and there’s hope.” And I actually like to use the phrase educated hope instead of– yes, I wish I hadn’t started with the word disrupted, but it is a disruption and it needs some guidance to find its way back. It doesn’t mean that it’s no longer a viable option to go and be fit. We can find ways to do that.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:11:15]
Yeah. Okay. So one interesting thing is, whenever I hear from someone– not necessarily on the podcast, but I interact with a lot of people online and read a lot of people’s social media posts and whatever. And so I’ve found that people who are talking about the core and the pelvic floor use the word dysfunction quite a bit. And I have some feelings about that because I feel like people just throw that out. They just say it. Like, “Pelvic floor dysfunction. This is a thing you have.” Yeah. So I think it’s just so great to go through this, the language, thinking about our language and really noticing what we say. And so when you said, “Disrupted,” but then you said, “Oh, I’m trying not to use that word,” I was like, “Yes.” I feel like this is, “Yes.” This is what I’m trying to do all the time.
Julie Wiebe: [00:12:04]
Right. But I think too it’s been an interesting journey to find ways to communicate. Because at the same time, I do work with a very athletic population. And I know that you talk a lot about pain science here on the podcast and it’s a part of your practice and how you communicate. And we have a lot of understanding, that belief and language, that there’s a lot that goes on beyond– so the bio-psycho-social model, right? But that beyond just what’s going on physically, the emotional and beliefs are very important. But I also work with a population that– so when I started learning about that stuff, I mean, that was– it’s been around for a long time now.
I started trying to be really more careful about saying words like stability or– because then people think they’re unstable. And I started trying to be more careful about– what was the other one? I can’t remember. But there’s a couple that were sudden no-no’s on social media and you were lambasted if you said them ever. And I work with really a lot of high-level athletes and I would try to create all these like word pictures around the word stability, and they’d be like, “Do you mean stability?” And I’m like, “Yes. I mean stability.” [laughter] So at the same time, I think we have to appreciate that it’s hard to create a new concept when you have to harken back to what they understand first so that you can kind of move into new territory.
Julie Wiebe: [00:13:32]
And I think the new territory that I’ve been promoting over time really is talking about this not as– and that’s why I tried to start with function of the system and the interconnected systems because we need to understand that, at the end of the day, we’re not just training your muscles. When you come to see me, I’m not really going to try to train your pelvic floor. I’m going to try to train your brain’s relationship to the pelvic floor and the pelvic floors relationship to the rest of the postural system inside movements that mean something to you. That’s a very different way of communicating around this, but sometimes that does mean that I have to use the word stability. But I try to understand my audience and it’s hard when you’re talking to a broad audience on a podcast.
So, yeah. There is importance in that, but I also think we have to understand the audience of who it is we’re using that language with, where they’re coming from. So, yeah. It’s been an interesting journey. We’re all in it. And like you said, things keep changing. And I think that one of the things I learned early on as someone who does education programs for people is, I’m pretty good about saying, “I do not know. I really don’t know. You’re asking a question that’s ahead of the literature. You’re asking a really good question.” To be able to say, “Yeah, I didn’t do so hot there. Let’s see if we can figure out a better way to do language around that.” And I think that there’s a lot of places where I try to do that and we’re trying to all evolve in our thinking. So we’re all learning. We’re all growing. As long as we keep on that path.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:15:11]
Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Okay. So you mentioned that you treat people’s fear and not only their muscles. And I’m wondering, the women who come to see you, what do you think some of the most common fears are that people have?
Julie Wiebe: [00:15:27]
Well, again, I dare– I don’t know if that’s the right word, but my reputation is I’m someone who, if you’re an athlete, I’m going to try to help you get back to your fitness. And again, even though I’ve been at this now– I mean, I’ve been a therapist for 24 years, but I started to understand the pregnancy postpartum health perspective about 18 years ago when my daughter was born and I was going through my own pregnancy. But there’s a lot of stuff that we didn’t know anything about when I was having a baby. I didn’t know that– and I don’t want to– there’s all sorts of stuff out there that I’m glad I kind of didn’t know. But at the same time, it’s important to understand what going on with your body. But something like pelvic organ prolapse is something that a lot of women are fearful of. That was the question, right? What exactly are women afraid of?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:16:19]
Yeah. What are some of these fears you see coming up?
Julie Wiebe: [00:16:22]
Yeah. I mean, I think that there’s a shared fear for women that they’re not going to recover aesthetically, which is a whole nother conversation, but it’s a layer that we have to fess up to as women. And we have to also appreciate that culturally we’ve been– it’s hard to shake, but it’s a layer. And so that’s where I think, though, that we have to understand where some of the fears come from and then how that plays out actually into their rehab. It’s sort of interesting because that aesthetic piece leads women to think the only thing that they really are afraid of mainly from that piece is that their stomach be flat again.
And then when they do that, they end up over using and focusing and doing a lot of exercise in and around absolutely and they forget the rest of the system. And for me, that’s diaphragm, pelvic floor, and the entire rest of the abdominal wall and the glutes and the– everybody that got affected by pregnancy, everything was affected by the pregnancy, not just the abs. And so to broaden that perspective is important. And that’s part of healing the abdominal wall. That’s part of helping them move back toward fitness that moves them to some of their aesthetic goals. So I think that’s a piece of the puzzle for a lot of women.
That’s sort of an underlying fear. And then now with social media, the way that it is, they’re very afraid that they have diastasis. They’re very afraid that they have prolapse. Incontinence, I think is something that, because it’s been normalized, it’s been normalized in a lot of ways in the medical world in how it’s communicated generationally, because we see incontinence products on TVm that doesn’t have as much fear around it. So women aren’t actually willing to adapt what they’re doing for incontinence as much as they will adapt out of either fear of diastasis or prolapse or the fact that they think they might already have it or that they want to prevent those things.
So, anyway. So I think that those are sort of the biggies that I am working with on this end. I’m sort of undoing a lot of damage that actually some of those words have done. And really, it’s the not understanding in depth or us as a community not having great solutions for women who want to be fit. We have a lot of work to do.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:18:41]
I see this idea online quite a bit and I think I usually see it coming from either movement or yoga or Pilates teachers who did exercise for a long time in a certain way and then maybe had a baby and have had some realizations. And there’s this kind of like story of, “If I had only known that doing these yoga poses or doing these sit-ups or doing this exercise was going to cause this diastasis, or if only I had like this information that I have now, I could have prevented all of these things from happening to me.”
And I’m wondering what you think about that and if you think– to me when I hear that, I kind of think like, “Oh, there’s this right-wrong paradigm, and everyone’s the same. And if I hadn’t done those sit-ups, I wouldn’t have this diastasis and this is just an easy thing for me to fix.”
Julie Wiebe: [00:19:31]
Right. Yeah. And so let me– I’m trying to think of the best way to say this. So that’s where we really need to– if we’re going to disrupt [laughter] – we’re going to keep that word in our conversation today or that’s already been posed in our conversation today – it’s that kind of thinking. And, again, it’s sort of, when we talk about some of these elements – like the core, or alignment, or breathing, or some of the pieces of a puzzle or specific exercises – as safe or unsafe, when we do that, we’re building kind of a formulaic way of thinking about it.
And then again, we’re also focusing on the muscle. Like, “Let’s make them stronger. Let’s make them more supple. Let’s make them–” that we understand it as a muscular intervention. We see exercise as a way to build those muscles or potentially create problems. I know that in rehab, fitness is often how people get into trouble. So we often sort of do this like shaming thing. “Well, you shouldn’t have done CrossFit or you shouldn’t have run.” You know what I mean?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:20:34]
Julie Wiebe: [00:20:35]
And, A, “Heads up. Pregnancies over.” You know what I mean? We can’t go backwards. So there’s no good that can come from that because they can’t change that. Meaning that they exercise like that during pregnancy. So that’s a message. But for those that hold it in a formulaic way, those are the kinds of messages they’re going to– they’re going to be able to put out there. But if you understand it from a reasoning– I’m trying to move people into thought processes that help them reason through, when is that exercise not appropriate for this person? When might it be something that we need to modify inside their pregnancy or their postpartum so that it can remain on the table for them, but it may not be right now?
Or we can modify it through strategy changes in order to make it something that they can do without being symptomatic. So for me, there’s no exercises off the table. My job is to look at how you’re doing that thing so that I can actually create for you a strategy that accesses the pelvic floor, for example, or your diaphragm, or your abdomen, or the way you manage pressure inside that activity so that you can continue to do it and have it move you toward the purposes intended, which is to keep you moving, keep you fit, strengthen, all of those things.
Julie Wiebe: [00:21:56]
But if you’re doing it in a way that, let’s say breath-holding during a crunch, and you’re feeling a lot of pressure when you do it on your pelvic floor, or you’re leaking or something like that, then let’s modify that and see what happens if we change up the position you do it in, the intensity you do it with, or breathing strategies to blow off the pressure so that you can continue, that’s a very different way to communicate around that same activity, that whoever that is that you’re– that general person is saying, “That’s not safe.” So we have been presented with a dichotomy as practitioners between safe and unsafe, but what I’m trying to communicate is, “Let’s come to the middle and look at how they’re doing it and then we can figure out for that particular person a way to keep them moving through that activity in order to put it back on the table.”
That that’s really a strategy that keeps them active and keeps them in an activity that then brings them joy and that we want people to be fit. We want all of the downstream effects of fitness in their life. Health status. We want people to remain fit. And so taking fitness off the table or shaming people around it, I don’t think ultimately serves that purpose. So finding ways for them to stay fit, that’s a reasoning process rather than a formula. And it’s really ultimately communicating we’re training the way the brain is using this body. That’s really what we’re trying to do. Versus let’s train these muscles and make them stronger. That’s not enough.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:23:32]
Okay. So I think that a lot of people, and I’ve– oh my goodness. I feel like I’m still unpacking this for myself. It’s so deeply embedded. That when I do a certain thing, like a sit up or whatever movement, I need to engage my core and that is something I think about. And so the way that I used to do that is really different from the way I do now. I grew up in the yoga world 15 years ago where it was just like. “Pull your navel to your spine.” Just always pull it in because that’s how you keep it, I don’t know, safe. And so unlearning that has been a little bit of a process. But I feel like I still have this idea of, I need to engage my core when I do stuff when I do certain exercises. And I’m wondering what you think about this? Because I feel like this is different from training the brain to talk to the core.
Julie Wiebe: [00:24:30]
So, let me put it to you this way. So what I’m hoping to do with that idea of a brain strategy – so I’m going to answer that piece first, and then I’ll go back to the engage your core cue – is that it be happening automatically. Inside your exercise program, you might be giving thought to your form or your engagement, but the reason you’re doing exercise is so that when you go out and into your life, you’re able to lift the groceries or your kid, or move about your day and not have to think about your core. To me, that’s efficiency effectiveness that we have created.
And again, I’m in rehab. So that’s a piece of that thought process, is I’m trying to get people to the point that they’re back to function and fitness without having to think about it and without pain, without pelvic health considerations, right? So that’s a little bit of where that path is taking me, is to try to recreate the automaticity in the system that was there prior to the pregnancy and prior to the injury. That you didn’t have to think about your hip or you didn’t have to think about your tummy or what you were doing with it. So that’s sort of where that thought process is taking me. In order to get there, you may have to actually give a lot of thought to how you’re engaging and what you’re doing. You have to put some conscious thought on that.
Julie Wiebe: [00:25:38]
And the hope is that within activities, that you don’t have to think for a low-load activity anymore. That that is something that you can kind of naturally enter into without having to give it much thought. There are activities that you might need to continue to have some of that thought with. But one of the things around engage your core is often about the contraction, like the actual engagement, and it doesn’t give you the flip of that, which is you need to unengage in order to engage for the next rep, or– you know what I mean? There’s sort of this continual engagement that’s more static and uniform that doesn’t actually meet the demand you’re up against.
So running is a great example of that. We have asked women– and men do this too, but women are my focus. So women do all this training in, “Pull your navel to your spine. Engage. Do crunches.” They hold their tummy tight in the grocery line. And its uniform. There is no variability in that. They do it symmetrically and they do it statically throughout their day and then that’s also what they train. But when you run, the two sides of your abdomen shouldn’t be doing the same thing when you’re running. If you are truly reciprocating, which is what your trunk should do, it should rotate– the right side of your trunk should come forward with the right leg and then you’re going to get that opposite when the left leg comes– you should see this– wait.
Hang on. I said that wrong. [laughter] Sorry. I said that wrong. The trunk reciprocates with the pelvis. They go opposite. But, anyway. So the right trunk should come forward with the left leg and then the opposite should be true. The right trunk should do that. So we should see the abdomen acting differently as you’re running.
Julie Wiebe: [00:27:18]
But when women hold their abdomen tight while they’re running, or they train themselves that’s their strategy, that’s where that brain piece comes in. Their brain says, “Oh, I’m getting ready to do something. I have trained for this. I’m going to hold my tummy tight.” It becomes this subconscious thing. It’s not just when you’re consciously doing it when you think, “I’ve got to pull my navel to my spine.” You’ve trained your brain to think that that’s the best way to handle it. That’s your strategy. And then when you run, that’s your strategy.
So what I see with my female runners is they’re holding their abdomen symmetrically, uniformly tight for an activity that is asking them not to do that. So part of in order to be effective and efficient as a runner you have to let go of your abdomen. You have to allow some give so that you can reciprocate appropriately. And so for me, my hope is to sort of reprogram that idea. Teaching women how to open the abdomen as well as close it. Move them through a ebb and flow. Keep that abdomen moving. And then allow them change up how they’re running so that their running actually stimulates what we want from the tummy versus them thinking about it.
That the way that they’re running is going to kick up musculature in a way that will be a little bit different than a uniform engagement at the abdomen. I’m going to teach them to reciprocate to almost force the abdomen to do something different. [music]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:28:48]
I want to take a moment in the middle of this episode to tell you about Building Resilience, our 30-Day Practice Progression. If you want to get started with strengthening in a mindful way and you’re not quite sure where to begin or there’s just so many options out there, go over to Mindful Strength dossier and get started. Each day you get a new class. Every class is 30 minutes or less so it’s super manageable. And classes range from strengthening with weights and bands and your body weight, all the way to self-massage and restorative practices. So you get a little bit of everything, which will help you build who are resilient. To sign up, go to mindfulstrength.ca. All right everyone. Now, back to the show.
Julie Wiebe: [00:29:38]
Am I taking you on a logical path?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:29:41]
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, so yeah what I hear is getting that engagement to kind of match the loads. And I guess that’s going to be different person to person. For me to do a whole bunch of planks feels really low load, but lifting 300 pounds is a high load. And so yeah, I totally related to what you were saying about with low loads you want to get to the point where you don’t even have to think about your core because it’s just doing the thing.
Julie Wiebe: [00:30:09]
Correct. And you’re just moving through [crosstalk] or something. And again, it depends on what you’re doing. Again, if you’re lifting 300 pounds, that’s a very different activity and you’re going to need a different strategy. But at 100 pounds that same person probably doesn’t need to think about any of that stuff [crosstalk]. But that’s not what’s happening for most females. They’re still doing a huge pressure strategy for 100 pounds and 300 pounds. So when we start to communicate about this in terms of strategies, as opposed to breath-holding, you know what I mean.
There’s a different way– that’s a different path through these unsafe, safe conversations and engage the core or do whatever. Don’t think about it. You know what I mean? We’ve sort of created these dichotomies of, “Engage your core. Oh, you just need to move differently, or don’t think about that, or you don’t have to worry about all that stuff.” So there’s sort of a middle path that I think requires some guidance through those two things with the hope that the brain will do it at a– will create these baselines, right? Like, “Oh, 100 pounds is easy. I don’t have to give this any thought anymore.” But when we add more load or add more speed or add more distance when you’re running, then we’re going to have to think about it again. And then now the brain’s like, “Oh, I’ve adapted to this.”
And this is part of adoption. We understand this. Your muscles adapt and they’re no longer trained by the same lower load. Same thing as far as the strategy goes. Part of that to me is a neuromuscular baseline that you’ve recreated. And then, you do it again. And then you add more and then you do it again. You just keep adapting to that new finish line and new challenge and then you don’t really have to think about it as much in what have become lower-level challenges, but you will have to think about it again if you’ve taken a break or a pandemic hits and you fall out of your pattern or you can’t go back to your gym or whatever it is. Again, it’s sort of trying to create a middle ground between those two thoughts.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:32:08]
Yeah. It’s so interesting. I think that what I see a lot of at least is not necessarily people who are doing high level of fitness but people who have done yoga practice for a long time and now they’re starting to incorporate some other types of movement, strengthening, into their routines is that a lot of the strategies that they learned when they were first learning yoga or first learning their relatively low loaded movement practice, which they’ve adapted to, they never let go of those strategies. And I think that some people think that maybe they’re not being as mindful or they’re being kind of lazy if they’re not thinking about their core all the time. And–
Julie Wiebe: [00:32:49]
Yeah. Yeah. That’s sort of interesting, and that might be a mindset, but I think one of the things that I try to teach my athletes is and when I teach other pros is you can’t just say, “Stop doing that.” You have to give them something else. And so I talk about you can’t tell a smoker, “Stop smoking.” You have to give them gum. So creating an alternative path for them and a new strategy so that they can let go of what they were doing before. I’m not just saying, “Abandon that.” And I think that’s where this kind of– it’s become kind of polarizing.
Either you really think about stuff or just change it up. Just do something different. There’s this middle ground that we need to offer folks to help them get to where they don’t have to think anymore. You know what I mean? There’s sort of this process that you’re describing. People have to go through a bit of a process to give up what they understand in order to create and allow a new learning process there and they need to see that path a little bit. And so offering them a new strategy is what I’m suggesting. I’m not just saying, “Don’t do that anymore.”
That’s bad. That’s unsafe. That’s, “I wish I hadn’t done that.” Those kinds of messages to, “Here’s a path to where you can think about it a little bit differently.” And there’s a difference between giving it thought inside your exercise program and having to give it thought when you’re at the grocery store standing waiting to buy bread. And I think that’s where it’s kind of gotten a little tricky for folks is they can’t let go of those strategies because they have one. They’ve created one strategy for every movement and that’s not how the movement works. And so we need to change that and give them a variability capacity with that strategy. And that’s why thinking about the brain versus the muscle and helping the brain use it in different kinds of movements and patterns is my path, the way that I’ve sort of approached it, to get there. I hope I’m making sense?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:34:48]
Yeah. Totally. I have to ask you about alignment because I have so many feelings about this and–
Julie Wiebe: [00:34:56]
I know. It’s a very polarizing topic, it is. And it’s hard. It’s a hard topic.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:35:02]
It is. And so there is a cue of, “Pull the ribs down.” Or some people might say, “Drop the ribs.” And this gets said a lot. I think this gets said a little bit too much. It seems like in a lot of fitness classes or yoga classes there’s like, “Do this. Do this. Pull your ribs in. Do this.” It’s part of almost every movement that some people instruct. And I’m wondering what you think about that? And then, but is there value in maybe changing the alignment of the rib cage and when might that be valuable?
Julie Wiebe: [00:35:38]
Okay. So I do not like the cue drop your ribs or pull your ribs down. But the reason for that is that the– again, so that’s a conscious cue. In order to pull that off– and everybody can do that right now. Pull your ribs down or drop your ribs and pay attention to what muscles you use to do it, okay? And generally speaking, the only muscles you can use to follow that cue in my experience in your abs. You’re already really good at overusing your abs, I promise, and we understand that when you hold your tummy – and you can try this, hold your tummy – and try to take a breath, those two things are counterintuitive.
o part of the reason– I’m not sure all the reasons that the teachers you’re referring to are using it inside and what they’re suggesting by doing that, because it actually interrupts the relationships that are supposed to be happening within that movement between the diaphragm, the abdomen, the pressure system, and the pelvic floor. To me, that’s incorrect. It interrupts it. So I don’t love that cue because of that because a very conscious cue and it keeps my patients doing what I’m trying to undo, which is overuse their abs. Generally, that’s a big problem with athletic fit women.
Julie Wiebe: [00:36:55]
But I do think changing up the position of the rib cage has a lot of value. And the reason for that is it affects how the diaphragm functions and it changes the length-tension curve of the diaphragm. So it changes how it moves and how it exchanges air. How it intersects with the pressure system. And the pressure system, we’ve sort of alluded to that a few times, and we haven’t really talked much about it, but the pressure system from a pelvic health consideration piece of the puzzle is really critical. If you have a diastasis and you’re generating a lot of pressure inside your abdomen, in your movements, or in your positions, or whatever, you might add to pressure against your diastasis.
Or if you have a prolapse and you generate a lot of pressure, you will potentially irritate the prolapse, right? So I want that diaphragm to be able to move and do what it needs to do. And it needs to ebb and flow with the abdomen. And so what I have my folks do is I actually use position changes that are more global and have that effect where the rib cage is.
Julie Wiebe: [00:38:00]
So, for example, I use this cue called the ski jump. I have folks lean forward at the ankle just to be clear. So it’s like you’re going off the end of a ski jump. And so what that does is it sort of naturally leans the rib cage forward, but it– and you can try this. Everyone who’s listening can stand up, and if you’re rib cage– I actually refer to the rib cage as a bell ringing off the shoulder girdle. So if your bell is sort of rung up and your sternum, your breastbone, is up towards the sky and you take a breath usually that sort of is a chest breath and that opens the rib cage.
But when you ring your bell down, so that would be sort of like slouching, that breath tends to bring just a belly breath. And maybe that’s what– again, I’m not sure what the yoga teachers are necessarily using the cue for. But when you lean forward– and you can try this if you stand up. Stand and feel where you are breath is. Is it going up into your chest? Are you bell rung up? Are you bell rung down? But when you lean and allow that rib cage to sort of gently move forward with the lean and take a breath, you can try that, and often what that does is what I think folks are trying to do which is to create sort of a breath that I call an umbrella breath or a 360-degree breath.
That it’s opening the rib cage all the way around. It’s allowing the diaphragm to go through its full excursion and do a full pass around pressure exchange. And it doesn’t interrupt the tummy. It doesn’t ask the tummy to do something different to help you create that that rib cage change. So the tummy can then respond to the pressure change. The tummy can respond to the breath and so can the pelvic floors.
Julie Wiebe: [00:39:43]
And then we practice that inside your movements, that kind of breathing, and the brain’s like, “That’s cool.” [laughter] I mean, I’m making some assumptions about what the brain thinks. But the brain then– but then we’re doing a better job of exchanging O2. We’re stable. We’re actually not creating pressure against a prolapse. The brain loves to breathe well and so it will embed strategies that allow that. So again, I do think there is value in rib cage changes.
I think we’ve underestimated– I really think people don’t know how to evaluate this. Because my runners, let’s go back to running, if they’re gripping their abdomen while they’re running, they can only keep their rib cage up to get a breath. They have to lift their rib cage against that. And so if you look at a female runner, they run very high chested punching the sky and they are not reciprocating. And when I say reciprocating, I don’t– you’ll see motion, like their shoulders moving, but they’re actually moving at the rib cage. They’re not moving through the torso. So their shoulders will move, but they’re actually not exchanging or differentiating the sides of the abdomen or the pelvis while they’re running and so that just maintains pressure down the entire run.
And really the diaphragm is being kind of held in a fixed position and we’re creating a lot of pressure so that there’s sort of this trickle down from that whole– so it’s more than– and I know you’re asking with yoga, but we have to appreciate that it’s a Jenga. It’s a big Jenga puzzle. And trying to help those pieces learn to work together in new ways, alignment can help us do that. And then we what we hope for is the brain sort of takes that over and says< “Oh, I can breathe better here. Oh, I can run more efficiently here. Oh, I can move through this yoga movement without back pain better here. I’m going to continue to move– I’m going to keep trying to find this in the movement.” So I hope that made sense. That was a long answer.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:41:43]
So why do you think that 360 breath is more, I don’t know, natural or doable when you’re kind of tilted forward at the ankle?
Julie Wiebe: [00:41:53]
I think that’s a great way of phrasing that question. I think it’s because the diaphragm, its job is breathing, stability, ANS regulation. It has a role to play in a lot of things. But it will sacrifice things like stability and its role in stability in order to maintain breathing. So in a position where it may not be able to move ideally, and again– and this is where it gets tricky, right? Optimal. Ideal. That’s another word that gets totally trashed out there. But when we’re in a position where the diaphragm may not be able to contribute as much as stability, where it’s maybe not in a position that it’s as optimal, but again, it’s not about just the diaphragm moving well or breath mechanics. It’s that if it’s not, then we’re going to do things like hold our abdomen and help us stay upright.
We’re going to maybe have a more shallow breath and maintain some pressure in the abdomen to help us stay upright. So when we give it the opportunity to be in a position of sufficiency and go through its length-tension curve, which is what that rib cage over pelvis does, it gives it an opportunity to move through its full excursion without losing connection with the stability system. So it’s sort of– it’s an intertwined process for me understanding how alignment and breathing, for example, work together. And so I think that that length-tension curve change is what allows us to exchange pressure and that’s what movement into that ski jumpy position allows us to do without making that position change happen with overuse of the abs. Does that make sense? Did I double talk that around in a circle?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:43:43]
No. Totally makes sense. And when you–
Julie Wiebe: [00:43:46]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:43:46]
When you instructed that, I stood up and leaned forwards. I was like, “Yeah. I totally got this.” And in my body, it felt like I had more of that 360-core movement. And I was like, “Is this just because I’m in a position that I don’t usually do, so I don’t already have like patterns?” Or I was just trying to–
Julie Wiebe: [00:44:04]
That’s part of it. That’s part of it. Because it’s novel. So if we’re going to use pain science language, some of this is novel. We have to give the brain something new to think about. It’s baseline, and so I use the word baseline. So it’s current baseline. And again, no one can see me and I can’t see anybody, but if you look in the mirror and you see where your head is relative to your shoulders or your rib cage is relative to your pelvis, that’s your current baseline. If your normal standing position is the baseline that your brain understands for your static sanding, that’s what it knows. And so when you change it up by leaning, you’re asking the brain to take those Jenga pieces and shake them up and use them in a new way and stay balanced up against gravity.
And it creates a new opportunity to breathe differently because I didn’t actually cue your breathing. Like, “Breathe 360 degrees.” I let the lean create it. And that’s a really different way of getting into the system that isn’t so conscious. And that’s what I’m trying to– that’s where that brain piece isn’t quite the– but I just made your whole core system work together without having to make you think about it. So that idea of core engagement, I just engaged your system without you having to think about it so much. And I did it actually in a way that asked it to run through its full excursion, which is how we can create force production out of the abdomen. How we can use the pelvic floor as it was intended to help support pelvic organs is to go through these excursions and use it.
Julie Wiebe: [00:45:41]
Like your quad. You don’t walk around with your quad tight all the time. You use it through patterns of open and close and long and short. That’s how muscles are supposed to work. But for whatever reason, we haven’t applied that same thought process to the trunk, to the postural system. So by changing up your position, we ask the brain to do something different. That’s part of it. But we guided you towards trying to change up the muscles we were trying to affect. Does that make sense? So it’s sort of this blended thought process that I hope I’m communicating clearly. But yeah, you’re right. Part of it is because it’s novel.
But we’re asking the brain to do something different and in that new position, we know that you get to a new baseline around that new position, that new relationship between your rib cage and your pelvis when the sense that you’re diving off the diving board no longer happens. Your brain’s like, “Whoa. This is weird.” And then when it starts to say, “Oh, this isn’t so weird anymore. I can actually breathe better here. I like this,” it’s going to adapt and that’s going to become your new baseline without you having to do eight weeks of strengthening to your tummy to make you stand up straighter.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:46:46]
Yeah. I mean, what it feels like is– so I think a reason why I’m always a little bit resistant to alignment cues and stuff like that is because sometimes it feels like all of the alignment cues can feel kind of like they’re changing the aesthetics of the pose or the exercise. And so what I hear from you in this leaning forwards exercise is, “Not really worried about the aesthetics. Focusing on the task and the function.”
Julie Wiebe: [00:47:18]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:47:19]
Which I think is just so different than, “Here’s the right way to do it. Put your knee like this.”
Julie Wiebe: [00:47:26]
Correct. Yes. And so what’s hard though, and we’ve sort of hit on it when we talked already about the word stability or the word disrupt, or is it when you say alignment the only thing that comes to mind is sort of a very formulaic way of understanding it in terms of what we want to see in terms of alignment and then also using it as a modality for treatment. Like, “This is how we’re going to get rid of your pain is change your alignment.” That’s not really what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, “We’re going to use alignment shifts to optimize the way you’re accessing this system and disrupt it and give you a novel input but also at the same time guide you toward a position that actually looks more like running. That position actually looks a lot like what I would like you to do while you’re running.”
And so that way when you’re running, you’re actually going to access this system of support without having to really think about it and it’s actually going to mimic the task a little bit more. So that’s an example for running. Sorry. I kind of went off on a new thought process there. But yes, you are nailing it that we are looking to change up that thought process so we understand why. “Why are we changing it?” It’s not just to change the aesthetic. And I’m going to tell you right now the aesthetic improves. Just because I’m asking you to give me some give in your system and stop using it so stiffly all the time doesn’t mean you’re going to look pregnant again. It means we’re actually going to let the muscles move through their excursion. And guess what? That’s what we do when we do something like a crunch.
We should be opening and closing it. That’s how you build muscle. So we’re actually putting the tummy into a position of sufficiency. We’re actually giving you back the abdomen to be more functional. And when you use it in this new way, I think you might actually like the aesthetic over time. So it’s kind of a win-win-win, I think. [laughter]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:49:24]
[laughter] So is this leaning forwards thing you’re talking about to access the breath and the core in this different way, is this something that you use specifically with runners or is this an exercise that you would use with anyone who is trying to just reconnect?
Julie Wiebe: [00:49:38]
I do it with almost every patient. In fact, I can’t think of a patient I don’t. And you’re using exactly the right word. It’s to reconnect. It’s to find your way back to a balance in that system. I do not expect my patients to go to the grocery store and lean forward like a crazy person in the grocery line. It’s intended for the purpose of trying to find that new connection. And then, what I ask my patients is we find that breath. We connect it with the abdomen. I use it for pelvic floor connection as well and to find and feel what’s happening with your pelvic floor there and then we connect those dots. And we connect it through breathing.
We get that system ebbing and flowing together, following the breath cycle. And then I ask them, “Let’s go back to–” and then I sort of shift them to where they’re more in what we would– I like to refer to as more of a mid-range because mid-range is where we can access muscles for power a little bit better, for strength a little bit better. And I ask them in a position that looks more like a normal person, “Can you still find that breath? Can you still find that 360 breath?” And because we’ve maintained that relative relationship between the rib cage and the pelvis, we’ve sort of set this new baseline, that’s where they go to find the breath again. They sort of shift a little bit. They find the breath. And I’m like, “Okay. So when you’re standing in the grocery store line, let’s just reinforce this by you finding your breath.”
Julie Wiebe: [00:51:08]
And when they go to find that breath, it’s fascinating. Everybody just shifts just a tiny bit and they find it and we’re good. And they’re actually standing in what probably most practitioners, yoga classes would go, “Oh, that’s pretty close to mid-range.” You know what I mean? It becomes their new baseline. The brain just sort of finds its way there. It’s not that I strengthened people for six months and now they’re standing up tall and their tummy looks great. It’s that we’re actually using that system in the way that it was intended, softly inside a functional position for them that is potentially less symptomatic and then we put it underneath their– that’s also the position I would want them in under loaded CrossFit. That would be the position I would encourage them to find for yoga positions.
A lot of yoga positions really thrust the rib cage up. And eventually, they should be able to do that. They should be able to move through all of those things. But if we’re in the middle– and again, I’m a rehab person. If you have pain or you’re leaking, or you have diastasis or a prolapse, I may alter the way you’re doing that for a little while to build this idea underneath some of those positions to help retrain those things so they’re no longer either scary or symptomatic ad then we build from there out into positional variability and all that kind of stuff. So that’s sort of the path that I take and ski jump is where I start.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:52:28]
The ski jump is the opposite of a lot of the alignment cues that I find are out there right now. There’s a really popular idea about having your feet on the floor so you’re standing and then lean the weight back into the heels and then the pelvis and then the rib cage and then the shoulders and the head and that’s what I hear so many people talking about all the time, which–
Julie Wiebe: [00:52:52]
Wait. Weight is in the heels. What do you do with your pelvis? You cut out. Are they tucking the pelvis, you mean, under?
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:52:59]
Yeah. Or just I would say maybe they don’t say tuck the pelvis, but bring it to neutral. Yeah. But just this idea of leaning backwards. Leaning backwards, tucking, tuck her ribs.
Julie Wiebe: [00:53:12]
A lot of thought and a lot of holding. And again, that’s why I tried to– I know that this whole-brain strategy thing seems a little crazy, but it’s really– you shouldn’t have to do that to stand up against gravity. And fortunately, though, that’s where that alignment thought process kind of takes us right now because we’ve historically kind of defined alignment as this modality that you have to look for it. That we’ve understood it as a singular intervention strategy. But for me, it’s part of a global strategy. And the best way to optimize it is actually to have people think, “I’ve got to find that breath. It’s more invigorating and I can actually breathe better and it’s easier to breathe there.”
Then, everything sort of falls into place knowing how powerful– and especially in the yoga community, you guys know how powerful breath is for all sorts of things. And so I can optimize that breathing, then that’s the path into all of these systems for me. And ultimately, it’s less thought. But then there are people that’ll say, “I shouldn’t have to think about my breathing.” Well, of course. That’s where we’re headed. But there’s a way in. It’s a place to recreate these connections. And the breath is so primal and interconnected with so many deep systems, including the stability system, it’s a beautiful way to get into that system.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:54:35]
Oh, I think is going to give people a lot to think about. This has been just fantastic. I feel like I could just keep going here, but we’ve got to wrap it up. You have a lot of online courses on your Teachable platform.
Julie Wiebe: [00:54:47]
Yes, I do.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:54:49]
That’s awesome. So if people want to learn from you, it seems like they can learn from you from wherever they are?
Julie Wiebe: [00:54:54]
Yeah. It’s a good time for all of us to maybe enter into those things. We all are home a lot more these days. But yeah so I do have online courses in a lot of sort of– it’s really a continuum of thought too. Like we talked about, at some point you do have to reconnect. You have to find your way in there and there are foundational courses around that that I have. And then how do you start to move from that foundational idea, from ski jumping, to actually running? And there are courses with that too. So, yeah. So there’s opportunities there. I have a lot of free content too, just because I know that there’s a lot of testing that needs to happen sometimes before you want to jump into that. So I have a lot of blogs. I have free modules as well. I do a lot of that.
I offer those a lot in my newsletter. So there’s a lot of blogs, videos. I do a lot of podcasts. I also have social media feeds that you can follow me on. Been a little quieter lately, trying to– there’s a lot going on here in the United States. Trying to keep our head above water down here. But anyway. So yeah. So there’s a lot that you can grab on my site, depending on how deep you want to dig. And I hope you want to dig deep. Women really need us to dig deep and move beyond some of these superficial ideas. We really need to get at this in a new way and move in some new directions as fitness folk and then also as rehab folks. I really, I hope we can find our way there.
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:56:16]
What is your website?
Julie Wiebe: [00:56:19]
Oh, sorry, juliewiebept.com. And Wiebe is spelled W-I-E-B-E. Although, I have discovered that if you misspell my name you can still find your way there. [laughter]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:56:31]
Amazing. So we’ll have all those links in the show notes and we have a transcription of this podcast as some people might be reading along, which is great, as well. Julie, thank you so much for coming on–
Julie Wiebe: [00:56:42]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:56:43]
–and having this conversation with me.
Julie Wiebe: [00:56:45]
Oh, cool. Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. [music]
Kathryn Bruni-Young: [00:56:50]
So that’s our show. Thank you everyone so much for listening. If you are listening on Apple Podcasts and you are loving the Mindful Strength Podcast, please consider leaving us a review. All of the reviews really, really help. If you want to learn more about my work, my membership, my teacher’s course, or my new free course called Mindful Strengths Foundations, you can head over to mindfulstrength.ca.