The most common question we get asked as postnatal trainers is: "How do I get my tummy back to normal after giving birth?" If you want your pre-baby body back or even better than it was, we can help.
During pregnancy, women become athletes, if they weren't already. We have up to 50 percent more blood, which increases oxygen uptake so we can create another human being inside us! This alone is incredible. Combine that with what the female body goes through during labor, and we become full-blown superheroes. New moms are extraordinarily strong and well-positioned to regain their shape after giving birth.
After nine months of extreme change around the midsection, the most important thing you can do post-partum is to start strengthening the core muscles. The best way to do it is to use a corrective exercise program that enables the body to heal from the inside out, building stability, strength, and muscle endurance. The internal abdominals need time and care to return to their pre-pregnancy condition, so hitting 100 crunches a day in a bid for a flat tummy can potentially cause more damage.
Instead, start with the basics.
Your first step should be to check for abdominal separation. Why? This could potentially stop you from healing properly and enabling your abdominals to regain their former strength and shape.
Some women have what they call the "pooch" under the belly button. In many cases, this is caused by the abdominal separation that wasn't addressed before they began a postnatal exercise regime.
Here's how to do it:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.
- Place one hand behind your head and the other hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips across your midline—parallel with your waistline—at the level of your belly button.
- With your abdominal wall relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your abdomen.
- Roll your upper body off the floor into a "crunch," making sure that your ribcage moves closer to your pelvis.
- Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left sides of your rectus abdominis muscle. Test for separation at, above, and below your belly button, measuring by fingers width.
If you have more than a three-finger separation between your abs, seek advice from your health care professional before beginning a program.
Post-Preggo Conditioning Circuit
Below is a six-exercise core conditioning circuit designed to help you heal from the inside out, reduce your separation, and achieve the ultimate flat tummy. In advance of starting the program, please receive consent from your health care professional to return to exercise.
To do this circuit, you'll work for 40 seconds and rest for 20 for all six exercises. Complete the entire circuit two times through. Try to do it 3-4 times per week.
1. Mini Crunch
This is not a crunch. To do it properly, lie down on your back, then try to lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground. Keep your head tucked. Your hands should be sliding along the ground to your feet or behind your head. This is a very small movement; you should be aiming to produce a large contraction in your abdominals. Hold for 5-10 seconds before lowering back down in a controlled manner, then repeat.
2. Beginner Plank
Begin lying face down on the floor. Prop yourself up on your knees and elbows. Position your elbows so they're directly underneath the shoulder and maintain a straight posture from the heel through to the shoulders. Hold for the duration of the interval and concentrate on engaging the transverse abdominus.
3. Heel Slides
There are three parts to this exercise. First, lie on your back with your knees bent. Slowly let your right knee move to the right, keeping your low back and pelvis level. Return to the center and repeat with the left.
Then, slide the right foot along the floor, straightening the knee. Slide the foot back toward the hip, and repeat with the left. Be sure that the floor supports the weight of the leg and that the foot does not lift off of the floor.
Finally, lift the right foot off the floor, keeping the knee bent. Don't hold your breath and don't bulge your lower abdomen. Return the foot to the floor and repeat with the left foot. Focus on your breathing: Inhale when you lift and exhale to rest or hold.
4. Seated Knee Abduction with Band
Sit on an exercise ball or a chair and bring your knees together. Tie a resistance band around your knees. Press the legs outward against the band as you perform the hold and activate the pelvic floor muscles. Set a comfortable rhythm for the duration of the interval.
5. Kneeling Scapula Retraction with Band
Get on your knees and hold the resistance band out in front of you. Put tension on the band by making sure your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width. Slightly bend your elbows. Pinch your shoulder blades together until your forearms are perpendicular to your body. Release and then repeat. For this movement, make sure you activate your abdominals and your pelvic floor.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back and down until they reach knee level. Keep your weight in your heels and your lower back flat. To return to the start, push through the heels and stand up. Exhale as you come back up. While doing this movement, keep your abs engaged.
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