When we are aiming to lose our pregnancy weight we are often concerned about the stomach area.
Many mums complain or ask about this area and one of the key areas to achieving a strong tummy is focusing on your core. This will assist in losing your pregnancy weight an also toning this area – you can read more about everything you need to know about stomach fat here.
People often think their core is strong if they have a rippling six pack. In fact, this is the superficial and least important part of your core strength. It is your functional core which is more important in decreasing your waist measurements, toning up and healing any separation of you abs.
If you do have a muscle separation post pregnancy, sit-ups could in fact be doing more harm then good and could even make you rectus abdominus bulge and separate even more. It’s also the muscle that separates – which is why doing sit-ups and crunches until the cows come home to help you lose your baby weight would be a terrible idea.
This is why building your core from the inside out and starting with your muscles closet to the bones is the best way. This is what Pilates will help you focus on.
You should also examine yourself to find out what degree of muscle separation you have experienced before undertaking any postpartum exercise (needs to be under 2cm) or receive clearance from your doctor.
How to examine yourself
Step 1 – In a lying position with knees bent, place your right hand behind your head.
Step 2 – With your left hand position your index finger and middle finger together and place them horizontally in the centreline of your stomach between your abdominals.
Step 3 – From this position slowly raise your head slightly off the floor using your right hand (positioned behind your head) for support. Make sure not to simply lift your head with your hand as this is a common error – you must perform one basic crunch to fully contract your abdominal muscles to get the best assessment of your separation.
Step 4 – Your abdominals will now be slightly contracting allowing you to see exactly how far your abdominals have separated.
Step 5 – If your index finger and middle finger (on your left hand) can still fit between your abdominals you will have Diastasis Recti of between 2 – 2.5cms. For every additional finger you can place in between your abdominals you should add 1cm extra to your total abdominal separation number. If you can only fit one finger between your abdominals you effectively have 1cm of separation and will be nearly healed.
If you discover you have more than a 1 – 2cm separation you should refrain from doing exercises such as crunches, sit-ups or Pilates 100s all of which can put too much pressure on the abdominal muscles which have become separated during pregnancy.
Exercise for the core
Firstly you need to start working on your pelvic floor, which we discussed here. Once you know how to draw up, rather than bear down, you can start building more strength in your core bricks and move on to the transversus abdominus (TA). Using your Hundreds exercise routine (see video below) in a modified version with feet on the floor (and even the head down if you have any neck issues) is a great way to develop initial abdominal endurance.
The Hundreds Core Exercise
It is the quick movement of your hands which is what is challenging the TA. The TA wraps around your core much like a girdle does. It stabilises this region. When you complete this exercise, it should be more subtle than the bracing sensation you get during a sit-up or oblique twist.
Move on with other simple exercises performed in neutral in a closed kinetic chain – that’s when your feet are on the floor: hip rolls to start strengthening your back body, some leg slides and hip releases. Once you feel confident that you’re able to maintain your core stability and engagement with your feet in the air, try the Hundreds with legs at table top.
- Then you can start to challenge our obliques – but without twisting just yet.
- Do single leg lifts and tiny ab pulses instead. Make sure you never lift the base of the rib cage off the floor or the abs will bulge at the front.
- Add in single leg circles.
- Some side leg work.
- Your cross reach.(See leg lift & hip hover video below).
Leg Lift & Hip Hover
Once you have reached this stage, you core muscles are getting stronger and you can begin challenging them in various ways and working your legs and arms as well. Patience is the key but it shouldn’t be too long before you’re able to do stronger exercises.
If you abs have separated be a little cautious and make sure you check in with a physiotherapist or other specialist to make sure it’s safe to start going into flexion and full movement through the core.
Pelvic Floor & The Core
For more advice on safe post pregnancy exercises and the pelvic floor click here
This article was written by Sol Walkling, the Healthy Mummy Pilates Expert and Trainer – to see Sol’s credentials and read more about her click here
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