Pregnant and postpartum women often ask me what are the best abdominal exercises for pregnancy and postpartum ? This question often arises from concern’s about diastatisis recti and the dreaded post birth “mummy tummy’ or “postpartum pooch”
Firstly – what is the core?
Did you know, your six pack muscles (more correctly termed the Rectus Abdominis or RA) is not technically your core. Also the two layers of obliques underneath this – they are also part of a “superficial core”. Think about the core of an apple – you can’t see it when it is whole. The apple core is found in the inner, deeper part of an apple. It’s the same with our abdomen and where are core muscle are found.
Therefore, the core is a term to describe the supporting muscles deep inside the trunk, the Pelvic Floor (PF) Muscles and the Transverse Abdominis (TA) Muscle. These core muscles are an area we need to give special attention during pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Grab my free core training guide here to get started.
Outer abdominal muscles
The outer muscles of your core are ‘power’ muscles, and help to move your torso. These muscle are important, however, they do not have as much of a supportive function as the PF and TA. During pregnancy and post birth – support is essential when you think about the weight of your baby and pressure on your deep core, this also is not avoided if you have a c-section. Therefore, daily deep core attention to your PF and TA is required – starting during pregnancy is going to set you up for a much more effective recovery. Learn how.
How to activate your pelvic floor effectively
Just like any other muscle in your body you pelvic floor needs to work effectively in both directions both contracting and releasing at equal pressure. Too often Kegel style pelvic floor activation’s are incorrectly cue’d or done with a very tight contraction (ie trying to stop the flow of urine). Often for many women this can cause fatigue of the pelvic floor or a hypertonic pelvic floor, making activation very challenging when there is natural pressure on the pelvic floor doing simple moves such as lifting a pram, coughing or sneezing.
Your pelvic floor is the foundation of your core. The pelvic floor muscles are located in your pelvis, and stretch like a hammock from the pubic bone (at the front) to the coccyx or tail-bone (at the back) and from side to side. Think of the foundation of a house or building – without a strong stable base it collapses. Without a stable pelvic floor the rest of the CORE and other internal organs can literaly collapse !
The pelvic floor muscles work with your deep abdominal (tummy) and deep back muscles and diaphragm to stabilise and support your spine and your baby in utero. They also help control the pressure inside your abdomen to deal with the pushing down force when you lift or strain – such as during exercise or lifting a baby into the car post birth. If your pelvic floor is not functioning correctly you can experience – lower back pain, “mummy tummy” postpartum, leaking, peezing and bowel and bladder issues including prolapse.
Tuning into activating your pelvic floor both mentally and physically is important. Learn how to do this with my short 4 minute video below – suitable for any trimester of pregnancy and post birth.
Core safety during pregnancy and postpartum
One of the best way to activate your deep core or PF and TA muscles is by breath. As both these muscle are connected to your diaphragm and have to have an upward, inward motion when contracting correctly. Using core breath and combining correct breathing (exhale on effort) with movement is a wonderful and safe way to exercise your core muscles during pregnancy and postpartum. Try my 5 minute tummy toning workout to practice this !
This workout and my NEW ULTIMATE PREGNANT CORE program (doors open soon) will provide many fabulous alternatives to other typical core exercises such as crunches, planks, toes to bar, sit ups etc. During pregnancy and post birth these usual “go to” core exercises need to be avoided as they cause the RA and obliques to create a downward force in the abdomen and can contribute to common pelvic floor and core issues – including leaking, diastatis recti, hernia’s, back pain and prolapse. Learn more here
Train your deep core muscles for life !
Having core muscles that are able to be correctly contracted, and just as importantly relaxed, will help you to get through your pregnancy with no pain or dysfunction in the pelvic area. It will also ensure a faster labour and better recovery post birth (including c-section).
Start training your deep core safely and effectively now ! And remember this should not stop at 6 weeks postpartum when you are given the “all clear” to exercise by your Dr or OB. You are post natal FOREVER (read here why). Like any muscle in our body to ensure our deep core stays toned and functional it needs to be exercised regularly (and that does NOT just mean via kegels).
Without giving your deep core attention you can also end up with core issues and pelvic floor dysfunction even with a 6 pack (RA). As per this image below this woman has abdominal separation despite having a strong and toned upper core or RA (rectus abdominus). Learn more about the facts of diastatis recti here.
Remember – just because you can’t see your deep core…(like an apple core) doesn’t mean you should ignore it !
Want to dive a bit deeper ?
Registrations are now open for my ULTIMATE PREGNANT CORE online course. Learn with me each week for 8 weeks how to train your core safely and effectively during pregnancy with TOTAL BODY WORKOUTS, to improve your birth, recovery and be ready for the challenges of early motherhood. Find out more.
Any questions connect with me in my Facebook Community #BFABSQUAD