Postpartum Core Workouts: How I’m Improving My Abs After Baby

Hi!

So it’s been a minute! …. Or two.

Life with Baby Boy J is sweet. He is a very mellow baby, and his sister, E, loves him! I’m now getting back into shape after baby and doing a lot of cardio and postpartum core workouts. Because as sweet as the little fellow is, carrying him was not gentle on my abs…

He was born after 8.5 hours of natural labor. It was intense, but equally rewarding. No judgment if you don’t want an unmedicated birth… I would probably not do the unmedicated part again.

While my pregnancy was easier in some ways this time around, it wasn’t as easy on my abs, especially taking diastasis recti into account.

It was a lovely day around week twenty-four… or something like that. I was in my midwifery appointment, when I decided to lift my head up to watch the doppler, I heard an “oh, no.” You have coning. I need to check your fascia….¬†And so it began. I suspected that I might have a small separation after Erin’s birth, but this separation had worsened. “What am I going to do? This is awful.”

The good news is you can fix this. We can prevent it from worsening, and after birth, you can either do physical therapy or there are some at-home resourcesI can recommend for you.”

By the time I gave birth, I had a four finger-width separation in the connective tissue of my Rectus Abdominus. This condition happens in 1/3 of all pregnancies to some degree, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pregnancy is not the only cause, however. Hernias, obesity, and poor posture and body mechanics can also make a person more susceptible. I am very short-waisted, so there was nowhere for Baby J to go but out. This pressure on my already weakened core did the trick.

Causes of pregnancy-related diastasis recti are:

  • Short torso structure, pushing the baby out/a torpedo effect (This was one of my causes.)
  • Gaining too much weight during pregnancy
  • Close together pregnancies (My children are only 15 months apart.)
  • Heavy lifting in the late 2nd and third trimesters, causing strain on the core muscles. (We moved one month before Joshua was born, and had been packing up things since May.)

Some effects of diastasis recti are:

  • Connective tissue separation of the RA. Also known as “mummy tummy”.
  • Incontinence.
  • Poor muscle activation in the abs and glutes.
  • Back pain
  • Pelvic dysfunction (which may carry over into marital intimacy).
  • Hip instability.

I already knew that ab vacuums are good and crunches are bad, but I never realized how little of my abs I was using on a daily basis until I met Lori, my physical therapist. Granted, with my years as a fitness instructor, I knew a lot of this, but I didn’t KNOW this, if you get my drift.

You see, in order to close your ab gap, you need to learn to activate the muscles of the pelvic floor. Traditional core training doesn’t do this. It typically only trains the superficial muscles of the Rectus abdominus, and occasionally, the Transverse Abdominus.

 

Photo from doolafit.com:
http://www.doolafit.com/urinary-incontinence/defy-pelvic-floor-fatality/

The core muscles have three layers, and the foundation is your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that sit and encircle the bottom of your pelvis like a bowl. This web of muscle runs from your pubic bone to your sacrum and is responsible for supporting your organs and boosting your ab and glute strength.

When this area is weak, your other muscles kick in, but they don’t do the job as well, leading to problems like diastasis recti and pelvic prolapse, and umbilical hernias… I had a hernia by the way… Not fun. But it is almost completely closed up.

Well, once your pelvic floor is properly activated, you can then better strengthen your TA, which wraps around your waist like a belt and your RA or six pack muscle.

How did I start? By doing kegels… that’s how. I know, it’s not the most glamorous exercise you’ll ever do, but girl, it makes those ab vacuums burn. There’s a great tutorial and study on how this helps.

Do properly do a kegel, you need to draw those muscles between your sitz bones… aka… where you pushed that baby out – up and in, as if you’re drawing a string up through your body. Do this slowly and with control. Repeat.

Next, try adding an ab vacuum. Lie on your back with feet flat on the floor, and repeat step one. Now, draw your belly button up and in while kegeling… hold.. then release.

After this, I did slightly more glamorous exercises. Yay for pelvic tilts, glute bridges and toe taps and knee marches. All while doing kegels at the point of exertion. It is hard work to do this slowly and correctly… and I teach boot camps, so I’m no slouch.

Postpartum Core Workouts

So here’s the list of my foundation exercises:

Kegels

Ab Vacuums:

Ab Vacuums: Do a kegel. Exhale while keeping the contraction and exhaling to draw your abs together and into your back.

Pelvic Tilts:

You can barely see this movement, but it involves doing a kegel while tilting your hipbones up and back towards your ribcage.

Bridges:

This two-part movement involves a kegel, TA activation and then squeezing your glutes to lift your hips up and back off the floor. See how we’re starting by focusing on one muscle, then using others? After pausing at the top, slowly bring your hips back down to the mat and inhale.

Knee marches:

The formula for this move is simple: kegel+TA+exhale and draw knee to chest, exhaling through your back into the mat. Slowly inhale and return your knee to start.

Toe taps:

This is probably the toughest of all the exercises. Repeat the formula: kegel and TA, then lower your heel towards the floor. If both feet in the air is too tough, then keep one heel pressed into the mat, and repeat for reps on one side, then do the other. This makes my lower abs so sore!

But, believe it or not, it worked! Remember that four-finger separation, it is now only one finger width. In less than 12 weeks. Please don’t think that is typical though.

It has taken me lots of patience, consistency, and hundreds of reps a day… I sneak in my exercises when I can. And now I’ve progressed to more advanced functional exercises. There’s some great research on the subject out there.

A Little Trick from College

While studying voice in college, I learned how to activate all the muscles by saying, “Ha”. It works. Try one of the first couple of exercises and say, “ha, ha, ha”. You will feel your abs start to turn on again.

A Little Extra Support

Doing exercises is great, but sometimes even the most consistent of us needs a little reminder to activate those core muscles. I’ve used this maternity belt through pregnancy and am using a postpartum belt now at the recommendation of my physical therapist. It has really helped, not to compensate for muscle that I don’t have yet, but to remind me to use the muscle that I do have.

A Word on Hernias

If you have a hernia, you need to consult with your OB and/or physical therapist immediately if you experience the following:

  • Swelling
  • Constipation
  • Increased tenderness
  • Redness and puffiness

It’s important to remember that this isn’t the end of the world. You can rehab your abs, it just takes patience, consistency, and thinking about the muscles your working.

You can do it! I’m cheering for you!