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!

 

 

Workout Wednesday: Glute Bridges

Hi There!
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a strength training move tutorial for the abs….well, today, it’s time for a lower body strength training move! Lower body is my favorite to train, but it wasn’t always that way! (No pun intended.) I love lunges, and plie squats, but bridges are probably my favorite move. Now, I know there has been a glute craze recently, but there are far more reasons to strengthen the largest muscle group in your body other than getting rid of cellulite! Here are 3:
1. To prevent back pain – your glutes are part of the posterior chain of muscles that include the erector spinae (the muscles that run vertically along side your vertebrae) and your hamstrings (backs of your legs). If one link in this chain is weak, then your back health is greatly put at risk, because the largest muscles in your body can’t do the job…think about it.
2. To burn more calories – muscle builds calories. The larger the muscle, the more calories you burn, but steady state cardio will not build muscle. Strengthening the glutes will burn more calories, because you need lean muscle to burn calories, even at rest…no muscle…no burned calories…no glutes, less calories  burned…Make sure you strength train the rest of your body too!
3. To protect your knees – I love squats and lunges, but depending on how they’re performed, a too much emphasis can be placed on the front side of the knee or the quads…Your muscles support your joints, and your hamstrings need to be strengthened as well. Glute bridges also strengthen your hamstrings, and your strength for certain movements, such as running will come from your glutes, not just your quads.

The how to: lie on your back. Feet flat on the floor hip width apart. (Feet should be about 12 inches from your glutes.) Pulling your navel toward your spine, press into your heels, squeeze your glutes and lift your hips off the floor…keep squeezing your glutes as you pause at the top.
Slowly lower your hips back to the start but don’t quite touch the floor. This is a great move to incorporate into the beginning or end of a workout!

Once you master the beginner version try this more advanced version! Just plant one heel into the ground. contract abs and glutes, and lift!

What’s your favorite lower body strength training move? Let me know in the comments below! Want better muscle definition, contact me to find out about a plan to help you get there!

Happy Hump Day!
Julie

Fitness Friday: The Truth About Glutes Training.

For those of you who’ve read my post on Monday, there seems to be a recurring theme this week. Glutes training…yes, I said a dirty word…lol. We North Americans of the protestant variety have this outlandish ideas that training this group of muscles is taboo…When people ask me what I’m training on a particular day, and I reply “glutes”…there are often snickers, winks, and creepy looks. eewww…The thing is, for women this muscle is sooo important – to metabolism, overall body fat, back pain relief, and so much more. The thing is, this group of muscles is the largest group of muscles in the body. The larger the muscle, the more calories it burns…do the math. These muscles are responsible for hip extension and hip rotation. They are very important. Have you ever noticed people who carry all the weight on the front of their body. (i.e., gut). They tend to have a much greater tendency for low back pain, all because they have weak glutes. The muscles in the front of their bodies over compensate for this, and as a result, the whole backside of their posterior chain is weak and prone to injury. Training legs, and glutes 2x a week will help with this. It doesn’t have to take hours, it can take minutes of your time. Here’s a tough workout, but it will help you get your glutes in shape. Remember my article on supersets, well here’s the chance to apply that knowledge! Drink lots of water and eat your veggies and protein, and you’ll be on the right track!

Warm-up: Do 20 small plies with heels close together and hips tucked under. This is not a large movement. Bend your knees, maintaining abs and hips, then straighten legs, contracting glutes. 

Side Lunge to Curtsey: Standing with feet together. Step right leg out to one side. Lower, really pushing hips back, then push off right leg to return and curtsey lunge back with your left leg. This one works wonders, in my personal experience, and targets the entire leg area. 
 
Squats: Use a squat machine, or squat with a resistance band or dumbbells.  Keep your feet wider to engage the glutes. Lower to parallel, then return to standing, squeezing glutes.

Jump Squats: Lower into a 3/4 squats. Lift off explosively, contracting glutes. Land with knees bent. Make it Easier: If you’ve never performed plyometric movements, substitute this for body weight, full-range squats. 

Hamstring Curl on the Ball: Lie on your back, with feet on an exercise ball. Dig your heels into the ball and curl your legs towards you, contracting your hamstrings and glutes. Slowly curl the ball away from you, maintaining lifted hips. 

Hip Thrust: Yes, I just wrote that on paper… grow up. Sit on the floor with a weight across your hips and shoulders against a bench or chair. Squeeze glutes and lift hips to parallel with floor, pause, then lower, but don’t touch the floor.