Whether you’ve given birth 8 weeks, 8 months or 8 years ago, majority of women desire to strengthen their core again. Yes, the aesthetic benefits are desirable, but there are many positives to having a strong core, function-speaking. Our core is our main stabilizer muscle for the human body. It assists with everything from posture, breathing, to just getting up from a seated position. Our core fires in many settings, more than we’re aware of.
Before I dive into this, I do need to mention that having a strong core going into the pregnancy, and doing your best to maintain the strength throughout, will make recovery of your abs that much easier. I always encourage women to begin a consistent workout regimen far before conceiving. (Yet another reason why Mommy’s Corner isn’t just for mommies!)
Now, what happens to women’s bodies during pregnancy is pretty remarkable. More than we may give ourselves credit for. Our core muscles are literally expanding to grow a human being! Ligaments are stretching, hormones are racing and for some, food may be coming up. During this “core stretch” we all experience, muscles and tendons are literally being pulled apart. For many, this causes a condition called “Diastasis recti”. Meaning “seperation of the abs”. For some it may be mild, for others it may be severe. The key point to take home here is that no matter what happens to your body during pregnancy, you’ve got to wear that as a badge of honor! You have done more than ANY man could do ;)
Here is how you can check if you have Diastasis Recti:
- Lie on your back, knees bent with feet flat on the floor.
- Place your hand, with finger tips pointing towards you, above your belly button.
- Inhale. As you exhale bring your shoulders and head off the floor. This will cause your abs to tighten. Use those fingers to measure the width of any gap between your ab muscles.
< 2 Fingers Wide: No Diastasis
2-3 Fingers Wide: Diastasis present
> 4-5 Fingers Wide: Severe Diastasis. Consult a physical therapist
If you are someone who measures in the “diastasis” range, the ideal option for core work would be in the functional exercise area. For example squats, planks, step-ups, to name a few. Also exercises using only one side of your body at a time, something that can be done for pretty much every exercise. These exercises will allow you to engage your core without the actual “crunching” movement. You don’t want to crunch or rotate your abs if you have this condition. On top of this, please consult with a physical therapist to get on a proper program.
If you don’t measure out to have diastasis recti, you can begin immediately on a proper core strengthening program. If you are postpartum, consult your physician for approval to begin exercise. Once you are given the green light, begin with some simple breath-focused ab exercises before jumping into anything too intense. Simply lying on your back and focusing on your core breath will be at the very beginners level. Having that mind to muscle connection is crucial for engaging your abs. Once you have that down, you can engage your abs pretty much anywhere!
Begin by laying on your back, knees bent with feet flat on the floor. Take a deep breath in, bringing your belly as far into your spine as possible. Once you feel your belly tight and close to the ground, hold for 5 seconds and slowly release by exhaling all the way out. Once you feel this connection to your core through breath, repeat the 5 second hold 10 times. This is an exercise that really can be done anywhere. Once you’ve made the connection, you wouldn’t have to lay down to perform the exercises.
Lie with feet on the floor, knees bent. Engage your core as shown in previous breathing exercise. Lie with feet on the floor, knees bent. Engage your core as shown in previous breathing exercise. Lift your feet very slightly off the floor and while keeping one leg bent, straighten the opposite leg. Hold for 2 seconds and bring your foot back in to knee bent position. Alternate and straighten opposite leg. Repeat alternating legs 10 times each. If keeping the foot of your bent leg slightly off the floor is too difficult, you can keep it on the ground as you extend the opposite leg straight. Advance: Perform this exercise with both legs sliding out at the same time.
Initial set up will be similar to previous exercise (heel slides). With knees bent and back flat on the floor, bring your knees up towards your chest stopping when your knees become parallel with your hips. Keep your core engaged as you slowly lower your bent legs back down to starting position, only tapping your toes to the floor before lifting back up. You can repeat this anywhere from 10-20 times.
Once again, laying on your back to begin, you will straighten your legs so your full body is flat on the floor. Take a deep breath. On exhale, raise both legs so feet are directly on top of hips. Take another deep breath at the top and exhale while lowering legs back to starting position.
Advance: At the top of the movement, lift your hips slightly off the floor and then immediately lower hips & your legs back down to the floor.
Begin by laying on your right side, body straight and elbow on the floor directly under your shoulder. Left foot will sit right on top of your right foot, both legs straight. Inhale and on the exhale push off with your elbow so the entire side of the body is lifted off the floor. Lift your hips higher to really engage your core, and hold. While practicing controlled breaths, hold this position for 10-15 seconds and lower. Switch to your left side and repeat. Create mini goals to progress in length of time held. Make 60 seconds a solid number to shoot for. It may take days, weeks or months, but having that in mind will be motivating to continue the exercise.
Consult your physician for approval before beginning any exercise program. If Diastasis Recti is preset, consult with a physical therapist for a proper therapy program.
Former NASM, NSCA Certified Personal Trainer and current mom of 3.
Credit to NASM.org