Say Goodbye to the Mommy Pooch: 5 Effective Exercises to Strengthen Your Core

Are you tired of struggling with the notorious "mommy pooch" that just won't seem to go away no matter how hard you try? Suffering with a weak midsection is not just a normal part of pregnancy and recovery and it’s time we demand better from our fitness routines and healthcare professionals.  In this article, I will reveal five highly effective exercises that will help you tone your abdominal muscles and start feeling stronger in your center. Whether you recently had a baby or simply want to strengthen your core, these exercises are suitable for all fitness levels and can be done in the comfort of your own home. So, get ready to give your body the nutritious movement it has been craving and deserves because YOU ARE WORTH IT. 

Understanding the "mommy pooch" and why it's challenging to get rid of

The "mommy pooch" refers to the post-pregnancy belly that many women struggle with. It is caused by a combination of factors, including hormonal changes, separated abdominal muscles, and stretched-out soft tissue. During pregnancy, progesterone and relaxin help to soften the connective tissue all over the body including in the linea alba (the tissue between your two “6 pack” muscles).  This is not a fault in the way your body functions; you were designed to birth a baby and we want the muscles to separate to accommodate the growing baby.  After giving birth, some people will experience a resolution of this separation and for others, these muscles may remain weak and separated. The way your body responds has a lot to do with genetics, the number of previous pregnancies, the method of delivery, and your own unique intra-abdominal pressure management strategies. 

To make matters worse, many traditional abdominal exercises, such as sit-ups crunches and planks can cause too much pressure on the connective tissue you are trying to heal and may end up worsening your separation. That's why it's crucial to focus on exercises that specifically target the deep core muscles and promote overall core strength. While everybody tells a unique story and needs exercises designed specifically for them, there are five exercises that most women with diastasis will benefit from including in their routine. 

The importance of restoring your core for overall health

Before we dive into the specific exercises, let's take a moment to understand why it's essential to restore your core beyond just the aesthetic benefits. Your core muscles play a significant role in maintaining overall strength, stability, and balance. A strong core can help improve your posture, alleviate lower back pain, enhance athletic performance, and reduce the risk of injuries.

Additionally, restoring your core muscles can also improve your digestion and support proper organ function. By strengthening the muscles in your midsection, you create a solid foundation for all your movements, making everyday tasks easier and more efficient. So, while achieving a flat stomach may be your primary goal (and I fully support helping you get there), the benefits extend far beyond just looking good in a swimsuit.

 Exercise #1: Breathing.  I know, I know.  Snooze fest, right?!  You wanted something that would make you feel a burn.  That would make you feel like you were really doing something and really getting somewhere.  Trust me.  If you don’t start with proper breathing you cannot and will not restore your core.  Period.  So hang up that sweat rag and pull up a chair. 

  1. First start with good sitting posture which means equal weight on your sitz bones, and a neutral pelvis that is not tucked or arched, a ribcage that is not swung up or down, and earlobes over shoulders.
  2. Bring your hands to your rib cage and imagine your rib cage like an umbrella inside your body.  As you inhale, send the air out to the sides, back, and front like your ribs are opening like an umbrella (keep your shoulders from hiking up and keep your belly from fully inflating outwards).  As you exhale, feel the ribs moving back in a down (like an umbrella closing) as you fully expel the air from the lungs.
  3. You should feel your belly gently expanding on the inhale and gently retracting on the exhale.  You should feel your pelvic floor gently lengthening and moving downwards on the inhale, and gently lifting on the exhale
  4. Repeat this breathing pattern for 5 minutes at a time, repeatedly throughout the day until it feels very natural and coordinated without requiring much conscious thought.

Exercise #2: Time to wake up those deep abdominals.  I like to think about muscles like your rectus abdominus (“6-pack”) and obliques like the “screamers” and the deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominus, like a whisperer.  It is our goal to turn down the volume on the screamers and turn up the volume on the whispering ones.  So step away from that ab machine and pull up a chair.  You heard correctly, you’re still in a chair.

  1. First start with good sitting posture which means equal weight on your sitz bones, and a neutral pelvis that is not tucked or arched, a ribcage that is not swung up or down, and earlobes over shoulders.
  2. Place one hand above your belly button and one hand below.  Picture a sideways elevator inside your abdomen with 5 floors.  Your belly button is the first floor and your spine is the fifth floor.  Maintain your tall posture as you inhale and allow your belly to inflate like a balloon towards the first floor.  As you exhale, gently pull your belly button to the 3rd floor.  This is a halfway point and it is NOT to your spine.  At the same time visualize your front two pelvic bones drawing in towards the middle.
  3. Practice just contracting and relaxing this muscle at first, let’s say 3 sets of 5 repetitions with a tiny break in between each set.  Work on this throughout the day.
  4. Advance this exercise by trying to pull the belly button into the 3rd floor and draw the bones together and hold this isometric contraction for 30 seconds, breathing with a chest or rib cage breath and being sure to keep the muscles above and below very still and quiet.  Repeat 3-5 times.
  5. Advance even further by exhaling to engage to the 3rd floor, then inhale to release one inch to the 2nd floor, then exhale to the 3rd floor and repeat for 1 minute.

Exercise #3:  Pelvic Floor Olympics.  Explaining to you all the intricacies of properly contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor goes beyond the scope of this article.  And remember, some women need to focus on relaxing and lengthening before they even start Kegels.  In order to properly be assessed, I highly recommend seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist in your area.  You can find one through the APTA Section on Women’s Health or other similar resources. 

  1. First start with good sitting posture which means equal weight on your sitz bones, and a neutral pelvis that is not tucked or arched, a ribcage that is not swung up or down, and earlobes over shoulders.
  2. Inhale to melt your pelvic floor into the surface you are sitting on.  Then exhale to engage your pelvic floor like you are stopping the flow of urine.  Keep your tummy quiet and your butt cheeks blossoming open behind you.  Then inhale to relax and melt again.  The breathing may seem backward but this is how to make sure your respiratory diaphragm and pelvic diaphragm are working in sync to manage your pressure and generate the appropriate tension in your core.  Repeat 10 times.
  3. Once you get the hang of that, try a different visualization to get the deeper pelvic floor muscles.  Envision you are sitting over a ripe blueberry.  Exhale to wrap your muscles around your imaginary blueberry and lift it 2-3 inches into your vaginal opening.  Remember, it is a blueberry (not a refrigerator) so control the lift so it still looks like a blueberry when you are done!  Then inhale to melt and relax, allowing the blueberry to drop out and roll away.  Repeat 10 times.
  4. Advance by trying to hold the blueberry up for 10 seconds (without holding your breath) and then quickly contract and relax the blueberry in a pumping motion.
  5. When you get really good, practice lifting the blueberry up 3 levels: 25% of your effort to the 1st level, 50% of your effort to the 2nd level, 100% of your effort holding it as high as you can.  Next comes the hard part.  Slowly release the blueberry back down to the 2nd level, then down to the 1st level, then totally relax.  Repeat 5 times.
  6. While these pelvic floor exercises are great for isolating the pelvic floor muscles, it is important to start incorporating them into real-life movement because in reality, they work in combination with all the muscles of the hips and pelvis.  Try finding them before standing from a sitting position or before lifting something (or someone) or before you sneeze.  

Exercise #4: Mat exercises.  Now that we’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to start teaching the whole system to work together.  I love starting with an abdominal march where you lie on your back with a neutral pelvic posture, gently engage your abs (pull into the 3rd floor, bring the front bones together), and then lift your right leg and lower. Lift your left leg and lower.  Be sure to keep your pelvis totally still (no rocking and rolling), keep your upper body from helping, and bring your attention to what’s happening under your feet….no pushing down with one foot to lift the other.  Try 3 sets of 10.  Once you’ve mastered that, try a bridge.  Lie on your back in a neutral pelvis position.  Have a playground ball or pillow between your knees.  Exhale to squeeze the object between your knees, engage your pelvic floor, and deepen your abs as you rock back and roll up into a bridge (bottom in the air, shoulders in line with hips in line with knees).  Inhale at the top and then exhale to fold from the mid back, setting your spine down one bone at a time.  When your tailbone arrives, allow your knees and pelvic floor to relax.  Repeat 10 times.

Exercise #5:  Once you’ve mastered the mat exercises without abdominal pooching or pressure pushing down into the pelvic floor, it’s time to take this show on the road!  OK, maybe not a road trip but definitely moving to a more upright position to work on exercises like lunges and squats, engaging all the core muscles, and remembering all the concepts from Exercises 1-3.  Advance by adding weights or resistance bands and working in all planes of motion, especially the transverse plane by adding controlled rotations.

Remember to listen to your body and adjust the intensity and duration of each exercise according to your fitness level. As you get stronger, gradually increase the number of sets, repetitions, or duration of each exercise.

Additional tips for healing your core

In addition to incorporating the five exercises mentioned above into your workout routine, here are some additional tips to help you restore your core.

  1. Make sure you are fueling your body with balanced nutrients.  Avoid the pressure that comes from gas and bloating by staying away from inflammatory foods and flocking towards those that decrease inflammation in the gut like bone broth, ginger, coconut/olive oil, Omega 3 fatty acids, and fermented foods (if tolerated). 
  2. Stay hydrated: Drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day helps maintain proper digestion, metabolism, and overall health. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water daily.
  3. Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can disrupt your hormonal balance and impair healing. Aim for at least seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night.
  4. Manage stress levels: Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol are known to store belly fat and weaken connective tissue.  Plus living in a state of constant “fight or flight” makes it difficult for the body to heal.  Practice stress-management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or engaging in activities you enjoy.
  5. Be patient.  Your body took 9 months or more to grow that little human and it deserves at least that long (or longer) to fully heal.  Be mindful of all the tiny ways you can move your body better throughout the day and make realistic and attainable goals. Conclusion: Embrace the journey to a stronger, healthier core

Congratulations! You've reached the end of this comprehensive guide on strengthening your abdominal muscles and saying goodbye to the mommy pooch. By incorporating the five effective exercises mentioned in this article into your workout routine and following the additional tips provided, you are well on your way to achieving a stronger, healthier core.

Remember, the road to restoring your core is not always easy, and results may take time. Embrace the journey, stay consistent, and have patience with yourself. Each workout and healthy choice you make is a step toward your ultimate goal.


50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.