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