YOUR ABS AFTER BABY - HEALING YOUR MOMMY TUMMY.
One of the major concerns for postnatal women is how to lose their mommy tummy. There is a lot of conflicting and incorrect information out there - we have done the research so you don't have to!
BodyLove Pilates will answer the WHAT, HOW & WHEN of core strengthening after pregnancy to help heal your abs & flatten your belly.
Let’s start by examining the anatomy to better understand what muscles we will focus on and why.
The deep core, or "powerhouse" as it’s often called, is the target for your flat tummy workouts. The core refers to the deep postural muscles of the lumbo-pelvic region which attach to and support the pelvis and lumbar spine (LOW BACK) – these are :
1. The Transverse Abdominus (TVA) - Is the deepest abdominal muscle. The TVA runs horizontally across the belly - I like to refer to it as the "spanx" of the abs – lengthening, cinching and wrapping from front to back. (The image below shows how deep the TVA is, the superficial layers on top, and how they all attach at the midline to the linea alba)
HOW HAS IT CHANGED? The TVA attaches at the midline of the body to connective tissue called the Linea Alba.This delicate tissue is stretched and in some cases torn during pregnancy as the belly grows, which means the TVA is no longer connected all the way around. If you have had a C-section, this muscle has been forcibly pulled apart to bring the baby out.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? The TVA is crucial in bringing the two sides of your abdominals back together and rehabbing your Diastasis Recti or separation caused by pregnancy. The very direction of the muscles fibers mean it is the ONLY muscle that can achieve this. It’s compressive nature also mean it is the ONLY muscle that will give you back that flat tummy!!
2. The Pelvic Floor Muscles (PFM) -During your pregnancy you have heard people mention your pelvic floor a lot - Prepare to hear it a lot more! The Pelvic Floor is a series of muscles that acts as a supportive sling for the abdominal organs and spine.
HOW HAS IT CHANGED? It has just suffered varied degrees of laxity and trauma (Grade 1 – 5 tearing, episiotomy) dependent on your pregnancy and labor - and they must be rehabbed and retrained.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? It is a system of muscles in your pelvis that act as the foundation of your spine and supports your abdominal organs - the uterus, bladder and rectum. You want these to stay inside you! For some women these will be relaxed and loose and others will find them very tight and need release before you can strengthen them. (this is often the case with some who have had a c-section)
3. The Diaphragm - The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that bisects the torso at the bottom of the ribcage. The diaphragm contracts and domes down on inhalation and relaxes and domes up on exhalation.
HOW HAS IT CHANGED? It is our most effective breathing muscle and for the 40 weeks of your pregnancy it has not been able to function correctly – there was a baby in the way! First it has to be released and then retrained.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? The Diaphragm is our major breathing muscle and its efficient use ensures you don’t rely on superficial breathing muscles in your neck and jaw. These are already locked short and tight from the all the breast/bottle feeding and child carrying a new mother performs!
4. Lumbar Multifidus – The Lumbar Multifidus are deep and close to the spine working to stabilize the vertebrae at each segmental level - imagine they are like the laces at the back of the TVA corset. They are activated following correct TVA engagement.
HOW HAVE THEY CHANGED? During your pregnancy the TVA was not connected all the way around. The Lumbar Mutifidus relies on correct TVA activation to fire so during gestation these muscles can become atrophied.
WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT? When activated correctly they stabilize the spine and keep it in alignment, protecting it from any damaging movement. Importantly working the deep core muscles will repair the the abdominal separation that occurs during pregnancy and c-section.
- During pregnancy your abdominal muscles have to separate at the midline of the body to make room for the growing baby , stretching and often tearing the connective tissue called the Linea Alba
- This separation is called DIASTASIS RECTI and its severity is different for every postnatal woman. The separation of your abdominals inhibits the deep core from connecting which results in the low belly pooch - or dreaded Mommy Tummy!
Postnatal Diastasis/Abdominal Separation will vary greatly in severity, and if you have had a c-section it is quite significant. Focusing on repairing and reconnection of the deep core is the crucial first step!
The BodyLove Pilates Fundamental exercises focus on repairing this separation through a series of breathing and activation exercises. This is a vital first step when returning to fitness and in search of flat abs.
You must first reconnect your mind with the action of the muscles, and then reactivate the deep core muscles to close the separation and stabilize the pelvis and spine. This deep core training gives you a fantastic opportunity to retrain you muscle firing pattern – first stability then mobility.
Activating and stabilizing always first with your core before mobilizing other muscles – e.g. Biceps. This is called dynamic stabilization – meaning ability to maintain the correct position whilst exercising.
NO FLEXION NECESSARY - Traditional abdominal exercises such as crunches and more advanced Pilates moves (teaser, roll-up) will not give you a flat tummy. If you have not first repaired the separation, doing these exercises will in fact make your tummy pooch worse by further damaging the Linea Alba.
These are some examples of Diastasis Recti.
How else can you prevent tearing or over stretching of this tissue?
- All forward bending should be avoided! In exercise and everyday life
- Forward bending causes the 6 pack to engage and pull on the Linea Alba
- Extension and rotation should have a limited range of motion as the Obliques will turn on and similarly pull on the stretched tissue
- Below are some examples of forward bending exercises you should NOT do:
Unfortunately it is most likely the pedestrian movements in your day-to-day life that often do the most damage and make the Diastasis worse. For example:
- Getting up out of bed
- Getting up off the couch
- Pulling yourself out of a taxi
- Getting up out of the bath
When done incorrectly – you are likely to unwillingly flex the spine and engage the 6 pack. BodyLove Pilates wants to bring a new awareness to these everyday activities.
Instead of hauling yourself up, turn to your side and push your self up using your arm strength and by doing this you will keep the abs quiet and eliminate further damage to the Linea Alba.
Importantly also be aware of how you get up and down to the ground/exercise mat so you do not engage the rectus!
”From a seated position slide all the way down until you are side lying, only when your head is completely down can you roll onto your back!” To come back up – “Roll over onto your side. Using your top arm push yourself up to an upright seated position.”
You can begin immediately after you give birth. Yes the very same day! Follow along with Ali as she works to reconnect to her mind and body to her core starting the day she gets home from hospital. Gentle breathing activation exercises will not only begin the reconnection of your mind to the muscles but also circulate blood to the area and circulation means healing!
Women are often told not to do anything for 6-8 weeks after you have given birth but from the moment you return home after hospital you are on a rigorous 24 hour workout schedule - feeding, carrying, pushing, jostling.
Focusing on reconnecting to your deep core for 10 minutes day will not only help you get that flat tummy back sooner but it will support your body through the challenges of new motherhood.
BUT it really doesn't matter when you discover BodyLove Pilates - if you have a Diastasis months or evens years after childbirth - it is NEVER too late to start and should not be ignored. Start healing today!