Choosing appropriate exercises for your strength level is necessary to decrease the strain on the abs to restore your core after baby or prevent a larger diastasis recti during pregnancy.
1. you feel pressure or discomfort along the center of the abs
2. you see coning of the abs down the center
3. you can't tell if your abs are engaged - if you can't feel it they probably aren't!
4. you have soreness or pain that lasts after you stop doing an exercise....more than normal muscle soreness. Think: sharp, shooting or dull, nagging pain you can't ignore.
5. you feel the exercise in your low back instead of your abs (back is being overworked because the abs are engaging correctly)
1. reduces forward pressure on the abs + prevents further stretching of the 6-pack muscle to allow healing
2. strengthens the body gradually and creates the optimal healing environment (injury happens with too much activity too soon)
3. performing an exercise that is too challenging for the current level of strength is going to increase strain on the abs and not allow for healing/closure of ab separation
4. reduces compensations in surrounding muscle groups; low back, hip flexors, glutes and even the neck
1. glute bridges : exhale to engage the TA as you lift your hips, inhale to release the abs and lower down
2. TA marching : lying on your back, engage the TA (pelvis does not tilt when you engage the TA!) and hold this contraction as you lift one foot 1-2 in off the ground. Inhale to lower the foot back down and repeat on the other side.
3. chest press with TA : normal chest press with chosen weight, focus on exhaling to engage the TA as you press the weights to the ceiling and inhale to release the abs and lower back down.
4. modified leg lifts : bend the knees or support the legs with your hands as you exhale to engage the TA to lower the leg, inhale at the bottom and exhale again to engage the TA and lift the leg again.
**Check out the Movement Monday exercises posted on IG @phyafit each week for more ideas on how to safely strengthen the abs!
TAKE IT SLOW! PLEASE.
Physical therapy and recovery is a slow, step-wise process and while skipping steps is so easy to do, it can really set you back and make recovery much longer.
Skipping steps isn't always intentional...didn't feel great during the first trimester of pregnancy but are ready to workout again in the 2nd? Well, you lost a bunch of strength from not working out, take it a step or two back from where you were when you got pregnant. Your workouts will feel better and you'll build strength faster if you don't overdo it.
The goal of this phase is rest and recovery with a gentle intro to intentional movement.
0-2 weeks: survival mode
- baby snuggles
- deep breaths
- standing up tall and upper body stretches (clasp hands behind back, doorway stretch) *be careful following c-section, you shouldn’t feel pain at the incision when you stretch the chest.
2-6 weeks: start intentional movement
- TA and pelvic floor breathing: inhale to relax, exhale to contract
- do stairs regularly
- take walks inside and outside, start with a small goal like 5 min and build up from there.
- resume household activities for vaginal birth. *limit weight lifted to no more than the weight of a baby during household activities following c-section.
- once bleeding stops start to add in gentle stretches and exercises that don’t increase the pressure in the abdomen (glute bridges, figure 4 stretch, hip hikes, clamshells)
**being postpartum is like starting to exercise for the first time all over again, BE PATIENT, go slow and ask for help!
Postpartum phase 2: 6-12 weeks
(or you’re postpartum by any # weeks > 6-12 and you never rehabbed anything.)
Maybe you’ve been working out and feel disconnected from your abs or body...this is the phase you should come back to.
This is your rehab phase where the goal is to slowly introduce more activity and movement to the body without overdoing it to cause strain or injury, but to gradually build your strength back up.
The key to this phase is you’ve stopped bleeding and you’re cleared for exercise. You should be looking for gradual progress: baby steps over big leaps. It takes 6 WEEKS of consistent exercise to strengthen muscle fibers so don’t expect things to happen overnight.
- do exercises that break down movements to strengthen the smaller supportive muscles (ex: strengthen hips, knees + core before returning to the running program you were doing pre-pregnancy)
- work to build endurance and stamina
- create balance in the body by stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak ones (ex: tight chest, weak upper back + tight hip flexors, weak glutes)
- normalize posture so the body can move and function how it was designed
Get a little uncomfortable to improve function:
1. Exercise: start or increase cardio + strength training. If you only do what is comfortable or feels easy you won’t make progress. Start small and increase only one of these things at a time; reps, sets, speed, duration.
2. Scar massage: massage you c-section scar once it’s fully healed. This never feels good at first so don’t wait for it to feel good to start! Releasing the tightness + sticky points will give you more feeling, better blood flow, more movement and decrease the look of skin hanging over the scar.
3. Sex: there’s a lot of factors that can lead to discomfort here; tearing, c-section scar, birth trauma, pelvic floor tightness, pelvic pain, anxieties. Have sex when you’re ready, 6 weeks is a guideline. Sex should feel less painful each time. ***If it doesn’t get better, please don’t wait for it to get better there are exercises, tools and people who specialize in helping you, so ask!
The goal of this phase is to continue challenging yourself to achieve recommended physical activity levels AKA return to exercise classes or normal exercise routine (...CAN be done sooner depending on ab strength and how you feel during exercise!) If you’ve put in the work to consistently build strength from 6-12 weeks, you’ll feel the strength that took the body 6 weeks to build, and you’re ready to progress exercise quicker than the last phase.
What to avoid: nothing (kind of!)
What to do:
Use this phase to build up to normal exercise levels:
CARDIO: 2.5 - 5 hours of moderate physical activity/week or 75 min of vigorous physical activity/week. (Moderate: walking, dancing, tennis, biking slowly Vigorous: running, hiking uphill, pushing a stroller, HIIT, stair master, elliptical)
STRENGTH: 2 days/week for 35-60 minutes.
**For endurance and a lean look: lift lighter weights and do more repetitions.
**For power and a built look: lift heavier weight and do fewer repetitions.
We need all of this for motherhood and life so do any combination that suits you!
This phase happens at different times for everyone with the 2 requirements being
1. your cycle restarted AND
2. you are done nursing: if you never nursed then you’re waiting for your cycle to restart and at least 12 weeks postpartum.
You’re waiting until you’re done nursing to enter this phase of exercise because the risk of dehydration is way less and you don’t need to worry about negatively effecting your supply. Your cycle is a good sign that your body has built nutrient levels back up and is healthy enough to have a cycle.
What’s different about this phase? You can push yourself to fatigue; challenge yourself past what you’ve been doing. Train for a race, add in plyometrics or speed work, lift heavier weights, do longer workouts and if you don’t want a rest day you don’t need to take one.
Your energy expenditure has gone way down now that you’re not nursing so adjust the food intake and start to balance back out to pre-pregnancy nutrition as you feel you can.
Friendly reminder to listen to your body, check in with soreness and pain, reassess the abs and tissue tension every so often as you progress your workouts.
**If you haven’t been slowly strengthening after baby - this isn’t your starting point - start at phase 2 and go through the phases to protect yourself from potential injury.