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Postpartum Stomach Exercises – What You Are Doing Wrong

My latest submission to the Core Expections blog:

New moms are viciously critical of their postnatal bodies, especially their abdomens. It never ceases to amaze me how self-critical women can be after achieving the ultimate feat of strength – growing and delivering a baby. Sadly, at this moment of our greatest strength we can be left feeling our weakest. It is my job to strengthen new moms for their demanding lives, and we work from the foundation up. 
 
Working with a trainer who can teach you exercises to restore your core is imperative. Only through a custom-targeted restorative program can you ensure that both functional and aesthetic results are achieved. Moms often “go-it-alone” and in doing so can inadvertently undermine their own progress. Nothing is more frustrating than “spinning your wheels”! Exercise takes effort, and without results it becomes seemingly pointless. Frustration kills motivation and it’s a vicious cycle. Here are the ineffective things I frequently see moms do. These aren’t your go-to’s they are your no-do’s!
    1. Skipping the restorative – No person would blow an ACL and go back to sport within 6 weeks. The postnatal core is injured – the abdominal wall has been stretched; the pelvic floor has been heavily loaded for an extended period of time; the pelvic floor has either stretched to approximately 10x its size or the abdomen has been surgically impacted. These injuries require rehabilitation and without a strong functional restored inner unit the body will rely upon compensatory strengths to complete tasks, becoming increasingly unstable. This increases the risk of injury both in the short and long term. Be kind to yourself and restore your core before training hard! A restorative program should continue as an underlying supplemental, and can also be applied to more advanced strength training. It just makes sense. 
     2. Crunches! – Too much intra abdominal pressure (IAP) is dysfunctional for the core. Exercises that have been proven to increase IAP beyond a functional core’s capacity include forward flexion movements such as crunches, situps, and V-sits. If you have a diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal wall) you will see a “football” shape in your abdomen when attempting these moves. This is the excessive IAP pushing on weakened connective tissue between the recti. This pressure also descends onto the pelvic floor, putting strain on it. The spine is also compressed by these movements, with forceful repetition against its natural “S” shaped alignment. The rule is no movement where you are supine and your shoulder blades lift off the ground. This includes getting up and down this way. Try to move from supine to a side-lying position (http://www.belliesinc.com/diastasis-recti-abdominis-dra-the-one-move-you-must-do/) – “log roll”, “sexy senior” or “pin up girl”, whatever you want to call it. Please also avoid supine leg lifts! 

    3. Plyometrics – Impact is especially hard on a weakened abdomen and pelvic floor. After restoring the core, it needs to be strengthened and trained for endurance in order to create and sustain the myofascial tension required to support the abdominal wall all day, as well as in front-loaded positions. The transverse has been heavily loaded for months during pregnancy, and it has weakened. The strong functional core then needs training to improve the anticipatory timing required for impact. This process can take months. Without proper core support the pelvis and hips will become increasingly unstable and potentially symptomatic.

    4. Running – Like plyometrics running involves a lot of impact. Constant pounding on a non-optimal abdominal wall and pelvic floor is a recipe for disaster. Pelvic organ prolapse is a serious condition and more common than most people realize. The frightening part is how silent it can be. The symptoms are subtle and progressive: something feels “off”; there is incontinence; something feels heavy and strange; and only when a bulge is felt in the vagina many years later does the realization come that something has gone terribly wrong.

    5. Progressing too fast – Don’t be a hero! After having a baby the last thing you need to be doing is walk lunges across a room with 25 lbs in each hand. Progressing too quickly will exacerbate core and pelvic stability control challenges, bring on a multitude of compensatory strategies and undermine your diligent restorative work. I trained for 3 years with only body weight, following a custom calisthenics program. I built a strong foundation upon which to add weight.
Here are some signs that what you are doing isn’t working:
  • Persistence of symptoms – Pay attention to how your body is feeling. Monitor symptoms such as lower back pain, hip soreness, abdominal distention, incontinence and any feeling of ‘heaviness” in your pelvic floor. If your symptoms are worsening, back off!
  • Onset of symptoms – New symptoms are a red flag for a diagnostic overhaul of the current program.
  • No progress or backsliding – Don’t spin your wheels! If you aren’t making progress something is breaking down in either your exercise or nutrition program.
  • Feeling fatigued – This could be the nervous system’s response to poor form, poor alignment and deteriorating movements.
  • Injury – This is often the result of training too hard and relying on compensatory factors. Injuries typically do not occur in a workout, but rather when performing some meaningful activity like lifting laundry, lifting your kids, picking up a birthday present, reaching for a wallet, or blow drying your hair (true stories).
I always say train smart and train for life! Training smart takes time and patience. Having a qualified restorative trainer on board is your best investment in building a dynamic custom program that will help you to reach all of your postnatal goals!

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