Vicky Warr, Specialist Pregnancy and Post Natal Master Fitness Trainer, gives her secret insight and dispels the myths on achieving a flatter tummy after babies.
A female body goes through dramatic changes when you have had a baby, no matter when you had the baby. As the baby grew inside you, your abdominals stretched and weakened across the midline. After a natural birth, your pelvic floor would have had some loading and you may leak when you laugh or cough, jump or run. If you had a c-section you may have suffered adhesions, have some scar tissue and quite literally your abs will feel numb as the nervous system shuts down from communicating with the muscles.
The lower abdominals are a part that most women dislike and struggle to flatten. In a bid to try to lose the baby weight, shape up and tone up the stomach, many hit the gym and knock out the stomach crunches, planks and pound on the treadmill.
Recently I’ve been contacted by several women who are worried about the appearance of their tummies. They may have lost the weight but their tummy still looks ‘domed’, wrinkled or they have some sagging skin in the lower part. There are also a lot of women struggling with leaking of their pelvic floor during lifting, jogging or coughing and laughing. Some women I hear from have been working with Personal Trainers or attending buggy bootcamps or’ killing it’ in the gym. When I quizzed them as to the type of exercise they had been doing, it involved crunches, skipping, running around the park, the treadmill.
What you really shouldn’t be doing and why..
Stomach crunches can increase abdominal separation due to the forward flexion of the movement. Coupled with the tendancy to ‘dome’ or pooch out the stomach when doing them means you will have quite the reverse effect that you want!
Running too soon. Each time your foot makes contact with a hard surface or pavement, up to 7 times your body weight goes through your pelvis, joints and pelvic floor. Think about the fact that this part of your body has already taken a pounding with the baby (even with a c-section) and you are adding to the pressure. Be sure to strengthen your core and pelvic floor first before starting to run.
Personal Trainers and Gym instructors without the research, experience and through knowledge of the implications of pregnancy and childbirth prescribe their clients these kind of exercises, in an effort to get their clients to lose weight or tone up like many of their other clients who haven’t had a baby (or may be men). The extra loading of running and the forward flexion of crunches cause even more ‘intra abdominal pressure’ on an already weakened abdominal and pelvic floor structure. Basically, this pressure causes the ‘pooch’!
So, we have to take care of our abs again and coach them back from muscle amnesia.
Post Natal exercise should be mindful exercise, reconnecting, re-educating and taking a holistic approach to repairing the whole ‘core’ of the trunk – all the muscles that help flatten the tummy. The ‘whole core’ involves the lower abdominals, the pelvic floor, multifidus (lower back muscle), and the respiratory diaphragm.
It’s not only about the right kind of exercise for a women who has given birth but using the right technique and training your abs again to optimal fitness.
Through a combination of the following plus following a specific, quality post natal programme you’ll achieve flat abs again.
TheBeezKneez protocol is for contouring, restoring function and achieving ultimate flat abs is based on the following:
Checking every client’s abs. It’s called the ‘rec test’ and provides an indication of core weakness at the start, the extent of any abdominal separation and the strength of the soft connective tissue in between. We also show our clients how they can check this for themselves. I also check for bulging or doming of the abs and whether they are connecting and recruiting the deep abdominal muscles.
Breathing. The right kind of breathing is critical (especially as we do it all the time!) and is essential to pelvic floor health and flatter abs.. Pushing out the belly or belly breathing increases the downward pressure on the pelvic floor and abs. so you want to avoid that. I also coach ladies away from the shoulder shift and chest lift style of breathing, which starts to occur during pregnancy. Instead I show a style where you let go of the stomach and instead open the bottom of the ribs on the in-breath.
Posture. An instant way to discover, feel and flatten your abs is to address your posture. By standing tall and ‘zipping’ up pubic bone to navel whilst drawing your hip bones away from each other encourages a tightening in the lower abs.
Pelvic Floor! Not many do their pelvic floor exercises or realise that it is the most important muscle group of the body. You just can’t see it, so it gets ignored in the exercise process. Start with ‘lifting’ your pelvic floor muscles or tightening your back passage whilst lying down DAILY! Then progress to movement based pelvic floor exercises that are more functional and effective. I use core training balls and bands to encourage effective pelvic floor exercises.
Vicky Warr is founder of and specialist trainer at TheBeezKneez Pregnancy and Post Natal Group Fitness Programmes and Personal Training and Ambassador for the Foo Foo Fun Club in West London. She is also pregnancy fitness expert for Mothercare. The specific pre and post natal class programmes run in 6 week cycles with masterclasses, information can be found at www.beez-kneez.co.uk.