Many mums and moms feel frustrated with how their tummy muscles feel and look after pregnancy. Muscles are however very resilient; to tone up your tummy after pregnancy you need specific postnatal exercises to strengthen and tone the deep inner most tummy muscles first. That way you can redefine, strengthen and tone your tummy after pregnancy safely and effectively. Plus it's never too late to start; whether you had your baby recently or many months or years ago.
Your stomach muscles which went through the very physically demanding, yet natural process of pregnancy and childbirth at some point and every 'body' is different and each pregnancy and birth is unique. Given time and focus with specific exercises designed for the physical and hormonal changes your body experienced, your mummy tummy, kangaroo pooch or overhang will tone up and tighten and this is true whether you were recently pregnant, have back pain, haven't exercised for a while or you are further along in your journey of motherhood.
As a pregnancy and postnatal fitness trainer, I specialise in strengthening the core muscles. These are your stomach muscles, both the layer closer the surface of the skin and the deeper ones, your back muscles, muscles of the waist and in my opinion the pelvic floor is part of your core too. All the muscles of your core are the ones most affected by pregnancy and child birth. Then with the demands of motherhood; lifting, bending, carrying a newborn and toddlers and beyond, you are calling these muscles more than ever and they need to be strong.
Here are my three tips to getting a flatter tummy after pregnancy; there’s a move tip, a nourish tip and an encourage tip!
1. Recruit Your 'Corset', your Deep Inner Most Muscles
Firstly, you can tone up your tummy muscles and that's what I'd like you to believe. Many women lose faith and believe that they can't tone up but this is usually because they’re not doing the right exercises or not exercising at all.
It's really important you recruit your deep innermost muscles, the transverse abdominals to get flatter tummy muscles and a stronger core. The wrong exercises with poor technique means that the tummy muscles will not flatten and you will be left with a pooched tummy.
Attempting to do hundreds of stomach crunches in an attempt to get a flatter tummy will not work! You have to try recruit the innermost muscles, which is something I show how to do in my online health and fitness studio and the results are amazing, because when you start to recruit your deep muscles that attach to the more superficial muscles, the rectus abdominus or ‘six-pack’ your muscles begin to flatten and your core strengthens.
You cannot isolate your lower abdominals, or what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Mummy Tummy’ or ‘Pooch’. You have to recruit all the layers of your stomach muscles with the correct exercises, the correct technique and the correct breathing. That way you’ll get the toned, aesthetically pleasing affect you desire!
Beware of the stomach crunches which is one you want to avoid after you've had a baby and it's certainly one that you would avoid during pregnancy. The stomach crunch is where you lie on the floor, usually with your hands by your ears and you sit right up to full sit up position from lying down. Most people do not perform this exercise with the right technique, especially mothers whose bodies have experienced physical changes during pregnancy and birth. What can happen is that when someone sits up, if they have the strength to do that, then their belly pooches up as they sit up. as they are taking that exhale and engaging their deep muscles.
A better exercise to the stomach crunch is the butterfly curl; this is an exercise where you lie flat on your back, with the soles of your feet together. That means you avoid squeezing your bottom muscles and you are less likely to round your shoulders forwards or crane your neck as the movement whilst smaller is more controlled.
To do the Butterfly Curl:
- Lie on your back and place your hands by your ears with your elbows bent out to the sides. Exhale scoop down your belly button right down towards your spine, to try and get a deep connection.
- Continue to gently draw your belly button in as you slightly tilt your pelvis and lift your head and shoulders at the same time.
- Inhale and lower your head and shoulders back to the floor.
- This is a very gentle, very small lift, so that you're really switching on these lower abdominals; as if you are ‘scooping’ your belly button towards your spine. Performing this exercise with the correct technique and with the correct breathing means you are recruiting your deep innermost muscles. That way the exercise will be effective, strengthening the stretched and weakened muscles and getting that toned effect.
2. Eat protein rich foods and plenty of dark, green leafy vegetables
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Abs are made in the kitchen’? Yes? Well if so, don’t you just want that kitchen?! This phase is actually quite true from a nutritional sense. Your nutrition is a key component to getting a flatter tummy and the number one priority because the benefits of choosing the right foods for you in the right balance make all the difference to how you feel and look.
Firstly, you need the correct balance of protein, and the sources of protein are lean (unprocessed) meat, lean fish, eggs, and beans, pulses, lentils and quinoa. As a general rule mot women need a palm sized portion of these sources of protein at every single meal to maintain or improve muscle tone. I must emphasise that you need to choose lean varieties; non-fatty non-processed so avoid sausages and processed meats instead make sure you're choosing chicken and turkey, eggs and for vegan and vegetarian sources choose beans, pulses, lentils and chickpeas. Fish and seafood are also good sources and oily fish is especially good as oily fish types are also rich in healthy fats to help boost your metabolism, and burn off fat. Try to include healthy fats in one meal a day; sources are salmon, olives, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Balance your plate; at least half of your plate needs to be vegetables of which two to three varieties should be dark green and leafy, for example kale, spinach or broccoli to help you get leaner and give you plenty of energy. The other half of your plate, needs to be a source of lean protein, go for a palm size portion and whole grain carbohydrates of which a good portion guide is a fist. Good sources of carbohydrates, include sweet potatoes or white potatoes, rye or nutty, seedy bread, brown rice or wild rice. You could also include non-starchy carbohydrates of the vegetable variety; parsnips, swede, butternut squash are good choices.
3. Just 10 minutes a day, may keep back ache away!
Move away from the mindset that exercise is a one hour workout that happens once a week, where you have to leave the house to ‘focus on you’.
As a pregnancy and postnatal fitness trainer, part of my job is to ‘sell the dream’ but if anyone tells you that some exercise for and hour, once a week, is going to get you a flat, toned, tighter tummy and strong core then sorry, it's a lie!
Firstly, you want to be prioritising the correct core exercises with the correct technique and doing these consistently and regularly. This is not a few ‘pilates exercises’ where you just run through the motions to say you do ‘pilates’ because it’s sounds fashionable. Many people actually don’t really understand the technique required with pilates or understand that some pilates exercises if you don’t perform them correctly may cause more of a ‘pooched’ tummy. It’s also not about doing lots of stomach crunches (note my advice on stomach crunches above).
The duration is also not important; the quality, appropriateness and consistency of the exercise is. Whether you do 5,10 or 20 minutes, while your baby naps, your toddler plays or whether you're fitting it in during your busy work time, it’s strength training exercises where you use your whole body which boosts your metabolism to help you burn fat and to give you that lovely aesthetic muscular tone.
Be sure to move each day with your family; walk everywhere you can; with your baby in their buggy or stroller or in a sling or with your child on their scooter or riding their bike as you walk or jog alongside them.
Visit Vicky Warr's YouTube Channel for her '10 minute flatter tummy and stronger core video' here or subscribe to her YouTube channel, where she releases regular postnatal exercise videos that are expertly instructed and that you can fit into your busy life.