Guest article written by Helene Byrne, founder of BeFit-Mom.
So you’ve had your baby and now it’s time to do crunches, lots of ‘em, to get your abs back in shape again. Right? Well, actually no. In fact, exercises like crunches can do more harm than good in the postpartum period.
One of the problems with crunches, and its’ cousin, the oblique curl, is that these exercises primarily work the external layers of the abdominal wall. (The muscles that flex the spine to the front and side.)
After pregnancy, these external layers easily overpower the relatively weaker internal abdominal muscle (the Transverse Abdominis, or TvA) during traditional exercises like crunches. Without enough TvA strength, the abdominal wall will balloon outward when contracted — yikes! In fitness, what you practice is what you get. So if you allow your belly to expand outward, that is what you are unintentionally training your abs to do — double yikes!
The secret to flattening the abs after pregnancy is to recondition from the inside out—by building strength and control in your TvA first. This muscle is your body’s internal “girdle” and when contracted, compresses the abdominal wall, whittles the waistline, and provides stability to your pelvis and lower spine.
Here’s a terrific postnatal TvA exercise that is safe to do right after both a vaginal delivery or a C-section, and will flatten your abs even if you’re considerably post postpartum.
Postpartum Belly Buster
1. Lie on your side with a small pillow under your head, knees bent, hips stacked, and spine neutral. Relax your abdominal wall and allow it to expand. (Don’t panic— everyone’s tummy lies next to them after childbirth!)
2. Inhale deeply, and then exhale slowly while hissing forcefully through you teeth. As you hiss, tighten your abdomen, pulling your belly up away from the floor, and in toward your spine as much as you can. Keep your torso completely still, maintain the neutral position.
3. Hold the contraction for a few moments, breathing naturally. Take care that you don’t relax your abs you breathe, keep them tight.
4. Inhale deeply, repeat the hiss/exhalation and try to increase the intensity of the abdominal compression. Maintain the abdominal contraction, breathing naturally.
5. Repeat the exhalation/hiss with abdominal compression a third time, trying to increase the intensity of the contraction even more. Once again, hold the contraction and breathe naturally.
6. Exhale, relax your abdominal wall allowing it to soften and expand naturally. (Don’t push it outward.)
7. Perform 4 repetitions to complete one set. Perform four or more sets daily.
After this muscle has become strong again, (in about three weeks or so of regular conditioning) you can progressively add in exercises that work the external layers, while maintaining a flat abdominal profile. Using this method, you’ll not only shrink your waist and flatten your tummy, but just as importantly, develop deep core strength and spine stability.
• If you have difficulty breathing, it is because you are “sucking up” and contracting your diaphragm. Try to isolate the contractions below your belly button.
• Remember, the TvA does not move bone. Keep you spine—particularly your upper body—completely still.
• Use mental imagery. Imagine that you have on an old fashioned corset, that is getting tighter and tighter as you compress your abdominal wall.
Author Bio: Helene Byrne, founder of BeFit-Mom at http://www.befitmom.com is a pre and postnatal exercise specialist, and author of the award winning DVD “Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning” and the acclaimed book, “Exercise after Pregnancy: How to Look and Feel Your Best.”