My top 10 tips for new mums to get back into exercise, read on…
Easy and effective daily plan to flatten your mummy tummy and get rid of the pesky skin flap!
Chances are that your new flabby tummy is one of the things you are most shocked about in terms of changes to your body after having a baby. Fear not! It is perfectly normal to still look pregnant for a while after you have had your baby, and be able to grab a handful of squidgy belly! The first thing you need to think about post-birth, before you start exercising your abs, is how your tummy has responded to pregnancy and birth.
Getting to grips with your abdominals: Changes, exercises, what to avoid and will I be able to shift my baby bulge?!
Now you are firmly into your second trimester it’s time to talk about your tummy. You may have a beautiful bump or your belly might still be as flat as a pancake, everyone is different. Whatever size you are as your pregnancy progresses there will be some significant changes to your abdominal muscles and we need to give special consideration to how we exercise them.
Exercising your abdominals safely in pregnancy
- Sit ups / crunches: Most experts agree that sit-up / ab crunch type exercises after Trimester 1 of pregnancy are not a good idea as these put too much stress on weakened surface abdominals and pressure on the blood vessels in your back as your bump grows. I would suggest you can carry these on to around week 16-18 if you have not experienced any abdominal separation (see below) and you still find them comfortable.
- Planks: I am really surprised to see fitness professionals recommending the plank as suitable in pregnancy. I would suggest a modified plank (on your knees) is still ok in Trimester 1, but would avoid any planks after this. This isometric hold simply builds up too much pressure behind your abs.
- Overstretching: As your belly grows your abs will get thinner and weaker and may separate. For this reason we don’t want to be stretching them beyond gentle moderate moves. Stretch your tum with caution.
- Twisting and turning: Exercises like twisting and side bending can make abdominal separation worse so avoid these after Trimester 1 too.
- Transitioning: Take care in between each exercise, especially if you are getting up and down off of the floor. A bit more about getting up is included below.
- Heavy lifting: I hope this is common sense, but try to avoid heavy lifting and straining during pregnancy – no weightlifting competitions!
However considering all these points, it is very important to keep your deep core muscles strong and exercise them regularly to have the best chance of achieving a flat tum again after you have had your baby and minimise the likelihood of getting any pregnancy back pain.
Work that TVA!
That what? The TVA (transversus abdominis) is your deepest abdominal muscle and the body’s ‘internal corset’. You can activate it simply by breathing in deeply and letting your chest expand, then as you exhale, pulling in your tummy all the way around and holding it in for a couple of seconds, then releasing. Gaining control over your TVA and working it as often as possible is key to having a flat tum after you have had your baby. It also plays an important part in pushing your baby out. This is called working your ‘core’.
If I can’t do all these things what can I do?!
You don’t have to do sit-up style exercises to be working your tum. There are lots of exercise you can do including ab squeezes and hollowing (engaging your TVA as described above) to maintain core strength in pregnancy. Pilates is also a great option. In the 3-Plan you will find four safe and effective ab and back exercises for each trimester of pregnancy and stage of postnatal recovery.
Also remember that by holding a good posture, keeping a neutral spine and your TVA drawn in throughout any toning exercises you do you can triple the good work you are doing. You will feel your tummy muscles working, particularly if you are using weights, when you are doing upper body and leg exercises. This really engages your core muscles. You can also maintain a good upright posture all the time!
Diastasis: what is that?
You may have some separation of the abdominal muscles during and after pregnancy (the technical term is ‘diastasis’, which sounds scarier than it is). Around a third of women experience this and it is more common if you are overweight, carrying multiple pregnancies or have had babies before. This is obvious when you think of how much your tummy needs to expand to accommodate your little babe. It is in effect your rectus abdominis muscles slightly moving apart to give your baby space to grow.
When you have had your baby, you will be able to feel whether you have this separation, or not, with your fingers. Lie on your back, with your feet on the floor, knees bent and head and shoulders lifted. Feel above and below your belly button to see if you can find a gully between your tummy muscles (see pictures in the 3-Plan). The gap may be above or below or both. The separation occurs at the linea alba, which is the line that runs down the middle of your tummy, which you can sometimes see in the later stages of pregnancy.
By doing the exercises in the 3-Plan, using a good technique, you will be able to gradually close this gap and get a toned, gorgeous tum that you will be proud to show off!
Diastasis separation varies from one person to another, so don’t worry if your gap feels quite wide. There are certain exercises that you won’t be able to do until the gap has closed to narrower than two finger-widths. Until then you can carry on strengthening your core and helping to close the gap. This is all covered in the New Body Plan.
Getting up from bed can place stress on both your back and tummy muscles if you do it in the wrong way. To minimize the stress, roll on to your side before you push yourself up using your arms. Don’t sit straight up forwards as this will make any ab separation worse/
I found it comfortable to wear an abdominal band to help support my tummy and back while I was exercising, but it is up to you whether you do or don’t. My first support was a stretchy band that covered my whole bump for the first six months of pregnancy. Then I switched to an under-the-bump band for the last three. I wore a support most of the time and never experienced any back problems, but do what feels right for you.
Will I be able to shift my baby bulge?
You might think that because you have had, or are going to have, a baby you can kiss goodbye to that flat tummy dream. That is simply not the case and you can look even better than you did before.
A good pregnancy exercise plan like the 3-Plan Pregnancy Plan (first half of the book) will help you to strengthen your deep abdominal muscles, surface abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles, ready for childbirth. By working on these before you have your baby you will have a much easier job getting them back into shape afterwards.
Following this a targeted postnatal; exercise plan like the 3-Plan New Body Plan (second half of the book) will help you work towards getting rid of your baby bulge. There are three things you need to do to get a flat tummy:
- Get rid of the fat over your tummy by doing cardiovascular exercise.
- Work the deep ‘core’ muscles to strengthen and tone your tummy and back (these ‘partner’muscles need to work together).
- Tone the surface abdominals.
The New Body Plan covers these three aspects, so stick with it and you will see results. If you have had a C-section you should wait until you have had the go-ahead from your GP and feel ready to begin. (I have used six weeks as a guide and it should be a long enough break for most women. You may choose to start very gently). Also, remember, you may still look pregnant for quite a while after you have had your baby. Again, this is perfectly normal, so don’t worry. Everyone’s different and it will take some people longer than others to get their figures back; the key is to stick with your ab workout and make exercise part of your routine. You are the one in charge of how you change your body and it will take effort and time.
Pelvic floor exercisers don’t have to be boring and they will stop you weeing yourself!
The pelvic floor (PF) muscles are located between your legs and run from your pubic bone at the front to the base of your spine at the back. You can think of them as a shopping bag or hammock which supports all of your internal organs – an important job. To stick with this analogy, if you imagine you keep loading up your shopping bag its base will come under more and more strain. In the same way, the weight of your growing baby will put increased pressure on these muscles. They can also be weakened and experience some trauma through childbirth.