How to build your Abs – Post baby

One really common questions I get asked is “how can I get me some rock hard abs?”

Well maybe not in those exact words, probably more something along the lines of “How can I get a flatter tummy”. This is something that comes up a lot. Especially with people looking to get back into shape after having a baby (or 3).

Now, the thing we need to be aware of is condition called Diastasis Recti. This is when the right and left sides of your abdominals separate thanks to  pregnancy hormones that soften connective tissue and our expanding bellies.  It’s very common occurring in around 30% of pregnancies.

If you want to do a little self check to see if you might have this diastasis recti simply –

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, and the soles of your feet on the floor.
  2. Place one hand behind your head, and the other hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips at the level of your belly button.
  3. With your abdominal wall relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your abdomen.
  4. Roll your upper body off the floor into a “crunch,” making sure that your ribcage moves closer to your pelvis as your shoulder blades lift off the floor.
  5. Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left sides of your abdominal muscle. Test for separation at, above, and below your belly button.

Be careful that you don’t just pull your head off the mat (which is a common mistake). To effectively contract your abdominals, you need to move your ribcage closer to you pelvis. If you don’t activate your abdominal wall effectively, you might think that you have diastasis recti. For most, as the shoulder blades lift off the floor and the rib cage moves closer to the pelvis and the contraction deepens, the width of the gap at your midline should decrease.

Don’t panic if you feel a “hole” in your belly in the first few postpartum weeks. As you recover, your midline will slowly regain its former density and elasticity, and the “hole” will become much less prominent.

Signs of Diastasis Recti/Abdominal Separation

  • A gap of more than 2 1/2 finger-widths when the abdominals are contracted.
  • The gap does not decrease as you contract your abdominals.
  • You can see a small mound protruding along your midline.

If you are unsure or concerned please, please consult your doctor.

So, now that the serious discussion is out of the way lets talk about what you can do to help get those tummies back in shape and looking trim, taut and terrific.

Although you should avoid doing a standard “crunch” there are a few basic things you can do to help get that flatter tummy.

So . . . “no crunches you say? Em, then what else is there?” Well my friend one of the most effective things you can do is simply to “engage” your abdominals . . . as often as you think of it.

All you have to do it imagine you are trying to pin your belly button against your spine. Not sucking in and holding your breath but concentrate . . . feel the muscle engage and imagine there is a piece of string attached to your belly button and someone is gently pulling on it, drawing your belly button closer to your spine.

The more you practise the easier it will become. start just while your sitting on a chair or standing up nice and tall. Then once you have mastered this connection/feeling you will be able to do it while your walking around, hanging out laundry, unpacking groceries  . . . in no time at all  those abs will be drawing back in closer together, pulling your belly back in flatter & stronger.

Another thing I would recommend is that you invest in a swiss ball. These are a great and pretty inexpensive tool to have. Not to mention your kids will LOVE them. By all means feel free to do these exercises just sitting on a chair or laying on the floor instead of using a swiss ball if your not ready to make the investment.
Here are some of my favourite exercises you can do to help get you started –

Seated Neutral Position

Level 1 –  Sit in the centre of the ball, ensuring that feet are hip-width apart, knees directly over ankles and arms relaxed by sides. Shoulders relaxed, sitting up nice and straight – lengthen your body by drawing the top of the head towards the ceiling.

2. Engage your abs by pulling your belly button in towards spine and drawing up pelvic floor muscles. Hold this position for 30 seconds to begin with. The relax and repeat.

Level 2: Aim to hold this position without losing balance or shifting your body position. Slowly lift one foot off the floor. Keep abs contraction and sitting up nice and tall without shifting weight. Hold this position for 30 seconds then replace the foot on the floor. Alternate feet and repeat.

PRONE BALL ROLLS (ON KNEES)

1. Start on your knees with the ball in front of you. Link your fingers together and place hands on the ball at chest height.

2. Roll the ball forwards, allowing it to roll up your forearms to your elbows, pushing your weight into the ball until your body is in a straight/diagonal line. be careful not to allow your lower back to arch, keeping your abs engaged will help to avoid this.

3. Make sure your chest does not collapse onto the ball.

4. Roll the ball back and return to starting position. Focus on the strength of the movement to coming from your abs.

5. Make sure your shoulders stay down and away from your ears.

PLANK

1. Start with chest on the ball and walk hands forward until feet are off the floor and body weight is transferred to the upper body. The ball should be underneath the thighs. Make sure that hands are directly underneath the shoulders and abdominals are engaged. Like your are in a push up position with your lower legs on the ball.

2. Keep elbows soft. This will avoid putting too much pressure on the elbow and wrist joints.

3. Engage your abs, this will help to keep body stabile.

4.  Keep your eyes focused down onto the floor and make sure your head stays in line with the spine (try not to lift your head up arching your neck or drop your head so it hangs down with your chin touching your chest).

5. Hold your plank for 30 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe.

6. Walk your hands back on towards the ball and return to the starting position. Then repeat.

I would also highly recommend doing some exercises to help strengthen your back –

ALTERNATING ARM AND LEG RAISES

1. Start with the ball supporting your hips. Both your hands and feet are on the floor, your weight is distributed evenly between hands and feet. Engage your abs by pulling your belly button in towards spine and drawing up pelvic floor muscles.

2. Lift your right arm up and away from floor until it is parallel with the floor. Lifting your upper body slightly to assist with the movement. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

3. Lower the arm and upper body back down onto the ball retuning to the starting position. Repeat exercise using opposite arm and alternate with each repetition. Make your arm sas long as possible and breathe out as you lift and in as you lower.

4. Avoid lifting your arm too high which will cause your back to arch too much. Keep your abs engaged so that spine stays strong and in a neutral position.

5. Keep your eyes focused down to floor and avoid over extending your neck.

6 – Place your hands on floor and engage your abs by pulling your belly button in towards spine and drawing up pelvic floor muscles.

7 – Extend your right leg up and lift away from floor until it is parallel with the floor. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Keeping your body as still as you can with your abs engaged. Repeat exercise using left leg and then alternate with each repetition.

 

Please, please remember that it took your body a good 9 months (of not more) to get you where you are now. It didn’t happen over night. Change will take time but it will happen. Be proud of yourself for taking the first step to a healthier life. The first step is often the hardest. You are not alone. We are here for you, walking right along side you cheering you on. You go girl :)

About Emma