June 27, 2013
Few moms are happy with their abs after having a baby. In fact, most of us are surprised to see that we still look pregnant. When we became moms, not only did our lives change, but our bodies did, too. To get our abs back, we may need to change how we exercise.
Studies show that if you diet without exercising you will lose some fat, but you will also lose lean body mass—you will lose muscle. To maintain muscle, you need exercise. To reshape a mom’s body, you need specifically designed exercises that target the changes that occurred during pregnancy.
The forces of pregnancy and the weight of the baby pulls the body in different directions, like strings on a puppet, and changes the alignment of the body. To get your body back, you need to know which strings to pull.
When I looked at how pregnancy AND motherhood pulls on a woman’s body, I discovered that a woman is literally being pulled forward—abs, shoulders, even her head. This isn’t just from pregnancy. After giving birth, your daily activities as a mom continue to pull you forward. You’re still holding your child in front of you. You’re leaning forward while pushing the stroller. Everything about motherhood pulls you forward. It’s the reason why the changes from pregnancy stay with us for years, and can actually get worse.
We need to do fewer exercises that pull us forward, and introduce new movements that pull us back.
During the ‘forces of pregnancy,” there were three major changes that occurred around the midsection:
- Stretched the abs
- Tilted the hips
- Weakened the pelvic floor
Conventional exercise dogma tells us to lose weight and do crunches, but many women complain that they still have that lower-tummy pooch. That’s because when your pelvis tilts forward, this results in a swayed back and protruding tummy—a condition that often stays with a woman even after giving birth. With some moms, the misalignment is so extreme that if she can just get her body into proper alignment, her stomach looks flatter even before she’s lost any weight.
Most programs tell women to do crunches. The problem with just doing crunches is they can pull one of the strings—your hip flexors—in the wrong direction. These muscles became short and tight during pregnancy and it’s the hip flexors that are actually pulling the pelvis forward in the front. We need to stretch the hip flexors, while at the same time strengthen the abs (with movements other than crunches.) This draws the hips back into alignment, gets rid of the protruding lower tummy and flattens the abs.
While we are talking about the core, there’s a sensitive subject that only moms know about, and we discover it after pregnancy. The pelvic floor is now very weak. If you’ve had some embarrassing moments with bladder control, don’t be ashamed! It’s part of what pregnancy does to a woman’s body. But we need to fix it, because the risk of incontinence later in life is greatly increased the longer a woman experiences post-partum incontinence.
Here’s just one part of the secret to flat abs. Whenever you do abdominal movements that involve a crunching motion, pull your abs inward by drawing your navel in toward your spine. Imagine you’re sucking your tummy in without holding your breath. This engages both the inner core and the pelvic floor, so you’re getting a two for one workout, giving you a much better total-core workout. You don’t need to do separate exercises to strengthen different muscles—you simply need to work smarter. It’s just like multitasking, which is something most moms are very familiar with!
Do your best to engage your core during all exercises, not just the ones focusing exclusively on the abdominals. Even though you may be focusing on your upper or lower body, you should be doing movements that engage your abs. Creating a strong core will help give you the strength you need for motherhood.
Abdominal Exercises for New Moms
Sit on a stability ball and lower down until the ball is positioned at the low back. With knees bent, engage the core to create a C with the back on the lift. As you return to the starting position, lean back slightly to create a small back extension. Do 2-3 sets of 6-12 repetitions.
Stand on an exercise tube and lift one leg as you raise the arms. Keep the hips parallel to the ground by engaging the core. Do 2-3 sets of 6-12 repetitions.
Side Plank With Clamshell
Start from a side-plank position, with the elbow directly beneath the shoulder. Contract your abs and open and close your legs like a clam shell. Work up to 2 - 3 sets of 30 seconds
Plank With Raise
Start from a plank position with an exercise band under your hands. Engage the core and lift up one arm using the muscles at the back of the shoulder and the upper back. Switch sides and repeat with the other arm. Work up to 2 - 3 sets of 30 seconds
Lisa Druxman is “Chief Founding Mom” of Fit4Mom, the national franchise that offers Stroller Strides, Fit4Baby and Body Back. She is also an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and continuing education provider. She has been a guest on shows such as the Today Show, CNN and featured in publications including Self, Entrepreneur, Fit Pregnancy, and American Baby, among others. Lisa is author of L.E.A.N. Mommy and the host of Mom On A Mission, an online TV show aimed at raising healthy moms so that they can raise healthy kids in a healthy world.