I think this is one of the biggest questions when it comes to postnatal exercise….. When can I crunch? Why can’t I crunch? What can I do instead of crunches? Alongside losing excess baby weight, getting back into skinny jeans and addressing a less than reliable pelvic floor, I think it’s fair to say that the ‘mummy tummy’ is perhaps the biggest aesthetic issue that a lot of new mums would like to take to task.
So why then are you being told that the crunch is such a ‘no-no’ when you’ve had a baby?
- For most people, performing an abdominal crunch, or sit up, builds intra-abdominal pressure. This means that as the head and shoulders lift off the floor, pressure pushes down and out against what is very likely to be a weakened core. If the midline or the pelvic floor of the client is unable to withstand this pressure, she is at risk of exacerbating a diastasis recti or putting her pelvic floor under considerable internal force. (notice on the picture above that although a slim woman, the model’s lower tummy is popping out) Here’s a picture taken of a client with a diastasis recti. See how without proper breathing patterns and engagement of the correct muscles, her abdomen is struggling with the pressure. Take a look at the little video I made with my favourite prop to see how this would affect the pelvic floor…..
- Let’s think about postural issues in the postnatal client. For most, the effects of pregnancy and the movement patterns post-birth encourage a somewhat forward flexed position. The forward movement of a crunch further exacerbates this as the rectus abdominus (‘six-pack’ muscle), hip flexors, and front of the shoulders are all shortened as the head and shoulders move away from the floor. Poor posture like this can be extremely unhelpful in allowing the appearance of a flat tummy. Instead, we need to be looking at lengthening the muscles at the front of the hips and shoulders and strengthening the mid-back and deep tummy muscles, rather than the superficial ones on the top layer of the abdomen.
- (and this is one of my current bug bears….) Ever had an instructor tell you to push your lower back into the floor as you curl up (‘to protect your back’)? This effectively moves your pelvis forward so the bony bit (the pubis) is closer to your ribs, taking away some of the protection for your pelvic organs. As you sit up now, your pelvic floor has to take the full load of that intra-abdominal pressure. Not good!
So what can you do instead?
* Firstly, exercise aside, let’s remember that great abdominals don’t just come from exercise. Healing nutrition, avoiding inflammatory food such as caffeine, alcohol, highly processed food and excess sugar will all stand you in good stead to losing the tummy.
* High levels of stress and lack of sleep encourage your body to store fat around the middle (more of this in a future blog.)
* Engaging the deep muscles of the transversus abdominus and the pelvic floor whilst exhaling on effort in all movement encourages natural tension in the muscles that will draw you in (rather than push everything out.)
* Functional movement patterns of pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging and rotating (with some exceptions!) whilst using the deep core muscles will effectively build the internal strength that most of us are looking for. These are used in all of my classes and sessions as many of you will know!
So next time you are tempted to ‘Blast the Belly’ or sign up to a 30 day Ab Challenge, just check that the exercises are appropriate for your body as it is now.
The Holistic Core Restore® Everywoman course teaches the co-ordination needed between the breath and the muscles of the core alongside strengthening work. Throughout the six week course the muscles of the pelvic floor, tummy and back are strengthened in a functional way to ensure that the benefits gained are relevant to the life of the women on the course – ie we MOVE! Live classes and sessions aside, I have additionally created my own online Postnatal Programme as I was aware at the lack of this information being available in other ‘generic’ online programmes. There is more info on that here.
So please think twice before tackling the ‘mummy tummy’ with old school ab exercises. Get some great advice from a qualified post-natal expert.