Erica Ziel is one of our fave pre- and postnatal exercise experts. She is the creator of The Core Rehab Program and Knocked-Up Fitness, holds a B.S. in Health and Human Performance, is a certified Pilates instructor and personal trainer, and is a mom of three. So when she tells you how to strengthen your core after having a baby, you know she knows what she’s talking about!
How to Strengthen Your Core Postpartum and Beyond
No matter how long it’s been since you had your last baby, you can start strengthening your core today with these three simple tips and exercises. These are also great if you have diastasis recti (abdominal separation), pelvic floor dysfunction and/or annoying aches and pains. Follow these simple, yet very effective guidelines and tips to get those abs back!
1. Improve Your Posture
Posture is the first step towards correcting abdominal separation and it’s something you can do all day long. Focus on these tips when standing, sitting and carrying your little ones:
- Lengthening tall through the top of your head.
- Avoid locking your knees.
- Avoid tucking your butt under and drawing your belly to spine.
- Breathe deep into the sides and back of your ribcage.
- Zip your belly up lightly.
2. Strengthen Your Deep Core Muscles
As you focus on improving your posture you will be able to find and strengthen your deep core muscles more easily.
Before you move through any exercise you need to pre-activate your entire deep core (this includes your pelvic floor too!). Crunches are absolutely not recommended until your deep core becomes much stronger. Avoid relying on crunches for strengthening your abs; they simply are not effective for strengthening your deep core and could cause more bulging of the abdomen.
To properly engage your deep core:
- Inhale to relax pelvic floor muscles while breathing out into the sides and back of your ribcage and low back (relaxation is key to proper activation on the exhale).
- Exhale to initiate light “zipping up” of your pelvic floor, lower belly (transverse abdominals), and lengthen through the top of your head (this helps to stimulate the fascia to connect better through your abdomen and body as well).
When held properly, you will feel a light core connection and be able to breathe deeply out to your sides and back. Holding this light deep core connection can help to strengthen your core daily, plus gives added stability to your spine. Initiate every exercise you do with this deep core activation to strengthen your abdominals and work on repairing diastasis recti, pelvic floor weakness and decrease annoying aches and pains.
3. Avoid Certain Exercises
It’s important to avoid exercises that put too much stress on your abdominals, at least until you are farther along with re-strengthening your core. This includes exercises such as:
- Crunches and forward flexion exercises, such as Pilates teasers and many other exercises that put you in this position. (Eventually you can add them back in after your core is strong and diastasis recti is healed, but crunches are not effective for properly strengthening your deep core. They are not recommended as a good abdominal exercise choice. At the least, do not rely on crunches as your main source of abdominal exercises.)
- Planks. (These may be okay towards the end of your re-strengthening process, but you do need to be able to feel your deep core muscles engage without feeling any added stress on your abdominals).
- Any exercises that cause “coning” of your belly or the bulge down the midline of your abdomen.
- Any exercises that cause ‘leaking down there’ or feeling of pressure pressing down on your pelvic floor. This indicates that exercise is causing too much stress for your pelvic floor. Skip those exercises for now and revisit later on once your core has become stronger.
Exercises great for strengthening your deep core:
Properly engaging your deep core before you move through an exercise can drastically help speed up your core recovery! These simple movements and exercises are great ones to focus on for strengthening your core:
- Standing, sitting and moving with good posture
- Squats (avoid letting your butt tuck to be able to feel your deep core muscles working when doing squats)
- Pelvic Tilts standing or laying on your back
- Hip Rolls (focusing on articulation of your spine and using your deep core and abdominals to move your body)
- Standing Rotational exercises (rotate your hips with you)