During pregnancy, the body adapts to the weight and strain of carrying the baby but in order to accommodate the growing bump, the abdominal muscles are stretched and it is very common for the Rectus Abdominis muscles to separate. This is totally normal and with time the muscles fuse back together. There are just a few things to bear in mind in order to help the muscles reconnect effectively. From a postnatal perspective, it is incredibly important that the core muscles are trained in a safe and appropriate manner to bring the muscles back together properly and re-engage the pelvic floor muscles.
Whether you have had a natural birth or a c-section, you must ensure that your GP has declared you ready to return to exercise. Ask your GP or an exercise professional to help you check for Diastasis Recti. A tummy gap or Diastasis Recti is a gap of roughly 2.7cm or more between the 2 sides of the muscle that covers the front surface of the tummy area (Rectus Abdominis Muscle). If you have one, it is important to recover and reduce this gap which an expert can help you with. Remember any crunches or abdominal curls should not be completed if you have or are in any doubt about your tummy gap.
The abdominals are formed of numerous layers of inter-connected muscles that largely wrap your central and vital organs and they are muscles that need to be trained carefully and deeply to help them return to their pre-baby state. Whereas much focus is placed on the external muscles, it is important to also focus on the smaller deeper muscles to reinforce the core from the inside outwards. One of the most effective ways to reach the deeper set muscles is with controlled and regulated breathing.
For a lot of postnatal mums, the art of breathing and engaging the core muscles correctly requires some reminding and retraining. It is hugely important to restore good breathing techniques in order to form a foundation for which to grow on.
How to breathe correctly
- Lying on your back place one hand on your tummy and the other hand on the side of your ribcage.
- Breathe into your tummy and into the sides of the ribcage feeling your tummy rise and your ribcage expand.
- As you breathe out, you should feel your tummy relax.
Once you have mastered this and you are sure you are activating your pelvic floor muscles you can move onto movement-based exercises.
The following sequence of exercises has been specifically designed to ensure that your core is activated from the rib cage to the pelvis and the pelvic floor should be engaged during each set of exercises. Always ensure that you maintain a strong and controlled breathing technique.
Hip Bridges – Aim to do 2 sets of 12 reps
- Lying on your back bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor.
- Raise the hips off the floor squeezing your glutes (bum) and activating your pelvic floor muscles.
- Hold at the top for 2 seconds and relax.
Squats – Aim to do 2 sets of 12 reps
- Start with your feet hip width apart.
- Breathe in as you sit back into the squat as if to sit onto a chair.
- Keep a neutral back throughout with weight evenly through your heels.
- Squeeze your bum to stand back upright to starting position, exhaling as you stand.
Half Press Ups – Aim to do 2 sets of 8 reps
- Start on your knees with your hands under your shoulders.
- Knees, hips and shoulders should all be aligned.
- Breathe in as you bend your elbows wide and lower the chest to the floor.
- Keep your head aligned with your spine.
- Breathe out as you push yourself back to the starting position.
Remember only ever do as much as you feel you can do, listen to your body and ease into it.
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NB: Always consult your doctor or health practitioner before embarking on any new exercise regime.