Tummy toning. We know that in today’s society, the pressure to look or feel a certain way are things we are still learning to face up to. For new mums there is an expectation cast by many that we must immediately be in the shape we were before our pregnancy journey.

That said, we spoke to pre and postnatal fitness expert Jane Wake, who recently launched a brand new post-pregnancy ‘Mummahood’ workout program on community wellness and fitness app, TRUCONNECT by TV.FIT. From appreciating your body for just how remarkable it is to finding your pace, and the moves to see you better off into the future, Jane shares her expert advice.

Learn to appreciate

Healing starts with appreciation, and what I love most about the human body is its ability to constantly evolve. Pregnancy is a long-term journey where your body is changing every day – it would be unnatural and unrealistic to expect things to simply return to ‘normal’ overnight. It is however normal to understand and appreciate that your body will always have the ability to develop, and to grow stronger and heal. Sometimes, it can take a little longer, but time is something that, in this instance, never need be an issue.

YOUR journey

In being realistic, the most important thing to know from the off is that your journey is exactly that, yours and no one else’s. Your birth story is one of the things that will make your journey unique and that extends to healing and recovery.

Yes, there will be instances where individuals recover seemingly instantly to many, but for me, recovery should never be treated as a quick fix, and it should not be time pressured – timeframes are individual and by not placing undue focus on them, I believe mums can heal happier and more effectively in the long-run.

The main thing is progression, and whether it be two steps forward, one step backwards or a consistent upwards curve, when it comes to exercise it is about listening to our bodies.

Heal from the inside, out!

When considering how best to take on the challenge that is recovery, variety will be your best friend. From pelvic floor focused moves to release work for the upper body, you must consider how to allow your body to progress naturally by allowing it to heal.

Breathwork that allows you to find your core muscles is the perfect place to start in rebuilding your body – it’s good to look back too as this will help you recognise challenge and again, to be realistic. When it comes to tummy toning, if you had a traumatic birth, then this will have had a bearing on how your core muscles are now and how you can start to rebuild them – you have to listen to your body.

Pelvic floor workouts are really important as you progress and will help you discover how to connect correctly to your deep abdominals. One of the biggest aspects that helps with working your abdominal region is understanding its connection to the pelvic floor. One in two women will suffer from pelvic floor issues after childbirth – the pelvic floor is a part of your core unit, so if one area is out of kilter it will impact on all the others.

One to try – breathwork for Mums: pelvic floor healing

This is a great, simple exercise to help you heal your pelvic floor muscles which may have become disconnected during childbirth. You can develop this by lying down with a pillow under your pelvis to elevate and promote healing further – always work on finding the most comfortable position for you.

1. Start by putting your hands onto your rib cage in a seated or kneeling position, focusing in on your breath. This will draw your shoulders down.
2. Bring your chin in and just take some nice big deep breaths.
3. If you can, breathe through your nose.
4. Focus as you breathe, on filling the rib cage – expand out to the side, and also out to the back.
5. Tuck your elbows in and try to have a connection to the sides and back of your rib cage.

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Do understand, don’t neglect the whole!

However far along post-pregnancy you are, recovery starts with understanding, and to approach ‘tummy toning’ aka stomach muscle repair you must first discover where your tummy muscles are at. During and after childbirth the majority of us will get a separation or ‘gap’ in the abdominal wall. The tummy gap itself is not the issue though – the issue is the integrity of the tissues in between the gap and recognizing that as the body doesn’t work in parts. It is more about the whole body and not just the tummy gap.

That said, it’s important to consider a programme that doesn’t focus on fixing just one body part. Tension in other areas can, for example, have a big impact on healing your stomach muscles and so it’s important to consider exercises that not only identify where you’re at but that address wider weaknesses in the body e.g. releasing hip and back pain.

By releasing other parts of the body, you will start to feel your tummy muscles working more. This approach has been successful for 17 years working with thousands of women through their pregnancy and postnatal journeys. It’s how I worked with mamas like Kimberley Wyatt from The Pussycat Dolls and it will work for you too!

One to try – understand your body: monitoring the line in the anterior abdominal wall

This is an important exercise to monitor how the linea alba in the abdominal wall separates and weakens. The issue is not the gap, but how strong you are. The integrity of the bridge needs to be strong to ‘bridge the gap’.

  • The first thing is to assess your tummy gap by lying onto your back – it is really important you turn onto your side first, then turning over.
  • In this position, you need to feel your tummy, straight onto the skin, by finding your belly button.
  • Take your fingers, two centimetres above your belly button and run them downwards, whilst you put your other hand behind your head.
  • Without thinking too much about it, lift your head up – as you come up you should be able to feel the gap.
  • Turn your fingers horizontal and feel how many fingers you can fit in the gap.
  • Repeat this and think about the bridge in the middle – if you can lose your fingers, and it feels soft, non-elastic/springy it means the fascia is loose.
  • Keep monitoring this over time, and if you don’t feel that the fascia is getting stronger and or the (gap) coming in, or you feel pain or discomfort, you should seek medical advice.

One to try – address the whole: release upper body tension

Upper body pain is a really common postnatal issue because of the shortening, rounding and picking up body shapes mothers get into to feed, care for and look after their babies. This causes a lot of stress on the chest and shoulders – a little massage ball, or any small hard ball for that matter can be great for tackling problem areas.

  • To start with, roll the ball gently into the chest wall, above your breasts, using your hand – you should feel a somewhat nice pressure as you roll the ball around your chest.
  • It is important to focus rolling the ball into the pectoral muscles and not on the breast tissue – try and roll the ball outwards, in the same direction the muscle’s fibres go.
  • Pull the opposite arm to the one which has the ball in backwards as you roll the ball around your chest – as you do so, you can try to press the ball a little harder, but it is important not to do this too aggressively. The idea is to again stimulate a nice pain feeling, gently treating the muscles and fascia in the area.
  • Repeat this rolling process, now focusing on going from your shoulder, diagonally out from your sternum towards your shoulder (you always move outwards). This targets the pec minor muscle, which is responsible for drawing the shoulders forward.
  • Your shoulders should now feel freer, as a form of release.
  • As an alternative exercise, hold your hands out in front as if you’re carrying a tray, elbows touching your ribs by your sides, Then, part the hands keeping your elbows tucked into your side, and open the chest, squeezing the shoulder blades back and down so you’re getting that feeling of length.

Tummy toning: slow and steady wins the race

It’s never too late to make a change and your eight weeks could be someone else’s two-year journey – there’s no strict timeline or rush to get back into exercise, but here are some handy phases that can set you on the right path from the off. You will find many of these have meaning for your long-term recovery journey:

Phase 1
0-2 weeks post-birth: time for healing, relaxing and releasing – focus on breathing and healing exercises.

Phase 2
2-4 weeks post-birth: start to walk a bit more – vital to listen to your body, by making sure there is no increased pain or bleeding.

Phase 3
4-6 weeks post-birth: increase your walking even more or try other forms of low impact, very gentle exercise.

Phase 4
6-8 weeks post-birth: you might be able to start doing some very light cardio or strength activity – good to focus on strength activity but not before you check with your doctor.

The Most Important Thing

It doesn’t matter when you start exercising – work out when is the right time for YOU to start exercising more and listen to your body!

Jane Wake’s ‘Mummahood’ programme is available exclusively on community wellness and fitness app, TRUCONNECT by TV.FIT. To find out more, visit TRUCONNECT.FIT or @fitness on Instagram.

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