Working with postpartum women can be incredibly rewarding because the guidance and techniques you provide can transform their core strength, function, and potentially their quality of life. PROnatal Fitness has developed a 3-Stage Core Recovery Protocol that can be used on any postpartum woman (regardless of how many weeks, months, or years she is postpartum). The protocol is also highly beneficial for Diastasis Recti and C-Section Recovery. In this piece, we share 5 exercises from our Core Recovery Protocol to help you get your clients started on a successful path to recovery.
Key Focus: The Core Canister
To effectively “rebuild” the core after the stresses of pregnancy and childbirth, we must work from the inside out — beginning with the critical Core Canister muscles, shown below. Recall that when this powerful group of muscles is strong and functioning properly, the benefits reaped are substantial — ranging from a flatter tummy to improved posture, fewer pains and injuries, and even better health.
Pregnancy and childbirth alter a woman’s connection to her Core Canister, so the very first step in postpartum core training is to re-establish the brain-to-core connection to get these muscles firing properly again. When this is accomplished, then we can focus on building core strength and capacity.
5 Postpartum Core Recovery Exercises
Since the initial goal of postpartum core recovery is to re-establish the brain-to-core connection, the first part of the PROnatal Core Recovery protocol focuses on movements that work the smaller, more isolated components of the Core Canister. We explain these movements below, then cover how to teach and progress your clients through this series.
- 360° Breathing: This is the first and most fundamental technique (for any client) to master, as proper breathing gets all the Core Canister muscles to function properly as a unit and regulate intra-abdominal pressure. If your client can master 360° Breathing, and make it become natural, it’s like doing over 20,000 reps per day of the most beneficial core exercise there is. WATCH VIDEO
- 360° 2-Step Exhales: This is a progression on 360° Breathing that increases emphasis on the exhale to increase TVA activation. WATCH VIDEO
- PFAs-Slow and Fast: Now, we want to increase activation of the traumatized pelvic floor muscles with PFAs (Pelvic Floor Activations). Watch this video for a step-by-step process to teach your clients how to access ALL their pelvic floor attachment points, and work them through a full range of motion. You’ll also discover why we do not refer to these exercises as “Kegels.” WATCH VIDEO
- Core Canister Pump: This movement is essentially a PFA-Slow with a stronger TVA contraction on the exhale. So, if we think of that Core Canister, it’s a stronger contraction of both the walls and floor on the exhale (followed by full relaxation on the inhale). WATCH VIDEO
- Core Canister Hold: This movement begins the same as the Core Canister Pump, but after the initial exhale, the TVA and PF contraction are held through a series of breath cycles (starting with only 2 breath cycles, then progressing upward up to 30 seconds). WATCH VIDEO
How to teach the Core Recovery Exercises
Teach the exercises above in a seated position in numerical order, progressing only upon mastery of each technique. Spend about 5 – 8 minutes at the beginning of every session focusing on these techniques. Keep it manageable. Be careful not to throw too much at her at once, or overly fatigue her muscles (as she still has to get through the rest of her workout).
Whatever exercises you give her during your session, you should also assign to her as “homework” to do 1-2 times per day. So, for example, say you do the following sequence in your session. You would give her this exact same sequence to do on her own.
- 1 min: 360° Breathing (6 – 8 breaths)
- 1 min: 360° 2-Step Exhales (6 – 8 breaths)
- 1 min: 3-5 PFAs-Slow + 8-10 PFAs-Fast
- Rest and repeat
Continue to work your way through the 5 movements until she masters all of them. Then, you can progress to other positions, like supine and quadruped (but do not progress a woman to quadruped if she still has a Diastasis Recti gap of over 3 finger widths).
These movements should help re-establish that brain-to-core connection and begin building a solid foundation. The next step in the Core Recovery Protocol is to build core strength and capacity through larger, integrated patterns that include core control with limb movement. Learn the entire protocol by taking our Pre/Postnatal Performance Training Specialist Education.