After you give birth, it’s normal for your entire midsection to seem quite foreign. Perhaps it seems like you have no abdominal muscles at all. First, do not panic. This is completely normal. Second, PLEASE do not act on any urge to do thousands of sit-ups or planks in an attempt to “get your abs back,” as this can have the opposite effect. You can absolutely have a strong core again, perhaps even stronger than it was prior to pregnancy, but it does require a methodical approach to recovery. In this piece, we’ll discuss the most important muscles to focus on, 5 powerful core recovery exercises, and some important tips to expedite your recovery.
Muscles to Focus on: Your “Core Canister”
Just as building a house requires starting with a strong foundation, the same is true for your core. We must rebuild the core from the inside out — starting with the deep core muscles of your Core Canister below. When these muscles are strong and functioning optimally, you reap a laundry list of benefits, including improved health, fewer pains & injuries (including diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction), and yes — a flatter tummy.
5 Core Recovery Exercises
Now let’s discuss 5 powerful exercises that strengthen these critical Core Canister muscles. Move through the exercises below in numerical order (not progressing onto the next move until you’ve mastered the previous). Spend about 5-8 minutes (1-2 times per day) focusing on a few of the techniques until you gradually move through them. While these may not feel like the traditional core exercises you are used to, after 1-2 weeks of consistent daily practice, you will feel a difference.
1. 360° Breathing: We call this the #1 most effective core exercise because it activates all your Core Canister muscles and gets them working together in harmony. Watch the video below, which explains not only how to perform the exercise, but how to incorporate it into all your movements to dramatically improve the effectiveness of every move you do. Master this move, and it’s like doing over 20,000 reps per day of the best core work there is.
2. 360° 2-Step Exhales: This is a progression on 360° Breathing that increases the activation in your transverse abdominis (TVA) — your largest and innermost abdominal muscle (AKA your body’s “inner girdle”).
3. PFAs-Slow and Fast: These exercises target the “floor of your core” or pelvic floor. These can be tricky to master at first, so the video below takes you on a step-by-step process to first find your pelvic floor muscles (HINT: your “pee-stopping” muscles are only the front!), then activate them, and finally coordinate your pelvic floor movement with your 360° Breathing.
4. Core Canister Pump: Now we begin to combine some of the movements you learned. This is essentially a PFA-Slow with a stronger TVA contraction on the exhale. The goal is to strengthen the “walls and floor” of your deep core unit.
5. Core Canister Hold: Think of this move as doing a vertical plank. It begins just like the Core Canister pump, but then you hold this contraction while you continue to take breaths (similar to how you’d hold the contraction it you were holding a plank for several seconds). Begin with just 2-3 breath cycles, then gradually work your way up.
Additional Tips to Expedite Your Recovery
In addition to performing the exercises above (5-8 minutes, 1-2 times per day), below are two additional tips that have a BIG impact on your recovery speed.
- Watch your alignment: These exercises are perhaps just 10 minutes of your day. How you move throughout the other 16-18 waking hours of your day (or 22 if you’re a new parent) has a significant impact on your recovery speed. Watch this video for tips on how to find, and move, in neutral alignment to protect your core and allow it to heal faster.
- Avoid traditional core work (at first): Going back to the house analogy, if you attempt to build the walls and ceilings before establishing a solid foundation, the ramifications will not be good. Watch this video on core exercises to avoid while your muscles are healing.
More Resources to Support Your Recovery
We have designed an 8-week Core Recovery Program that we take all postpartum clients through (whether you are a few days or several years postpartum) to rebuild the core and heal from diastasis recti. You can purchase this program on its own, or in conjunction with core-safe total body workouts in our postpartum training program. Or, for more personalized support, consider working with a PROnatal Personal Trainer.
Are You a Health & Fitness Professional?
If you are interested in working with postpartum women, and learning the details of our Core Recovery Protocol, consider taking our professional education to become a Pre/Postnatal Performance Training Specialist.