Postpartum return to abdominal exercises – How you will know if you are ready to start abdominal exercises again.

Here is a great guideline to see if your postpartum abdominal muscles are ready for exercise class, Pilates, whatever abdominal exercises you like.

Do a curl up test

  • Ask your self: Do I have any pain? (pain in back, pelvis – wherever, we really shouldn’t exercise with pain)
  • Then check yourself with your fingers, feeling for a separation between the two Rectus Abdominis muscles (the 6 pack muscles).  Put two fingers just above your belly button, press in a little bit, then lift your head. You should feel the muscle harden or tighten under your fingers. If you feel a gap between two edges of hard muscle – this is a Diastasis Recti Abdominis.  Please don’t panic!!!! This is somewhat normal after having a baby.  Anything less than about 2 finger widths is considered “normal”, wider than that and perhaps you are still healing, narrower than that and you really don’t need to worry at all (But always consult with your physician/Physical Therapist)

Some postpartum research shows that whatever amount of gap that is present at 8 weeks postpartum is most likely what will be there at 1 year – unless you do some exercises that help it.  We think that exercises that you can physically feel close the gap or at least don’t make it any wider are the only exercises you should do.  Definitely don’t do any exercise that makes your separation wider.  More to follow in upcoming blog posts……

  • Look for any bulging or doming of your abdomen. This can be either where your abdominal contents are pushing up against your abdominal wall, or really weak muscles.  This will be a fairly noticeable rise in your abdomen – like more than 2 inches.  It’s not necessarily dangerous, but imagine that if you want your abdominal muscles to be flat again one day, training them to bulge out is not the answer.  We advise that you don’t do any exercise that is too hard and makes your abdomen bulge out.
  • Do you feel any pressure in your pelvic floor?  Does it feel like your bladder or vagina is being pushed down?   If it is, then your pelvic floor muscles aren’t strong enough to support the extra pressure in your abdomen when you do the exercise. Use this bit of wisdom throughout your lifetime as a mom – please don’t do exercise or strain with lifting  – anything that sacrifices your pelvic floor – your future self will love you for following this wisdom now!

So if you do the curl up test and feel good with all of these questions, then start your exercise routine after 6 weeks postpartum for a non-complicated vaginal delivery and after your doctor or midwife gives you the thumbs up for a C-section or a complicated vaginal delivery (tearing, episitomy, etc).

If you don’t “pass” these tests then start with gentle contractions of your pelvic floor, learn to connect with your deep abdominal muscles without holding your breath or tightening through your lower rib area.  The deep core muscles don’t move you, so your body should not do a crunch or a pelvic tilt with this deep core isometric exercise.  Just work on the coordination of tightening the deep core to pre-set your body in good alignment.  Once you can do that, then do it before you do any movement like lifting your baby, reaching in the fridge or brushing your teeth – whatever.

More to come in an upcoming blog.

“It’s very common to expect that our bodies will simply ‘bounce back’ after we have a baby.  And this can be the case, especially after the first and if you were fit entering the pregnancy.  But it is often not so.  As we’ve said before, the deep core muscles frequently need specific postpartum training to teach them how to properly support your body again. In my practice I often see women who start back into their old exercise routine as soon as their physician clears them to (or sooner!) without guidelines on how to do that safely.  We hope these videos give you the guidance you need!” -Meghan

Are you ready to start exercising? Am I ready to do leg lift exercises?

Leg lift test

While lifting one leg, ask yourself the same set of questions as for the curl up test above.

  • Ask your self: Do I have any pain? (pain in back, pelvis – wherever, we really shouldn’t exercise with pain)
  • Check your abdomen with your fingers, feeling for a separation between the two Rectus Abdominis muscles (the 6 pack muscles).
  • Look for any bulging or doming of your abdomen.
  • Do you feel any pressure in your pelvic floor?  Does it feel like your bladder or vagina is being pushed down?
  • Are you a “chest gripper”?  Are you holding your breath? Or excessively tightening thru the bottom of your ribs?  A correct deep core muscle contraction (Transverse Abdominis and pelvic floor muscles) will pre-set the rest of your core muscles to stay drawn in low down, and you won’t have to strain higher in your abdominal muscles (Obliques, Rectus Abdominis)

So if you do the leg lift test and feel good with all of these questions, then start your exercise routine after 6 weeks postpartum for a non-complicated vaginal delivery and after your doctor or midwife gives you the thumbs up for a C-section or a complicated vaginal delivery (tearing, episitomy, etc).

“I don’t know a single woman on the planet who wants to train their stomach to stick out – but so many women do!” Jennifer

So many women are willing to do abdominal or core exercise incorrectly because they have either been taught incorrectly or they are so excited to get back into shape that they do exercises that are too hard and actually CAUSE their abdominal muscles to bulge out. If we want our abdominal muscles to get flat again, then we need to begin with exercises we are strong enough to do while keeping our abdomen flat, and without holding our breath!

If we do exercises that are too hard, then we just teach our bodies to compensate – our bellies bulge, we over stretch our pelvic floors, we hurt our lower back.

We have been there, and we don’t want you to journey down this bumpy road.  If you have specific questions, please let us know in the comment section.

Stay tuned for our upcoming blogs on the deep core and how to train your abdominal muscles correctly.

xo

Meghan and Jennifer

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