By: Alex Barrett
During and after pregnancy, the mother and her body go through a number of changes. Soon after the baby is born, most moms want to get back in shape and shed some baby weight. Unfortunately, there exist many unsafe resources that offer training and bootcamps to “get mom’s back their old bodies.” It is important to realize that the body may not be exactly the same as it used to be due to the intense physical changes that have taken place.. However, a woman’s body is fully capable of regaining a new, healthy level of strength and overall wellness.
The core is the primary area of the body to go through extreme changes during pregnancy; therefore, it is important to understand the four elements that make up the core. First, the diaphragm is a skeletal muscle that aids in respiration and works directly with the pelvic floor. During inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward. During exhalation, it stretches out and moves upward. Next, the transverse abdominis are the deepest abdominal layer, running horizontal and protecting the lumbar spine (low back), acting almost like a girdle. Third, the multifidus muscles are grouped along the spine, running from the cervical spine to the sacrum. The superficial muscle group (closest to the skin surface) helps keep the spine straight, while the deep muscle group helps to stabilize the spine. The more this muscle is strengthened, the less likely a person is to have low back pain. The last of the core four, the pelvic floor, is a group of muscles, nerves, tendons, blood vessels, ligaments, and connective tissue in the pelvis. Both women and men have this support system for the pelvic organs.
One major core condition that takes place during pregnancy is called diastasis recti abdominis. This is when the rectus abdominis separates into two sections on either side of the linea alba, which is a fibrous band running vertically down the center of the anterior abdominals between the two rectus abdominal muscles. It is usually noticeable after delivery and in most cases will begin to heal itself within the first eight weeks with corrective exercises. Some of the symptoms associated with diastasis are low back pain, pelvic or sacroiliac joint pain, incontinence, and increased risk of injury. If unsafe exercises are prescribed, it can make the separation worse and/or slow the healing process.
When postnatal women decide it’s time to return to an exercise program, it is extremely important to perform safe and appropriate corrective exercises. One of the best exercises for regaining core strength, more specifically the pelvic floor, is the pelvic tilt. To perform this movement, the woman should lie on her back with knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. During the exhale, the low back should be pressed against the floor and the pelvis should tilt toward the direction of the head. It should feel as if the belly button is being drawn to the spine and floor. This is also a safe exercise because it does not place pressure on the abdominal wall in a prone (downward, facing the floor) position.
Another safe and effective exercise is the lying hip thrust. This is excellent for strengthening and shaping the glutes, which help to support the pelvis, pelvic floor, and the low back. In addition, the hip thrust will also actively engage the hamstrings, quadriceps, and adductor muscles, resulting in improved strength of the entire thigh. Start by lying on the back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart, and arms resting at the sides. Press through your heels, activate the glutes, and lift the hips off the floor. Your weight should rest on your heels and your upper back. Extend your hips until they form a straight line with your knees and shoulders. Make sure the end range of motion comes from the hips, squeezing the glutes together at the top of the movement. Hold the contraction for 1-2 seconds and then return to the starting position. This exercise requires no equipment, does not take up much space, and can be performed anywhere.
There are a variety of appropriate exercises that can be performed post pregnancy; be sure to find a professional trainer who can safely guide the exercise program along. The convenience factor is an added bonus! The majority of exercises can be performed in the comfort of your own home with little or no equipment needed, all while keeping an eye on the baby! This will make for happy and healthy Mom!