There is one question that we get asked by nearly EVERY postpartum mom…
Which exercises are best for me to strengthen my core and abdominal muscles after I had a baby?
The simple answer is it depends. I know that this is not the answer you want to hear, but it really does depend. There is no one size fits all exercise that is going to get your abdominals back after having a baby. It depends on many factors:
- what you were doing pre-pregnancy
- What you were doing during your pregnancy
- how your abdominal muscles are working currently
- how everything coordinates together
I’m not going be giving you specific exercises, but instead I’m want to give you some things that you should be watching out for when you are exercising to make sure that things are working correctly. I, as a physical therapist, hate hearing people say that they should never do something. Our human body is amazing and there are definitely things and ways that we can modify so that people can be doing the things that they want be doing.
Here are my tips for the things that you should be watching out for so that you know that you’re potentially protecting and properly engaging through the abdominal muscles.
- If you are trying to decide if an exercise is appropriate for strengthening your postpartum core is you want to make sure first that you can breathe while you doing it. You should not have to hold your breath to complete and exercise. There are certain exercises when we doing very high level lifting, heavy lifting when breath holding can be a good strategy that needs to happen. However, for the vast majority of us especially when we’re just getting back to exercise, if you cannot properly engage your core muscles and breathe while performing the exercise then it’s probably not appropriate. And that goes for whether the exercise is specific to strengthening your core muscles or not.
- The other thing to think about if you are trying to make sure if a core exercise is appropriate is can you maintain a deep abdominal activation. At the start of a core strengthening exercise you should be able to gently draw in your abdominal muscles on an exhale and maintain this muscle activation throughout the exercise. If during the exercise, your feel your abdominal muscles push forward/bulge out or maybe if your laying down, you feel your back arch off the ground then that’s the sign that your not using the abdominal muscles the right way anymore.
So, if you can’t keep breathing or maintain a deep abdominal muscle activation while doing the core exercise, then it’s not probably not an appropriate exercise for you yet. That doesn’t mean never, it just mean right now.
What can you do if you are in a situation where there is an exercise that you want to be doing but you’ve notice now that you’re doing it holding your breath and you’re belly pushes out every time you do it? This is the time to partner with a pelvic health physical therapist to evaluate what is going on in your abdominal wall that you may be not recruiting correctly. They can show you how to perform the activities correctly so that you can get back to doing the exercise that you want you be doing.
It’s my goal as a physical therapist to try and get you as active as you want to be, doing what you want to be doing, and working with you to achieve the goals that you want to achieve. Sometimes, we all just need a little help along the ways.