Core Restore: What women need to know to keep their core strong, healthy, and functional during their childbearing years.
There’s More to the Core…
Do a quick Google search on how to get a strong core after a baby and you will be overwhelmed with information, resources and recommendations. It’s easy for women to become confused on what is, and isn’t, safe after pregnancy. In the past women may have turned to their health care provider for information about how to rehabilitate their core after birth. Unfortunately, most caregivers are not up to date on exercise recommendations and may even advise patients to engage in traditional exercises like crunches, which are not effective at strengthening the core after baby. In fact, repeated crunches may actually increase the risk of pelvic floor weakness and organ prolapse.
At FITMOM, we combine our years of experience and leadership working with thousands of pre and postnatal women with the most current and evidence-based information. We combine that knowledge with practical application to get our mom’s moving in the right direction with our Best Practices!
Here are our recommendations that we share with all of our FITMOM clients.
During pregnancy and postpartum recovery we advise women to avoid the following common exercises, not because the activities are unsafe, but because when a woman’s core is weak, these exercises can further compromise core health:
Crunches and Neutral plank.
Repetitive crunches can cause or aggravate separation of the rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles) before or after pregnancy. Neutral Plank (face down) may not be appropriate because the eccentric (lengthening phase) of the exercise increases intra-abdominal pressure, also aggravating the separation.
Dynamic Twisting work
Dynamic twisting of the trunk, including traditional ab exercises like bicycle, or even certain sports, like ultimate frisbee, can cause sheer force along the midline (linea alba) causing or further aggravating a separation.
High impact or jumping activities
Impact work can lead to prolapse of the pelvic floor and in some cases, the internal organs. When your core health is not optimal and joint stability is compromised the risk of injury or prolapse is even greater. In our opinion, it’s not worth the risk.
Running also contributes to breaking down the function of the core and pelvic floor muscles caused by repeated impact. It’s not normal for you to pee a bit when you run, laugh, cough or sneeze. Even just little leak is cause for concern. Running during pregnancy and early postpartum can further contribute to weakening of the pelvic floor muscles and core.
Engaging in such heavy lifting that you recruit the valsalva maneuver is not recommended. This type of breath holding increases the pressure of your internal organs onto your pelvic floor muscles. When you are participating in weight training exercises you should be able to breathe throughout each repetition and avoid holding your breath. Sustained breath holding is also not recommended during uncomplicated vaginal births. Research has found that bearing down while breath holding prolonged the pushing phase and increased risk of instrument delivery and pelvic floor injury.
Now that you know what to avoid, here are FITMOM’s Best Practices to include in your Prenatal and Postpartum Health & Fitness Plan:
Learn proper transverse activation
Sadly, most people aren’t activating their transverse (deep lower abdominal muscles that work as a support sling ) properly. A culture of sitting, combined with poor posture, make most people very weak. In fact, in our practice very few people can even identify this muscle upon assessment. Learning to identify and activate this muscle will not only improve your core health but prevent other injuries as well.
Learn safe core health exercises from an up to date professional
It is normal to want to get your “abs” back postpartum. However, getting a six-pack and having good core health are two different things. Losing body fat on the abdomen is mostly nutrition based. Don’t confuse a flat stomach with a strong core. We have seen many a six-pack that was functioning poorly with separation and poor activation!
Stay active to support core health
This includes a balance of strength and flexibility training. Work on improving your posture and stretching common areas of tension in your body (chest, upper back, hamstrings and calf muscles).
Have your muscular balance assessed
This will help to minimize over or under recruitment of different muscle groups. Our bodies are very adaptive and when they are not working effectively will find creative ways to compensate, but this only contributes to more weakness. The weakness often presents itself as pain or tension in the body. Chronic discomfort is worthy of further investigation.
Build awareness into daily functional movement
Learn how to lift, carry, stand, sit and sleep with better alignment. Small changes to how you move yourself throughout your day will have a huge and lasting impact.
Andrea Page is the founder of FITMOM and has been seen on CTV and Breakfast Television. Andrea strives to create community wherever she goes and after more than 20 years in the business of fitness she knows that a sense of community keeps you fit, active, and healthy.
Andrea teaches pre and post-natal fitness here in Niagara, via Skype, or purchase one the FITMOM DVD’s available on her website.
Core Restore is one of FITMOM’s events that runs many times per year.