The role of the core is to manage and transfer load and intra-abdominal pressure (this is the case in any client). However pregnancy and birth and the changes to your postural alignment and the function and quality of pelvic floor muscle and tissue, may mean that the core cannot do it’s job properly. A movement like a crunch creates a lot of intra-abdominal pressure which if the body cannot manage will only further weaken a weak core, worsen a diastasis recti (the distancing of the outer abdominals) and push down on the pelvic floor – not ideal!
The core is more than just your 6 pack muscles too – think of it as a cyclinder with the diaphragm at the top, pelvic floor muscles as the base, the abdominal muscles which wrap around front and your spinal muscles around the back. If pressure gets too much this can cause or worsen existing issues – pelvic floor issues such as incontinence and leaking, pelvic organ proplapse, diastasis recti etc.
So whilst we are dissing crunches, I may as well mention a few other exercises that should be avoided for the post natal client (that’s not to say they can’t be done further down the line but whilst the body is healing they are not appropriate).
The plank position creates a lot of downward pressure through the front of the abdominals which if in an already weakened state can be detrimental to their healing and engagement. You often see people doing planks and holding their breath whilst going a funny colour in the face – they probably arent even activating their core!
The combined plank and jump that makes a burpee so delightful is not ideal for someone with a weak core and pelvic floor – we have already discussed the plank position but adding a high impact movement like a jump creates downward force on the pelvic floor.
Box jumps/jumping exercises
Again, the high impact nature of this exercise creates downward pressure on the pelvic floor and in order to counteract this pressure, the pelvic floor needs to be strong and functioning well. It is often during these jumping type exercises that post natal women experience some leaking – a sign that all is not well with the core.
The great news is that if you are desperate to do burpees again (seriously?!) you can work back up to higher impact exercise after having a baby but first you need to ensure correct engagement and activation of the PF floor:
– you can engage your deep abdominals and pelvic floor – try this lying on your back, sitting and standing. This should incorporate a squeeze and lifting of the whole pelvic floor on the exhale breath
– you can engage the deep abdominal muscles and your pelvic floor when exercising – this should be done on the exhale (or the hardest part of the exercise) to create natural tension (that pre pregnancy your body did automatically)
– using the deep core while performing functional movements like squats, lunges, pushing, pulling, bending and rotating (depending on the level of diastasis a women has) helps to build strength in our core without the need for crunches and planks and also mimic the movements we do everyday
And remember, a flat tummy isn’t just about the exercise! Remember that meme? “Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym”, well, eating a diet which is low in alcohol, sugar, caffeine and processed food and high in protein, good fats, veggies and fruits will not only help your body to heal after giving birth but will also reduce bloating and digestive problems.