When I started my PT training, I learned that one of the exercises I needed to perfect for my practical exam was the crunch (or abdominal curl up).
I was annoyed.
I hate crunches, doesn’t everyone?
But I hate them for reasons other than they suck to do. I hate them because they aren’t very functional, and they usually do more harm than good. And guess what? They probably aren’t doing anything to help you flatten your stomach, especially if you’re postpartum and have a diastasis recti (DR). They also can wreak havoc on your spine and your pelvic floor. Bet you didn’t know that either?
A lot of women with DR experience a ‘belly pooch’ or feel as though they still look pregnant weeks (or months) after birth. So they think, I just need to train my abs to suck that tummy in, so they get on the floor and crunch, crunch, crunch until they cannot crunch anymore. And they still have a pooch, or sometimes it even gets worse! This is because DR is the thinning of the linea alba down the middle of the abs. The linea alba is the line of connective tissue that all of your abdominal muscles attach to, and it runs vertically from your ribs to your pubic bone, between the rectus abdominus, or 6-pack muscles. When you crunch, you increase your intra-abdominal pressure, pull on all of those abdominal muscles, and increase the tension on the linea alba. If it is already weakened, such as in DR, then you are just adding to the damage. If you’ve ever done a crunch and noticed a bulge in the middle of your belly, that’s your linea alba failing to support the pressure inside your belly.
So if this pressure can affect the linea alba, it only makes sense that it also affects the pelvic floor. In my previous post I talked about the pelvic floor being a trampoline that is stretched out postpartum. Which means, if your pelvic floor is already stretched and weak, then it will have a difficult time supporting the increased abdominal pressure created with crunches and it will delay the healing of the pelvic floor. This puts you at an even higher risk of incontinence or prolapse.
Now, my goal is to encourage women to focus on rehabilitation and training their body postpartum to be as highly functioning as possible. But, I know realistically, a lot of women will also have goals relating to their appearance, and that’s okay. The good news is repairing a DR will help in both because not only will it help your core function better, it will help reduce waist size, or that ‘mummy pooch’, which I know a lot of women struggle with.
I know I felt like my whole life changed so drastically after nugget was born, all I wanted was to feel normal in my body, to have that be one thing that was the same. So I get it, I understand wanting your clothes to fit and wanting to feel attractive to your partner. It doesn’t make you vain to feel this way. What I don’t agree with is sacrificing function in order to look a certain way, I believe we can have both! It might take a little more time and we have to let go of that ‘training ego’ that says we have to do crunches or whatever, because there are better ways of doing things.
The key to tummy is the transverse abdominus (TA), or the deepest ab muscles and learning how to engage them properly. Most people have difficulty connecting with these muscles without engaging their more superficial core muscles like the obliques and the rectus. But if you’ve ever ‘sucked your stomach in’ the TA is what you are using. It is also important to engage your pelvic floor when you engage your TA as they work together, which I learned from The Pelvic Floor Piston: Foundation for Fitness when I did the program. The core muscles are a team and you have to train them together in order for them to function well.
Now you don’t have to be training to practice working with your core. The core is always on, always part of your daily movements. If you didn’t have your core, you wouldn’t be able to stand up or lift anything, or breath or cough. In fact, once you’re a mom, it’s even more important that you learn to engage your core through your daily activities. Think about how much you lift in a day, your baby, laundry, groceries. That’s all lifting! These are perfect opportunities to practice engaging your core and sneak little workouts in throughout the day. Think about lifting your PF and bringing in your TA every time you pick the little one up & every time you carry a load of laundry. Pretty soon you’ll get better and better at being able to feel those muscles and engage them appropriately. If you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing and can’t connect with those muscles no matter how hard you try, I encourage you to seek out a pelvic health physio in your area who can help you learn to use them properly.
While I am in the process of obtaining my PT certification with prenatal/postpartum specialization, I’m not quite there yet. Even then, I won’t be able to help everyone, but I don’t want that to hold you back from reaching your goals. My lovely friend Lorraine Scapens over at Pregnancy Exercise has most generously offered to give my readers a 10% discount on her programs that I used when pregnant and still use postpartum; Fit2BirthMum & Birth2FitMum as well as her other programs Super Fit Mum & No More Mummy Tummy Challenge. Simply enter the discount code ‘HMHB‘ at checkout to get your 10% off!