How to get your Abs back after baby!
Today I’m talking about healing your abdominal muscles and gaining your strength back after baby. I was sort of scared of what my stomach was going to look like after I gave birth. Truth is, once I delivered my daughter, it was the last thing on my mind. I had a long labor but a relatively straight forward vaginal delivery ( thank you epidural) if that makes sense. I’ll never forget going to the bathroom for the first time and getting a chance to look in the mirror. Excuse me, but I thought I just pushed a baby out of my lady parts, why do I still look about 6-7 months pregnant? Again, I was so tired I decided not to I worry about it at the moment. Once I came home from the hospital, I started to wear my Belly Bandit post partum girdle that I had read rave reviews about online. This was one of my favorite post partum products. Actually, all of their post partum products are just amazing and worth every penny! I feel as though the Belly Bandit helped to shrink my uterus back to size along with nursing. More importantly, it gave me support and made me feel more comfortable when I was walking around since I was experiencing some lower abdominal/pelvic pain.
After about 2-3 weeks post partum, I was dying to do some form of exercise. I knew I wasn’t ready to go back to the gym so with my doctor’s clearance I began walking and gentle abdominal exercises. I definitely had the dreaded “mommy pooch” around my lower abdomen. I honestly wasn’t in a hurry to lose it as I was so focused on the baby and nursing, but I wanted to start something to work on getting my abs back. I developed some back pain from not being able to work my abs as I’m used to during pregnancy and I knew that adding some strengthening back into my life would help.
The most important thing you can do for yourself on your road back to abs is to learn how to properly activate your transverse abdominus (TrA) muscle ( the deeper abdominal muscle). Think of your TrA as your internal support system, if this muscle is strong you can take on the world. You need this muscle to work properly so you can decrease intra-abdominal pressure and perform activities such as bending, lifting and squatting without a problem.
So here are the exercises that helped me on my way to getting my abs back after delivery without causing any increased discomfort or pelvic pain.
- TrA contraction. Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You can also do this standing with your back against a wall if you prefer. Take a deep inhale; on your exhale draw your belly button in towards your spine. Do not “suck it in.” You should feel your abs and waistline tightening. I also like to engage my pelvic floor muscles when I do this. Think about tightening the muscles around your pelvis as though you are trying to draw a marble up into you. Hold this contraction for 5 seconds. Repeat 2-3 sets of 10. Work your way up to 15-20 second holds as you get stronger. This forms the basis for the following exercises: you always want to engage your core first before you starting adding in more movements.
- Heel slides. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on floor and your back in a neutral position (halfway between a flat back and an arched back). Engaging your core ( TrA), inhale as you slide one foot out until your leg is straight, exhale and bring this leg back to the original position. Repeat on the opposite side. Perform 15 reps on each side. Remember to keep your spine in neutral the entire time.
- Leg extensions: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your back in a neutral position as described above. Engage your core to keep your back from arching. Maintain steady breathing while you lift one leg up to 90 degrees at the hip keeping the knee bent. Extend or straighten the leg close to the ground at the same time. Alternate legs and keep you back and pelvis completely still at all times. Do not let your back arch. Repeat 30x.
- Single leg heel tap: Lie on your back with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees. Keep your lower back flat against the floor and keep your navel drawn in towards your spine. Inhale as you lower one leg to tap your heel to the floor then exhale as you bring your leg back up to 90 degrees. Repeat this on opposite side for 30x total.
- Single leg lower: Lie on you back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, spine in neutral position. Engage your core and inhale as you bend one knee up towards your chest and slowly straighten your leg. Exhale as you slowly lower your leg ( keeping the knee straight) down towards the floor, making sure to avoid arching your back to keep your core engaged; return to start position. Repeat on opposite side. 15x each
- Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage your core, squeeze your butt and lift your hips up off the floor: until your thighs are in a straight line with your torso. Slowly lower down one vertebrae at a time: think upper back, middle back then lower back, so your spine curls on the way down. This protects your lower back and helps to engage your core muscles. Repeat 30x. Extra points for adding baby!
- Bridge with march: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage your core as described above and lift you hips up until your thighs are in a straight line with your torso. Keep your back completely still and now lift one knee up towards your chest, and extend your knee. Lower your leg down and repeat on the opposite side, with your hips lifted and back straight. Lower back down to start, that’s one rep. Repeat 15x each side.
- Side planks: Lay on your side with your body in straight line, elbow directly under your shoulder. Engage your core while keeping your back straight, lift your knees and hips up off the floor. If you need to you can place one hand in front of you just to steady yourself. Hold this for 20 seconds. Repeat 3x on each side. Work up to 60 seconds. If this is too much for you to start, you can modify this exercise and still get great results. To modify, simply bend your knees ( keep the knees on the floor) and lift your hips up off the ground.
- Navasana or boat pose. Sit on the floor or yoga mat with good posture drawing your navel in towards your spine Bring your knees in towards your chest and extend your legs out in front of you. Try not to rock backwards too much. This is more of an advanced abdominal exercise so a great way to modify is to keep your knees bent or to keep one foot on the ground until you are ready to progress. Hold this for 30 seconds, repeat 5x.
- Squats! Last but not least, my favorite exercise for so many reasons. It’s such a great functional exercise that works many different muscle groups and engages the transverse abdominus (TrA). To perform correctly stand with your feet apart ( about hip width) and feet slightly turned out. Engage your core as you inhale and lower into a squat position. Make sure you keep your heels down and that you are keeping your weight through your heels (your knees should never go over your toes). I always tell my patients you should still be able to see your big toes! Exhale as you push up through your heels and return to start position. You can keep your hands on your hips or bring your arms in front of you for balance. If you feel unsteady you can hold onto a chair! Perform 3 sets of 15 reps.
So this is my list of what worked best for me and helped me on my way to getting my abs back after delivering my baby. Always consult with your doctor first before beginning any exercise program post partum. I found these exercises to be challenging in the beginning because I felt so weak. As I got stronger I was able to push myself and progress back to more advanced ab exercises. There will be many more workouts to come! Follow me on social media and subscribe to my email for the latest workouts, fitness tips, recipes and more!
Dr. Allie Flowers, PT, DPT, RYT