Guest Post – Helene Byrne, Help….I Still Look Pregnant!

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pregnantMany new moms assume that they should to do lots of crunches to get their bellies back in shape again. Right? Well, actually no. In fact, exercises like crunches and others that lift the upper body off the floor, actually prevent the abdomen from re-flattening, and worsen/prevent healing of diastasis recti (abdominal separation), leading to the dreaded “mummy-tummy.”

In fitness, what you practice is what you get, and this is why these exercises are not advisable for new moms.

This is because these types of traditional ab exercises primarily work the external abdominal muscles (the Rectus Abdominis and External Oblique), which flex the spine to the front and side. After pregnancy, these muscles can easily overpower the relatively weaker, yet much more important, deepest abdominal muscle, the Transverse Abdominis, or TvA. When this occurs, the abdomen bulges outward during exertion. In fitness, what you practice is what you get, and this is why these exercises are not advisable for new moms.

The secret to flattening the abs after pregnancy and to rehabbing abdominal separation is to recondition from the inside out—by building strength and control in your TvA first. This muscle is your body’s internal “girdle” and when contracted, compresses the abdominal wall, narrows the waistline, and provides core stability.

Belly Buster TvA Exercise

1. Lie on your side with a small pillow under your head, knees bent, hips stacked, and spine neutral. Relax your abdominal wall and allow it to expand.

2. Inhale deeply, and then exhale slowly while hissing forcefully through you teeth. As you hiss, tighten your abdomen, pulling your belly up away from the floor, and in toward your spine as much as you can. Keep your torso completely still, maintaining the neutral spine position.

3. Hold the contraction for a few moments, breathing naturally. (Take care that you don’t relax your abs as you breathe, keep them tight.)

4. Inhale deeply, repeat the hiss/exhalation and try to increase the intensity of the abdominal compression. Maintain the abdominal contraction, breathing fully.

5. Repeat the exhalation/hiss with abdominal compression a third time, trying to increase the intensity of the contraction even more.

6. Exhale, relax your abdominal wall allowing it to soften and expand naturally. (Don’t push it outward.)

7. Perform 4 repetitions to complete one set. Perform four or more sets daily.

BeFit-Mom Training Tips

• If you have difficulty breathing, it is because you are “sucking up” and contracting your diaphragm instead of your TvA. Try to isolate the contractions below your belly button.
• Remember, the TvA does not move bone. Keep you spine—particularly your upper body—completely still.
• Use mental imagery. Imagine that you have on an old fashioned corset, that is getting tighter and tighter as you compress your abdominal wall.

After your TvA has regained adequate strength (in about three weeks or so of regular conditioning) you can progressively add in other postpartum rehab exercises that train the muscle to function as a stabilizer. Don’t despair if you had your last child years ago, or have been doing the wrong exercises, this method will banish your “mummy-tummy” and have you looking your best in no time!

Helene Byrne, founder of BeFit-Mom, is an internationally recognized pre and postnatal exercise specialist, and author of the award winning DVD “Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning” and the acclaimed book, “Exercise after Pregnancy: How to Look and Feel Your Best.”