You use your core with everyday activities, such as lifting a baby, getting in and out of bed as well as carrying objects. The core is the foundation of support for the entire body.
The core is made up of several muscle groups, not just the rectus abdominis (superficial abdominal muscle). What happens if you only focus on the rectus abdominis and ignore strengthening the remaining muscle groups of the core: the transverse abdominis, low back, glutes (hips), pelvic floor and oblique muscles? You’ll end up with a significant muscle imbalance which will lead to poor posture, inhibit functional mobility and increase the likelihood of injury and pain.
I can promise you doing crunches all day isn’t going to strengthen your core. It will help strengthen your rectus abdominis, but keep in mind that is just one superficial abdominal muscle.
Let’s dive into more details regarding must know tips for core strengthening:
- First, learn how to find your neutral spine position. Correct posture is one major factor in postpartum recovery. (click here for video to find neutral spine)
- Postural awareness. Have someone take a picture of you from the side. What does your posture look like? Is your head forward? Shoulders rounded? What does the curvature of the spine look like? Shoulders and rib cage should be stacked over the pelvis and NOT forward. Poor posture can put increased pressure on the pelvic floor. So it’s imperative we first improve our posture before exercising- I have several social media and blog posts referring to posture.
- Learn how to engage your transverse abdominis (TA) muscle and how to activate it when performing more complex exercises (planks, push ups, etc). The transverse abdominis muscle, also known as “the corset” muscle is the deepest layer of the abdominals. It is called the “corset muscle” because it wraps around your spine and pelvis, holding everything in. It is a major stabilizer of the spine and pelvis. CLICK HERE to watch the video on how to properly activate your TA muscle which correlates with breathing.
- Begin with strengthening the abdominals (safely) BEFORE strengthening other body parts (arms, legs). This is very important for postpartum moms. For example, don’t go straight to doing squats, planks and deadlifts (ie.- after having a baby) when your core is obviously weaker. All of the above exercises will increase pressure on your pelvic floor. It’s essential to make sure your pelvic floor (and abdomen) is able to handle the pressure. If not, hello prolapse or hernia.
- Start with gentle and simple abdominal strengthening exercises. For example, let's say you just had a baby. Please don’t begin with planks, push ups or crunches. Begin with gentle TA activation and slowly progress from there. (See videos below)
- Perform exercises with the correct form, posture and in sync with your breathing. If you can’t perform the exercise with correct form, refrain from doing it to avoid injury. You may end up doing more harm than good. For example, if your abdominals and glutes are weaker and you start with planks, you will likely compensate by dropping your hips because you are not strong enough to keep your spine straight.
- As your abdominals become stronger, then progress to exercises that work multiple muscle groups (arms and legs) and are more functional and challenging. For example, deadlifts, lunges, squats and push ups are more difficult exercises that work multiple muscle groups and require a strong core. You can progress the exercises by adding weight or increasing repetitions. Everyone is different with how they progress when it comes to exercise, especially postpartum. One major factor is your fitness level prior to pregnancy.
For strengthening the CORE, let's break it down by each muscle group:
Transverse Abdominis (TA): Click here to watch video
- Contraction of the TA (isolation)
- TA contraction + heel slides
- TA contraction + knee lifts
- Dead bug
Obliques: Click here to watch video
- Side plank + dips
- Side plank + reach under
- Side plank + hip abduction
Pelvic Floor: Click here to watch video
- Bridges + hip adduction with ball
- TA contraction + heel taps
- TA contraction in quadruped position (lift pelvic floor)
- Kegel (perform with breathing- video with instructions here)
Back Muscles: Click here to watch video
Glutes: Click here to watch video
- Clamshells (with or without band)
- Bridges with abduction
- Side plank + hip abduction
If you are looking for support on your postpartum journey, head over to my private Facebook group, The Healthy Mama Huddle.