When teaching how to correctly perform a Transverse abdominis contraction or pelvic tilt exercise, I was taught way back in PT school to give the cue “draw or pull your belly button in toward your spine.” While the verbal cue means well, it is not the best cue when learning how to engage your abdominals equally and effectively; allow me to explain why.
I want you to think of your abdominals as 3 separate sections: upper, middle and lower. Upper is above your navel, middle is at your navel and lower is below your navel. If you really focus on drawing your navel in towards your spine, there is a good chance you are only working the middle abdominal muscles and not the upper and lower. This is NOT good for several reasons! One, this will increase pressure on your pelvic floor which is very bad in general, but especially for the postpartum moms and those with diastasis recti, prolapse, etc. Two, it means your upper and lower abdominals will be weaker because they are not truly being engaged and strengthened. This causes a muscle imbalance which will lead to the entire core not working properly. And if the core is not working efficiently, a diastasis recti will not heal. Three, if you chronically draw your belly button in, it will lead to a “lower belly pooch” because your middle abdominals are being overworked, while upper and middle abdominals are being ignored. Lastly, it will also put upward pressure on the diaphragm. This will create poor breathing patterns due to the inability for the diaphragm to drop down when breathing in. It's imperative to connect our breathing with contracting our abdominals and pelvic floor muscles for postpartum recovery (prolapse, diastasis recti, leaking).
So what can we do to fix it and make sure we are also engaging and strengthening the upper and lower abdominals?
- For beginners, I would highly recommend lying on your back with your knees bent up. When performing a transverse abdominis (TA) contraction, I want you to place your hands near your pubic bone (below and inside your front pelvic bones). This way, when you contract your TA, you should be able to feel a muscle contraction (without moving your spine) near your pelvic bone, and this will give you the feedback you are engaging the lower abdominals.
- When you start to contract the abdominals, I want you to think as if you are zipping up the zipper on your pants (and continue zipping up to the breastbone). Start contracting the lower abdominals and think about lifting up. Again, I would highly recommend placing your hands on your lower abdominals in order to feel and make sure you are contracting them. Make sure your stomach is not doming or pushing outwards- that is not good and not what we want! Also, pay attention to your breathing patterns and don’t hold your breath.
- Practice, practice and more practice. This takes work. You may not get it on the first couple tries and that's okay. It is not easy to do! Keep working at it and reach out with any questions!
It is essential to use the abdominal muscles correctly not only with exercise, but also with daily activities. I want you to really focus on engaging the entire abdominal wall (upper, middle and lower) with your exercises. Stop drawing your belly button in and make sure all your abdominal muscles are showing up equally!
If you are looking for support on your postpartum journey, head over to my private Facebook group, The Healthy Mama Huddle.