A strong core is not about having a flat stomach and doing hundreds of crunches. In fact, many popular "core" exercises can be hard on a mom's body. Your core includes all of the muscles in your midsection- from your pelvic floor to your upper abdominals and hips. A strong core is important for a mom because it helps her stay injury-free and do her daily activities with less difficulty. That way she can show up and feel her best for herself and her kiddos.
In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of a strong core and pelvic floor for moms. We will also take a look at what a strong core and pelvic floor look like, and why they are so important.
What is the Core?
What comes to mind when you think of the core? For many of us, it brings up images of six-pack abs and killing ourselves with grueling exercises. However, the abdominals are just a few of the primary core muscles that work to stabilize your spine and support your entire body. Let's review a full list:
- Diaphragm (the muscle at the bottom of your ribs for breathing)
- Pelvic floor muscles (all the ones that are involved with continence, birth, sex, etc.)
- Rectus abdominis (yes- those six-pack muscles!)
- Transverse abdominis (the deep abs)
- Inner and outer obliques (on your sides to help you rotate)
- Multifidus (muscles deep in the lower back)
- Erector spinae (these muscles run along your spine)
- Additionally, you can consider other local muscles like the glutes and pecs as essential core stabilizing muscles
How We Use Our Core Daily
Now that we know all of the muscles that make up our core, let's take a look at how we use them in our everyday lives as moms. Even simple tasks like getting out of bed in the morning or lifting groceries from the car require strong core muscles! Here are some other examples:
- Bending over to pick up a toy for your child
- Pushing a stroller
- Carrying your child
- Doing laundry
- Carrying groceries
- Getting in and out of the car
- And so much more!
As you can see, we use our core muscles for just about everything we do as moms.
Why Is It Important to Have a Strong Core and Pelvic Floor?
There are many benefits to having strong core muscles, including:
- Reduced injuries and aches and pains, particularly lower back pain
- Improved posture
- Easier completion of daily activities (aka more endurance, less fatigue!)
- Feeling confident as a mom and being able to do all the activities you'd like with your kids, whether it's chasing them around the yard or lifting them overhead at the playground
- Improved bladder and bowel control (reduced risk of incontinence)
- Boosted/better postpartum recovery
- Reduced risk of pelvic organ prolapse, especially after childbirth
- Enhanced sexual satisfaction
- An overall improvement in quality of life
A Strong Core is Essential with Daily Activities
The best way to understand the importance of a strong core is to think about the foundation of a house. Imagine trying to frame a house in sand or dirt, it would fall apart quickly!
A solid foundation is essential to the stability of the entire house. The same is true for our bodies- a strong core forms the foundation for our overall strength and stability. A weak core can manifest in many ways, but it will certainly put a strain on other joints and muscles if it's not providing the body the stability it needs.
What Does a Strong Core and Pelvic Floor Look Like?
Having a strong core doesn't mean that you need six-pack abs or a flat belly. Rather, a strong core can adapt to the daily stresses put on the body to protect the body's joints, connective tissues, and internal organs. What your stomach looks like does not affect this (thankfully!), rather it's a measure of how well you can navigate daily life with your core supporting you along the way. This includes:
- Being able to control your bladder and bowel, including gas and wind
- You can sneeze or cough without worrying about wetting your pants
- You can jump, run, and play without leaking urine or a heavy pressure in your pelvis (like your organs might fall out)
- The ability to complete your daily routine without excessive fatigue
- No back pain (mid-back and low back)
- You can breathe easily and without pain
- Feeling steady on your feet, not like you might fall or collapse due to poor balance or weakness
- Being able to hold good posture throughout most of your day
- Feeling confident and strong no matter what you decide to do each day
- Moving your limbs without abdominal coning or "pooching"- common with diastasis recti (separation of the abs) following pregnancy
Ultimately, your ability to coordinate your core muscles in a functional and deliberate way is what's most important- not brute strength or washboard abs.
How to Assess Your Core Strength
You may have heard a fitness instructor say "tighten your core" or "engage your core." But, what does this actually mean? And how do you know if you're activating your muscles correctly?
If you're not sure if you have a strong core, there are some simple tests you can do at home to assess your current level of strength. Try these:
- Lie on your back and tighten your trunk muscles- it usually helps to focus on the lower abdominals- without holding your breath or tensing the entire body (particularly the neck). (For more guidance- look here.)
- Test your core strength by the leg lowering test. Lie on your back on the floor with legs straight up in the air. Slowly lower your legs toward the ground while making sure your core is engaged and low back is flat on the ground. Stop if you feel your back arching. Attempt to get your legs perpendicular to the floor, without bending your knees. This will give you a good idea of what your core muscles can effectively manage.
- Additionally, you can practice "finding" your pelvic floor muscles and see how long you can hold a contraction or how many repetitions you can complete in a row.
Be Kind to Your Core Mama
Let's be realistic, if you have ever been pregnant or given birth- there's a chance your core muscles could use a refresher course in strength and coordination. Taking the time to pay attention to your core is an excellent form of self-care that will serve you in all that you do.
Regardless of your pelvic floor's current status, remember to be kind to your body as you try new things. And give yourself grace as you work towards a stronger and healthier foundation.
Getting Started with a Strong Foundation
Start with simple movements and progress as you are able. Be as consistent as possible with a core workout, including pelvic floor exercises. If you are unsure of where to start, seek the help of a certified pelvic floor physical therapist and fitness professional who is familiar with working with postpartum women and moms.
If you have any questions, I am happy to guide you with all your concerns related to core strength, pelvic floor health, weight loss and beyond. Let's chat!
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