Wow! Life sure has changed. With a new edition to the family comes a whole new routine, the endless changing of nappies, the late night feeds, the lack of sleep... the list goes on. So, you've decided its time to get back in shape, you want to get that pre-baby body back. Studio Pilates International would like to set you on the path to successful body toning with the following guide, developed by our qualified physio therapists and Pilates instructors.
Honour your health and your body - Taking the time out for you, to improve your health and strengthen your body again, will make you a fitter, happier person and therefore better equipped to meet the demands of motherhood. So prioritise YOU and make the necessary arrangements in your week to include some body strengthening.
Before you get down on the floor and do a hundred crunches and run twenty kilometres, it's important to recognise that your body has gone through months of change and may have sustained damage. Your body is different now so you must train it differently. On the flip side, don't leave it too long, your body won't necessarily strengthen itself in the right way without a little help from you. If you are breastfeeding, this too will affect your hormone levels and clocking up 120 kilometres or more a week running may have some affect on lactation levels.
Patience & persistence - The important thing here is to be patient. Don't jump the gun and run a marathon on the weekend, your body needs to be rebuilt from the inside out. Yes you want to get back into shape ASAP but you've got your whole life ahead of you to lose weight and tone back up. You may be feeling so many emotions; those of joy, love, happiness of having a new born, but these may be mixed with perhaps frustration at the shape your body is now in.
Take care - There are important things to consider when getting back into exercise post partum. One is your hormone levels - these will be in flux for quite some time during pregnancy and after giving birth. The same hormones that enabled your body to give birth may still be present in your body up to a year later. This hormone is called Relaxin, and its job is to relax the ligaments in your body to allow your pelvis to become more pliable and to even separate during labour to allow the baby's head to fit through.
This has a knock on affect with other joints in your body being slightly more pliable and a little more prone to injury for awhile, so high impact exercise like touch football and netball etc are not generally recommended.
The first step - The feelings of wanting to tone the tummy again may be strong, but as mentioned busting out a hundred crunches is not the way to go. Instead you need to strengthen the transversus abdominus and pelvic floor first as these are the muscles that flatten the stomach and the same ones that suffer the greatest impact during pregnancy.
Note: Please do not do anything besides basic pelvic floor exercises until your six-week check up with your obstetrician.
Now let's take a detailed look at the stomach muscles and learn more about these vital building blocks in gaining your pre baby body back.
The Pelvic Floor
The weight of carrying your baby for nine months along with the trauma caused to the pelvic floor can lead to a weakened state of the pelvic floor muscles as previously mentioned, possibly even a prolapse. Your pelvic floor is perhaps in a weakened state and will need retraining and strengthening from almost immediately after giving birth and on an ongoing basis
A prolapse is when the muscles and ligamentous structures suspending the pelvic floor and pelvic organs become so stretched and weak that they sag downwards, allowing the organs to prolapse. The bladder, uterus and bowel can all be affected in severe cases.
Symptoms include lack of bladder control, stress incontinence, a feeling of a sagging in the pelvic floor area and weakness through the area. The treatment for both pelvic floor weakness and prolapsed is to perform pelvic floor exercises, however if the ligamentous damage is so great surgery also may be required to repair the prolapse.
Pelvic floor problems - Implications for exercise
You can train the pelvic floor to activate again by starting off with very basic activation exercises and progress as the pelvic floor strengthens. Take care with abdominal exercises and lifting heavy weights if the pelvic floor is weak a strong abdominal contraction bears down on the pelvic floor, so if it is not strong enough to contract against this pressure it will be forced downwards, contributing to the problem. So the focus must be more on the activation and isolation of this muscle rather than global abdominal strengthening.
The Rectus Abdominus and a Rectus Diastasis
During pregnancy the rectus abdominus (or six pack muscle) needs to stretch to accommodate the growing baby. Each side of the rectus abdominus muscle meets in the midline of the abdomen to form a fibrous structure called the linea alba.
This is the weakest point of the abdominal corset. In some cases when the linea alba is placed under too much pressure, rather than the rectus abdominus muscles stretching, the linea alba overstretches or in some cases tears.
This is known as a diastasis (or separation) of the rectus abdominus. The rectus diastasis will look like a vertical bulge or separation in the midline of the abdomen. This bulge is more noticeable when you do certain movements that increase the pressure within the abdomen and stress this area such as a sit up action.
Rectus diastasis - Implications for exercise
Performing sit-up type movements where the rectus abdominus is working without using the transversus abdominus and pelvic floor properly can make the separation worse.
Post pregnancy, start with very basic pelvic floor and transversus abdominus activation and then progress to exercises using the rectus abdominus only as the strength of these muscles allow for. Whilst performing any abdominal exercises, be sure to check that this separation isn't bulging out or opening further by simply feeling with your own fingers.
Activating the transversus abdominus and pelvic floor
To activate the transversus abdominus and pelvic floor, simply lie on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Find the front of your hip bones (the part that's pointing up towards the ceiling) and place your fingers on the hip bones. Next, simply roll the finger tips over these bones onto the inside of the hips so your finger tips are just one centimetre inside the bone. By applying just a little bit of pressure here, your fingers should be still touching the hip bones.
Now engage the pelvic floor by stopping the flow of urine, drawing up internally through the vagina, whilst constricting the muscles deep in the back passage as if you are preventing breaking wind (no nicer way I can put that) and hold tight. You should hopefully feel the pelvic floor tighten.
Once this is mastered, recruit the transversus abdominus as well.
Then, whilst holding the pelvic floor on, imagine there is a line on the surface of the stomach connecting the hip bones together and focus on drawing that imaginary line towards the spine and also the hip bones towards each other (without sucking in the stomach or lifting the rib cage upwards). In addition to this you may also like to think of drawing the navel to the spine. You should feel just a small amount of tension in the muscles just inside the hip bones under your finger tips. This is the pelvic floor and transversus abdominus working together and activating.
Keep the pressure on the fingers and release the stomach muscles quickly. You should feel the tension in the stomach under the finger tips release. Repeat the activation of these two muscles until you master it. Trying to keep all of the other stomach muscles relaxed at this stage as we are just focused on isolation and activation.
Once you have mastered this and strengthened these muscles buy building up your endurance, you can then progress to trying to hold the activation of these muscles whilst doing increasingly challenging exercises.
It's important to note that when you begin to curl the upper body up off the floor and you start to use some of the other stomach muscles such as the rectus abdominus and obliques, the stomach will want to bulge outwards. You should be always focussed on flattening the imaginary line on the surface of the stomach towards the spine and preventing this bulging from occurring. Only ever curl up as high as you can maintain a totally flat stomach and feel the muscles with the fingers and be careful of that rectus diastasis popping out or separating further.
Professional Fine Tuning
It is strongly advised that you make use of the expertise of either a physio or an experienced Pilates instructor to help to guide you through this critical post-partum rehabilitation phase. Posture correction and appropriate pacing, provided by a qualified instructor will ensure you strengthen your body without causing injury. Also, having workout sessions pre-booked will assist you with the discipline to prioritise your health needs amidst the conflicting pressures of life with a young family.
To have a Physio qualified Pilates instructor help you with your post pregnancy shape up plan visit www.studiopilates.com, call 07 3899 4555 today or to join Studio Pilates in Brisbane click here