Many women can’t wait to rebuild their core after childbirth, but many of the moves we use are not only difficult, but can be ineffective and make the situation worse. Here are four gentle moves to start rebuilding your core.
I’ve written about my struggle to rebuild my core ever since I had my first child in 2014—the do’s and don’ts of fixing mommy tummy, as well as using postpartum belly binding. But despite all of my efforts, I couldn’t quite get to where I wanted to be. Yes, some of that was baby fat (which I was able to lose quite a bit of using a Whole30-Keto hybrid diet), but more importantly, my stomach still looked like I was with child after a large or particularly bloating meal. And my lower back was still bothering me.
My lower back pain got so uncomfortable that I mentioned it to my doctor during my physical. I was thrilled when he recommended I head to physical therapy. There, I not only learned that my diastasis recti still wasn’t fully healed (or perhaps re-opened), but also that all other aspects of my core where really weak, resulting in that bulging belly that had friends excitedly gossiping—contemplating is she or isn't she pregnant—every time I wore a tight shirt.
During my six months of bi-weekly physical therapy sessions I learned a number of things, like how important it is to strengthen all areas of the core, which actually goes all the way down to your pelvis and all the way around your back, as well as your glutes. When your glutes are weak, they can also cause your back and core to overcompensate.
But most importantly, perhaps, is that I learned that you don’t have to spend your days crunching away to get your core back into shape.
Here are my four favorite core-building exercises from my time in physical therapy.
Lay on one side with your knees bent and your arms stretched out at a 90-degree angle. Contract your core, keep your ribs down, slowly lift the top arm, fold it over to the other side and then return to center. This gentle strength builder also stretches the muscles, allowing you to improve your posture while building strength. Do 20 reps on each side to start.
You don’t have to spend your days crunching away to get your core back into shape.
OK, so I made that name up because we didn’t have one, but this exercise helped me rebuild both my lower abdomen and improve my pelvic floor, and it’s so simple. Sitting cross-legged, try to pull your hip bones up and into the middle while also doing a Kegel exercise. Do as many of these as you can because as my midwife says: “100 kegels a day will barely make a dent down there.”
Lay on your back with knees raised at a 90-degree angle. Slowly lower one leg down while contracting your core and keeping your back on the mat and your ribs tucked in. Raise the leg and switch sides. Start with 20 reps and work your way up to 30.
Laying flat on your back with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle, raise a small weight (start with 5 pounds and work your way up to your baby) over your head while keeping your lower back on the floor and your ribs tucked in. Start with 20 reps.
The Fire Hydrant
Get on all fours and raise your leg backwards at an angle while keeping your stomach tucked into your spine. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side. Do 20 reps each to start.