So you’ve decided to start a family or perhaps you already have a family and now you’re wondering—how do I get back that flat, tight tummy I had before the kids came along? This is a complicated question and one that ideally should be addressed earlier on, ahem, that means you should have already been training before getting pregnant. But in case you haven’t been exercising regularly, hitting those heavy weights and performing some type of cardio, here’s how you get your flat tummy BACK!
According to numerous reliable sources, women that are pregnant can do all the physical activity they like during pregnancy as long as they pay attention to how their body feels and don’t go over their limits. In fact, one of my closer fitness compatriots in the US, Dr. Cassandra Forsythe believes it’s in “your best interest to lift heavy weights and train as frequently as your body will allow” while pregnant.
Because you’ll have an easier time getting your pre-pregnancy body back, if you’ve already been exercising and training. As with everything it sucks starting over from scratch.
The Considerations During Pregnancy
Now there is plenty craziness going on in your body while you’re pregnant. One to keep an eye on is Diastasis Recti (DR), which is when there is separation of the front of your abdominal wall and it becomes stretched and weakened. This can generally be felt during pregnancy as the belly grows with child. Not all women get DR, but some do, and it doesn’t just go back into place post-pregnancy.
Certain activities must be avoided if DR is detected, but it does NOT mean that all strength and resistance training must be halted. It simply means you need to be aware that front planks and other front loaded activities may not be appropriate during the later courses of your pregnancy. Things like crunches, planks, ab rollouts and heavy deadlifts should be halted when this condition is found.
This is especially important if the abdominals haven’t been trained properly prior to conceiving. Additionally, it helps to prepare the body for such an event and train your abdominals correctly to be able to return to their natural state much faster.
Training Your Abdominals, Without Crunches and Sit-ups
With the issue clearly defined, the solution is often to just back off from doing front loaded activities and shift to more upright and stable versions of core training. Things like standing palof presses and side planks would help improve the core strength while shifting away from the midline of the body.
These are just a few suggestions. There are many other ways to train the core musculature other than doing crunches and sit-ups. In fact most upper body strength exercises involving kettlebells, barbells and dumbbells have an excellent core training effect if done properly.
Boring Anatomy Anyways. “Luke we’re going to have COMPANY!”
Your abs, after all, are more complicated than simply the front wall of the rectus abdominis that you admire on all the popular magazines with the ripped guys and gals. Yes, these series of bumps are displaying a very low level of body fat which is popular, but the abdominals are comprised of several layers of muscle, criss-crossing in a big X-shaped pattern for your obliques and a natural weight belt of tissue called the transverse abdominis deep underneath the rectus abdominis and obliques. This natural weight belt is the first stage for strengthening and helping have a safe and fit pregnancy.
Strengthening the Transverse Abdominis
First off, breathing technique should be the primary focal point of a woman’s program once she is pregnant. RN, Julie Tupler suggests that two exercises, the Elevator and Contraction should be utilized by women daily if pregnant in order to train their abdominals to sustain the rigors of labor as well as helping to support the spine. Her claims are influenced by the level of recovery and stretching capabilities of a strengthened pelvic floor muscle than can relax deeper than an untrained muscle.
These two exercises can greatly increase the body’s awareness of how to properly contract the transverse abdominals, which are harder to control than other muscles that you can see. We do a similar exercise at Hostyle, which we call crocodile breathing where you lay on your back and focus on taking deep breaths into the abdominals. This helps engage the abs and teaches the body how to contract its natural weight belt. Check out the video below for a demonstration.
Once the body is familiar with contracting and controlling the transverse abdominals it will assist with all the necessary lifts in the weight room. Having your transverse engaged will increase the overall amounts of weight you can use while safely supporting the spine and preventing injury.
Not to mention increasing the ability to contract your abdominals for several hours during pregnancy. Heck, they might even be so strong after you’re done you’ll just have one solid push and the kid flies out…probably not, but it’s feasible.
Training women to be strong, fit and resilient is essential for long term health. There are so many aspects about maintaining your level of fitness that can be of benefit to young mothers. Check out another post of how strength training can benefit young mothers. Fitness for Moms!
The goal is not simply to help improve your lives, but make those lives extraordinary. As a trainer and coach for many mothers it’s important to help maintain your exercise habits during pregnancy, keep strong, sustain a good level of posterior chain strength, mobility and core endurance. All of these things will help you have a strong and fit pregnancy, as well as reduce the amount of time it takes to get that flat tummy back.