WHY CRUNCHES WONT FIX THE MOM TUMMY POOCH… EVER

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Ladies, there’s no denying that having kids changes our lives. But it changes our bodies too. I mean, our bellies grow at a rapid rate over the duration of pregnancy and it expands enough to essentially carry a watermelon! So, it’s no surprise that many mamas notice a substantial “tummy pooch” well after they’ve given birth to their baby.

It seems that no matter what exercises you do, regardless of what diet you try…. that belly just doesn’t seem to tighten or flatten. To make matters worse, you might even (insert face cringe) - leak a bit when you run, jump, sneeze, or even laugh. You start to feel defeated and begin accepting that this is all just part of normal “mom life” and (gulp)… the “mom bod.”

First off….

push any feelings of hopelessness aside, and keep reading. We will shed some light into why this happens, and steps to regain a core that you feel confident about.

WHAT CAUSES THE BELLY POOCH?

  Photo Credit: babycenter.com

Photo Credit: babycenter.com

The belly pooch is a result of separated abdominal muscles, which is actually very common. 100% of pregnant women get separated abs (diastasis) according to the latest study on the effects of childbirth.  100%!!! The same study also found only 37% of women self-heal from diastasis after kids. This means 67% of us moms have an ab gap. Yet, few know how to properly self-assess their degree of ab separation and don’t know what to look for in the assessment.

HOW DO I DETERMINE IF MY ABS ARE SEPARATED AND TO WHAT DEGREE?

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Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place your hand palm down over your belly, with your fingers pointing toward your toes. Press your fingers gently into your navel area then slowly lift your head, drawing your chin to your chest.  If you feel a gap of at least two finger widths between the muscles as they contract, you have a diastasis. A gap as wide as four or five fingers is considered severe. Repeat the same steps below and above your belly button because the separation may be wider in different places.

I HAD MY CHILD(REN) YEARS AGO… IS IT TOO LATE TO REPAIR MY CORE?

Whether your last baby was born one year or 20 years ago, you can close a diastasis and strengthen your core with proper care.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR CORE:

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It’s important to establish that this will be a process and there isn’t one miracle exercise that will instantly repair your core. You’ll need to work the deeper layers of your abs to get a flat tummy. Your core is comprised of 4 parts - diaphragm, multifidus (muscles that run along the spine), transverse abdominis (deepest layer of the abdominal muscles; commonly referred to as the corset muscles), and pelvic floor - which is why traditional ab exercises will not fix your core. These  “Core 4” need to work together in order for our body to work together properly. If even one of these isn’t working properly, it can lead to a weak core and issues such as chronic low back pain, urinary incontinence, constipation, pain during sex, and pelvic or hip pain.

ARE THERE ANY EXERCISES I SHOULD AVOID?

YES, in fact there are some exercises that not only don’t work for moms with diastasis… but can actually make it worse!

Insert: Crunches

Thinking of the movement that crunches require (forward flexion) … the last thing mothers with diastasis need is forward flexion.

While pregnant, your belly grows forward, you experience postural changes, your breasts have grown so your shoulders and head pull forward. Postpartum, carrying our babies around and breastfeeding keeps us in that forward flexion position with rounded shoulders and a collapsed rib cage.

Our front wall is already living in a shortened state; it doesn’t make sense to perform activities at the gym that rounds our shoulders more and brings our head further forward. We need to lengthen our spine, open the rib cage, and strengthen the back. The postpartum population experiences compromised postural changes, hormonal changes, possible injury during birth, followed by the postpartum recovery process. For these reasons, the core isn’t working as it should.

So, adding a crunch to a core already trying to manage an increase in intra-abdominal pressure… then you add a forward flexion movement that really increases that pressure…. the abdominal wall pooches up when they crunch forward. So, if trying to flatten the abdominal wall, repetitively performing a movement that causes the abs to pooch forward makes this a less than functional exercise for the postpartum population.

FIRST STEPS YOU CAN START WITH TODAY:

Posture: Less than par posture is evident in our mommy pooches, low back pain, forward slouching, etc. Learning to be mindful of how you stand, sit, hold your children, and exercise is the first element in better core/pelvic floor function (as well as better health and performance overall).

Practice Core Breath techniques. We’re so used to crunch-plank-lift when it comes to “ab work” that the idea of “sitting and breathing” doesn’t at first seem to make sense to be the way to a strong core and a flat tummy.

Life can cause our breathing patterns to change - how we sit, how we stand, how we move, injuries, surgeries, childbirth. Focusing on Core Breath techniques are a foundational exercise to strengthening your core.

NEXT STEPS:

Contact a Physiotherapist that specializes in Pelvic Floor.

Pelvic Health Physiotherapy is the assessment and treatment of conditions that have been caused by, or are related to, dysfunction in the pelvic floor muscles. It is performed by a physiotherapist with specialized training and expertise in the area of pelvic health.

Having a pelvic floor assessment by a qualified physiotherapist will help you learn things about your body no one ever told you before. The word about pelvic health is finally spreading as women all over are realizing how important this is. This common practice in Europe is finally becoming more talked about in North America.

A Sisters in Shape coach can also help you to map out a fitness plan that will support your efforts in rebuilding a strong core.

If you’ve not yet had children, it’s helpful to begin performing core strengthening exercises prior to becoming pregnant. Additionally, some studies show that women who exercised regularly during pregnancy were less likely to end up with diastasis.

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