Lots of new moms assume that they should do lots of crunches to firm up their mummy-tummies, when in fact, these types of exercises can do more harm than good in the initial postpartum period.
The problem with exercises like crunches and oblique curls, is that they primarily work the external layers of the abdominal wall. (The muscles that flex the spine to the front and side.)
After pregnancy, the external abs easily overpower the relatively weaker deepest abdominal muscle, the Transverse Abdominis, or TvA. The TvA is our body’s internal “girdle” and when contracted, compresses and flattens the abdomen. If you do a crunch without enough TvA strength, then your belly will balloon outward, which is exactly what you don’t want to happen. Why? Because in fitness, what you practice is what you get. Bulging of the abdominal wall makes problems like abdominal separation and low back pain worse, and prevents flattening of the abdomen.
The secret to flattening the abs after pregnancy is to recondition from the inside out—by building strength and control in your TvA first. So here’s a terrific postnatal TvA exercise that is safe to do right after both a vaginal delivery or a C-section, and for those with abdominal separation. And for all the not-so-new moms out there, good news, it’s never too late to change the shape of your tummy.
Postpartum Belly Buster
1. Lie on your side with a small pillow under your head, knees bent, hips stacked, and spine neutral. Relax your abdominal wall and allow it to expand. (Don’t panic— everyone’s tummy lies next to them after
2. Inhale deeply, and then exhale slowly while hissing forcefully through your teeth. As you hiss, tighten your abdomen, pulling your belly up away from the floor, and in toward your spine as much as you can.
Keep your torso completely still, maintain the neutral position.
3. Hold the contraction for a few moments, breathing naturally. Take care that you don’t relax your abs as you breathe, keep them tight.
4. Inhale deeply, repeat the hiss/exhalation and try to increase the intensity of the abdominal compression. Maintain the abdominal contraction, breathing naturally.
5. Repeat the exhalation/hiss with abdominal compression a third time, trying to increase the intensity of the contraction even more. Once again, hold the contraction and breathe naturally.
6. Exhale, relax your abdominal wall allowing it to soften and expand naturally. (Don’t push it outward.)
7. Perform 4 repetitions to complete one set. Perform four or more sets daily.
After this muscle has become strong again, (in about three weeks or so of regular conditioning) you can progressively add in exercises that work the external layers, while maintaining a flat abdominal profile.
Using this method, you’ll not only shrink your waist and flatten your tummy, but just as importantly, develop deep core strength and spine stability.
1. If you have difficulty breathing, it is because you are “sucking up” and contracting your diaphragm. Try to isolate the contractions below your belly button.
2. The TvA does not move bone. Keep your spine—particularly your upper body—completely still.
3. Use mental imagery. Imagine that you have on an old fashioned corset that laces up the front, and that it gets tighter and tighter as you compress your abdominal wall.
Helene Byrne, founder of BeFit-Mom at is a perinatal exercise specialist, and author of the award winning DVD “Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning” and the acclaimed book, “Exercise after Pregnancy: How to Look and Feel Your Best.”
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