In my last blog I said I would write more about the specific deep abdominal strengthening exercises I did in the first 6 weeks post partum so here goes….
Your Transversus Abdominus (TA) muscle is the deepest abdominal muscle and sits under your Rectus Abdominus (6 pack muscle). It is described like a corset around your spine and it works with the other abdominal, back and pelvic floor muscles to support your back and help with good posture. There is often debate in the literature about core stability and all health and exercise professionals feel differently about it and will advise certain exercises depending on their beliefs.
From a personal perspective of being a post-natal woman attempting to get my core activating again, I found the following exercises extremely helpful. Core stability training is often advocated for back pain patients, however, I don’t always prescribe these exercises to everyone with back pain because they are sometimes not appropriate. When carrying out these exercises it is very important to get the technique right – otherwise you may be working the wrong muscles and could be at risk of causing pain or injury.
In the first few weeks of my post-natal journey I started the below core exercises. Exercises 1 – 3 I started when the baby was 1 day old and then progressed to the other exercises once I felt strong enough. I was also very careful to ensure I had no discomfort throughout. I carried out these exercises daily until my 6 week check when I was given the go ahead to progress to the next level.
N.B. everyone’s post-natal journey is different and has different birthing experiences, and therefore the level of the exercise needs to be pitched at the right level for you. If unsure where to start, always seek advice from a health professional.
1. TA contractions in crook lying (lying on my back with my knees bent and feet on the floor):
In this position, place your hands on your tummy and find your hip bones with your fingers and move 2cm down and in towards your belly button. Your fingers should now be on your deep TA muscles. Feeling these muscles with your hands whilst trying to contract them can give great feedback and help your brain find them again (they will have become very weak when pregnant and have been stretched into a very lengthened position.) Hold this tightening for a few deep breaths (aim for approx. 10 seconds). It is very important not to hold your breath and not to brace all your other muscles whilst doing this.
Once happy with a basic contraction – progress to doing it in other positions including on all fours. This is a great position to start to get the shoulder stability muscles to work at the same time.
2. Pelvic tilt into a bridge:
In crook lying position, pull your belly button in towards your spine and tilt your pelvis back towards you so that your back is flat on the floor (draw up your pelvic floor muscles at the same time). You can either hold this position for 3 seconds and then slowly release the pelvis back to neutral or to progress it – push through your legs (using your glutes) and lift your bottom up off the floor). Be careful here not to push and extend through your lower back. Hold the lift for 3 seconds and slowly release down.
3. Heel Slides
In crook lying pull your belly button in towards your spine in order to tighten your TA and gently flatten your lower back into the floor, whilst drawing up your pelvic floor muscles. Once stable, slowly slide your heel on the floor away from your bottom straightening one leg. Then slowly return it to the bent position. The progression of this exercise is photographed here which involves keeping your heel a little off the ground whilst slowly taking it away.
4. Bent Knee Fall Outs:
Lying on your back, pull your belly button in towards your spine and draw up your pelvic floor muscles. Once stable, slowly let 1 knee fall out to the side away from the midline only moving as far is comfortable and ensuring you do not allow your back or pelvis to twist. Then return the leg to midline and repeat with the other leg. This should be carried out at a very slow tempo.
Lie on your side with knees bent and heels together. Pull your belly button in towards your spine and slowly lift the top knee away from the bottom knee whilst keeping your heels together. Be careful not to roll back and don’t twist your spine. You should feel this working in the glutes of your top leg.
6. Hip Extension in side-lying:
Lying on your side, straighten your top leg and keep it in line with your body. Slowly lift it up towards the sky. Ensure to keep your top leg in line with your body or slightly behind you to encourage the glute muscles to work.
7. Four-point arm and hip extension:
Go into all fours position on hands and knees and ensure you have a neutral spine. Pull your belly button towards your spine and draw up your pelvic floor. Slowly raise one arm away from the floor whilst attempting to keep your spine straight and the rest of your body in the same, neutral position.
The progression of this is to slowly lift one leg away from you. Prior to carrying out the version in this picture, I was sliding my heel along the floor rather than lifting the whole leg because I wasn’t yet strong enough to lift my leg away without twisting my whole spine.
You may notice a key word in all of these exercise descriptions is SLOW. These exercises are meant to be carried out slowly and carefully ensuring the muscles you are aiming at working are being contracted. Don’t rush through them and breath slowly and controlled throughout the movements. I would recommend 8-15 repetitions a few times a day (whenever you are able to fit them in). I would often lie next to the baby on his play mat and do my exercises whilst he had his kick.
As said above, these are quite complex exercises so if you feel unsure on correct technique please seek professional advice.
Have a go and let me know what you think.