Nine months of stretching. You’ve gone from a 28-inch waist to a 48-inch waist. Now post-baby, your once flat and strong stomach is anything but and you're starting to worry if you'll ever get back in shape.
The first step to slimming back down to your pre-baby waist is to realize that while you’re working toward having nice looking abs, the ultimate goal should be to make them strong.
Regaining abdominal strength is necessary for moms because a newborn has physical demands on its mother’s body. As explains Melissa Wall, a certified yoga instructor who teaches Vynassa yoga at the MAA in Montreal, Quebec, “Moms are breastfeeding, they’re bending and they’re frequently carrying a baby. Having a strong core is important.”
Since yoga movements stem from the centre of the body, the practice is beneficial and “helps moms reclaim their core,” says Wall.
Plank pose, cat pose and triangle pose are just some of the yoga moves that help tone the centre of the body. But you shouldn’t do these poses independently from one another. The key is to build one on the other. As Wall explains, “with Vynassa, where one pose flows into another and where you’re breathing is synchronized with the movements, you’re engaging multiple muscles and therefore attaining a wrap around kind of strength in the abs that also extends to the back.”
Beyond the crunch
Indeed, abdominal strength isn’t about the six-pack. It actually refers to core strength, which Yaelle Arama, a fitness professional at Siscoe Gym in Montreal, Quebec defines as, “the ability for your abs and back to support your spine and keep your body stable and balanced.” When you think of your abs, you should actually think of your core, which along with your abdominal muscles, your lower back and your gluts, encircle around your body like a belt.
Crunches alone will not pave the way to strong abs, “they’re a useless, superficial exercise when done alone,” says Arama. To achieve deep strength and significant results, look to weight barring exercises that involve the entire core. “You’re better off doing a squat, push-up or burpee and using big muscle groups. These are more efficient than a lying down crunch because along with your core you’re working so many muscles in your body,” explains Arama.
Efficiency is key
Moms, especially ones with babies and small children, who don’t have much free time, need to be efficient when exercising. That means maximizing their exercise time, by using compound movements. “Instead of doing a simple bicep curl, why not do one with a lunge?” suggests Arama. This multi-joint exercise works the legs, arms and core all in one. Being time efficient while exercising also means using recovery time properly. “So rather than staying put between sets, try jumping rope or running on a treadmill for a minute,” advises Arama.
Changing up your routine challenges the body and therefore also helps build up strength. According to Arama, a great abs strengthening exercise is doing a plank on your forearms. But once that becomes easy the next step should be to do it with one leg up or on an unstable surface like a Bosu ball.
For some moms regaining abdominal strength post-pregnancy is achieved through Gyrotonic, a series of movements that works the body through non-linear, but rather circular motion. According to www.gyrotonic.com, the methodology “allows users to stretch and strengthen the muscles, while simultaneously stimulating and strengthening connective tissues in and around the joints of the body.” Valerie Grove, a Montreal mother of a two-year-old girl, swears by it, “By isolating and working all the muscles in my abs, Gyrotonic helped me build back my stomach,” says Grove.
Sherri Trager, a Gyrotonic and Pilates instructor for over ten years, explains that because it works the deepest set of abdominal muscles, Gyrotonic is extremely useful in regaining mid-section strength. “The transverses are very important. They’re like a girdle that fully wraps around you, so they protect the back, and for women who have been pregnant it’s important to strengthen these muscles since they’re the ones that have been the most stretched out. The girdle becomes like a hammock during pregnancy,” explains Trager.
After giving birth to your baby you may be skeptical as to whether you can drop the excess weight that surrounds your mid-section. But with the right exercise not only is it possible to flatten your stomach, but you can also strengthen it and perhaps get stronger abs than you had pre-pregnancy.