Postpartum Ab Exercises To Avoid As A New Mom (and what to do instead)
Rebuilding your core muscles postpartum can be a sticky business. But there is lots you can do (even within the days of giving birth like these crucial postpartum core exercises). However, if you’re a new mom, these are the postpartum ab exercises to avoid. In the immediate postpartum phase, these ab exercises focus more on the aesthetics of the abs and less on the functionality of the core. Avoid these postpartum ab exercises and instead focus on rebuilding the core and pelvic floor.
When it comes to “getting your body back” post-pregnancy, most new moms want to work on one section: their tummy! And while I completely understand that line of thought, it’s not always the easiest to jump into.
Postpartum ab exercises are a bit more complex than your previous staples. So, if you’re a new mom, or an expecting one, know that these exercises are ones that should probably be avoided (though there are exceptions!)
Don’t want to learn? JUMP to the exercises.
Why You Should Avoid These Postpartum Ab Exercises
Throughout pregnancy your body changes (in a good way!). Your midsection for one, stretches as much as necessary to allow room for your babe. Your back muscles become stretched and weaker and your hips feel more unstable than ever (though, these are the pregnancy hip exercises you should focus on!). All of this is normal and none of this means that you’re no longer strong.
But so many mamas want to jump right into postpartum ab exercises. Either to get their tummies to change or to simply have something they can do for themselves. Some control.
And I get that.
However the postpartum ab exercises below:
- focus on aesthetics and not functionality
- require your core to work as one with other muscle groups and immediately postpartum it doesn’t
- can further diastasis recti
Diastasis recti is the separation of the muscle bellies from the midline of the stomach. Most women will have some degree of separation and this is completely normal. Here’s how to check the level of your diastasis recti.
Knowing that, until you’ve done some work to re-activate the core, pelvic floor and breathing muscles(and teach them to work together), it’s best to avoid these postpartum ab exercises.
Postpartum Ab Exercise To Avoid #1 Crunches
Crunches are most people’s “go-to” when they think of abdominal training. And in fairness, I can see why. They’ve been around forever and toted as the best way to train abs. People are familiar with them. But straight out of the delivery room isn’t exactly the time to implement them.
When you perform a crunch it causes your midsection to bulge outward around the belly button. This places extra pressure on the connective tissue and can actually further hinder your diastalsis recti (since you are essentially training your belly to bulge!).
By training just the rectus abdominis, your connective tissue isn’t healing or learning to work i conjunction with other muscles. Thus, crunches are pretty ineffective for new mamas.
What To Do Instead: Re-engage the core by learning to belly breathe.
Postpartum Core Exercise #2 Planks
Planks can be a great core exercise (when you’re ready for it- here are my favorite plank variations!). However, planks are not helpful right after you’ve had a baby. Remember when I said that your abdominal muscles were weakened and stretched?
In a plank, your belly hangs down. Until you re-train it to activate your deeper muscle to hold everything up and in properly, a plank will only make the issue worse.
Immediately postpartum, most women struggle to engage their core muscles. Placing front-loaded pressure (like in a plank position) won’t help.
Instead, learn to engage your core muscles in a supine position (lying on your back) first.
What to do instead: engage the TVA by learning to pelvic tilt
Postpartum Ab Exercise To Avoid #3 Hanging Leg Tucks
If you’re not ready to crunch or plank, then you are most definitely not ready for anything hanging! Not only does this type of exercise (again) cause the belly to bulge but chances are your joints are still pretty unstable from pregnancy (thank you relaxin!).
So placing your body in a hanging position without being able to activate the necessary muscles isn’t a great way to go.
On top of that, hanging places your midsection/abdominals in a stretched out position – the exact thing you’re trying to fix.
Since your abdominals are both slightly stretched as well as weak, you probably won’t be able to use them to pull your legs up and instead rely on your hip flexors and unstable pelvis. All in all, hanging leg tucks should be omitted until you’ve done a bit of rehab.
What to do instead: postpartum heel slides while connecting your breath
Postpartum Core Exercise To Avoid #4 Vups/Toe Touches
Not to sound like a broken record but your abs are most definitely not ready for a vup. This is an exercise that again creates a belly bulge putting a lot of pressure on weakened tissue.
On top of that, like a crunch, toe touches place a lot of pressure downwards. If you’ve recently had a baby, your pelvic floor is most likely not ready for excessive pressure.
Most new mamas experience some back pain due to the lack of strength in their core. Exercises like the vup will only increase back pain since you will be unable to contract the muscles necessary to perform the move.
What to do instead: postpartum arm reaches to correct rib flare
Will I Ever Be Able To Do These Ab Exercises Again?
Yes! The ab exercises above can all be wonderful exercises, they’re just not geared towards the postpartum period. Tolw of postpartum ab exercises should be to:
- rebuild your core muscles
- learn to engage your core muscles
- connect your ab muscles with your breath and your pelvic floor
Starting from the basics and working your core muscles on a smaller scale will lead to you being stronger in the long run.
How To Start Training Postpartum
When it comes to getting back to a fitness routine, reducing pain, and strengthening your core, follow the progressions below:
- check in with a pelvic floor physio before anything else. A PFP will help you determine what you need to work on internally with your pelvic floor and can also assess diastasis recti
- take it slow: focus on relearning to breathe and connect the core before anything else (these are the crucial exercises you need to rehab)
- start from the floor. The position of least impact or stress is supine (lying on the floor on your back). Begin here and learn to engage the muscles before adding “load”
- work your way up, try the exercises from seated, standing, and then elevated (like planks from the wall or a bench, etc)
Know that you can and will get back to everything you love. But you want a solid foundation to do it first. Also, there are obviously exceptions to every rule!
Some people will be ready for certain exercises before others and vice versa. Move at your own pace and judge your progressions by engagement and not just if you can muster through it.
Don’t forget to pin these postpartum ab exercises to avoid as a new mama!
It probably sounds like I’ve just given you a list of don’ts… And I guess I have. The biggest thing to remember when it comes to postpartum ab exercises is that your body needs time to heal. It took ten months for your body to accommodate a baby.
All of those months were spent stretching and changing. So expecting it to rebound in less than ten months is absurd. Spend your time not just on postpartum ab exercises but on movements you need each and every day.
Instead of training abdominals superficially, spend the time to rehab and learn to contract the deeper ones– and use your core muscles as a whole. And always, always, seek out the help of a professional if you’re unsure.
Train safe mamas!