Friday, January 07, 2011

Wrote this a few years back for my Examiner fitness page...

“So, when will my abs be back to normal?” asked a fit young woman after a step aerobics class I taught a few years ago.


“Well, it’s going to take some time,” I replied honestly. “Your body has gone through an amazing experience. And chances are, even with exercise your abs will still look different than they did before you were pregnant.”


She looked at me skeptically and asked, “How did Pamela Anderson do it?”


Finding the time to exercise after having a baby can be a challenge. But one of the biggest frustrations among women is the post-baby belly that just won’t shape up regardless of how many crunches you do.


So, what’s the problem? And how do some people manage to do it?As part of a special two-part posting, I will answer some of these questions.


Abdominal separation

Separation of the “six pack muscles,” known as diastasis recti,” occurs in many women after pregnancy, especially if they had multiple births or have given birth before. Some people may call it the “pooch” or the “mummy tummy.” Ask your doctor to check you for this condition, or try the following.


With one hand placed behind your head and one on your abs, lay back and slowly bring your upper body (head/shoulders) up into a crunch position. Gently press your fingertips into the center of your abs. Most likely you will feel a separation. If it is wider than two fingers or you see a small mound forming, you probably have a diastasis recti.


Fixing it

Two mistakes women make are: waiting too long to begin exercise and doing exercises that are too intense. After giving birth, women should return to exercise gradually and start doing light ab exercises (not crunches) as soon as possible. This could be as simple as drawing the abs in toward the spine at different times throughout the day. Some trainers compare the feel of this abdominal contraction to “sucking your stomach in like you’re trying on a tight pair of jeans.”


New Horizons Physical Therapy in Hamilton, Montanta, suggests the following exercise. Lay on your back, knees bent. Cross your hands at your waist to splint or stabilize the ab muscles. Take a deep breath and as you slowly exhale, raise just your head (shoulders stay down). As you lift, gently pull the ab muscles together with your hands. If this isn’t working for you, wrap a sheet or large towel around your body, and grasp the ends with opposite hands while performing the same motion. Now inhale and return to the starting position. Try to do a set of 10, three times a day.


The bottom line 

Without first correcting diastasis recti, you can do more damage to the abs by performing exercises too intense for the muscle group. The key is to start slowly and soon after birth. You may want to seek outside advice from a professional trained in post-natal exercise who won’t just tell you to do a bunch of crunches.

Be sure to check back next week for more on this troubling topic!