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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cutting to the Postnatal Core

My babies are already 10 weeks old and the belly that I ridiculously thought would disappear moments after giving birth to them is still hanging on for its dear life. It doesn't seem to understand that I'm slowly kicking it to the curb. I finally understand why so many women say getting their bodies back after pregnancy is SOOO hard. Firming my middle back up may be one of the hardest fitness challenges I have taken on, especially after almost a year of little exercise other than walking, and a VERY stretched out stomach due to a full term twin pregnancy. Since I hate crunches, and have both read and heard that they can make the stomach bulge even more after pregnancy, especially if the stomach muscles have split, I'm working hard on targeting my whole core, especially the transverse abdominal muscles. Since I really hate working my core, I'm having to find creative ways to tackle it by sneaking in core work with the exercises I enjoy more as I try to shape it back to some semblance of its former self while continuing to improve the fitness of the rest of my body as well. Here are 6 of the exercises I'm finding to be most sure to keep your navel pulled to the spine in ALL of these exercises to really keep things from pooching out more. Slowly and carefully is key!

1. The Plank. There are many variations of this exercise that thoroughly engages the core. I started out with just a basic plank, holding it as long as I could, which was usually about 30 seconds. I would try to complete this exercise about 5 times with short bouts of rest in between. I worked my way up to being able to hold the plank for a minute before changing it up to keep my core challenged. Some of the variations I have used involve doing the plank on one leg at a time, the side plank, and alternating arm punches directly out in front of me while holding the plank position. Alternate arm and leg raises are good too. The plank is also VERY challenging on a stability ball. I have noticed significant improvement in my ab strength from this exercise.

2.Plank Pose Twist. Start in plank pose position. Lifting your right leg and bending at the knee, twist slightly at the trunk and reach your knee towards your hip. Return to plank pose position and repeat with your other leg. Repeat this move on your left side. I tried to do 3 set of 12-15 repetitions. You can do this abdominal exercise by repeating all on one side and then switching or alternating sides each time. This actually works the obliques (muscles on the sides of your abs) as well.

3. Back Extensions. These work both the back and the front of your core. Some people call them the superman exercise. Lie on your stomach with your arms straight out in front of you palms facing down. Lift your upper body stretching your transverse abdominis muscle and your back muscles while lifting your lower body as high off the ground as possible at the same time. You want to have as little of your belly touch the floor as possible. This is a tricky one! Hold, then return to the ground. Do 10-15 repetitions. For added intensity, something I'm not very good at with this one yet, put one weight in both of your outstretched superman hands and lift the weight as you lift your upper body.

4. Woodchop exercise. This one really gets my abdominals burning. (I actually do it in a squat to engage my legs and my core even more. I like trying to make many of my moves multimuscle exercises, actually, so I can work as much of my body as possible at once, shortening the amount of time I have to spend working out.) Either in a squat or standing, hold a weight in both hands above your right shoulder. Rotate your torso and carefully swing the weight down to the middle of your left outer shin. Return to start. Really focus on engaging your core muscles. I try to repeat this exercise doing 3 sets of 12 on each side. You can do it without a weight if the weight is too difficult.

5. Pelvic tilt. This one works your back and legs as well. Try moving your legs closer to your butt, farther away, close together and apart to target different angles. You should be able to get your core and legs burning pretty quickly with these.

6. I have no idea what it's called but I saw another exercise on Dr. Oz where you get down on your hands and knees and extend your opposite arm and opposite leg, hold for 5 counts, return to start, then switch to the other side. Continue rotating until you've done 12-15 reps on each side. I can really feel this one working when I do it right after the plank exercise. It's a good one!

You can also google transverse abdominal exercises or core exercises to get all kinds of other great tips and exercises. Targeting your core from as many different angles as possible using a variety of exercises keeps your muscles guessing and your muscle tone improving. Also, just like any other muscle, rest is important too. You don't want to do all of theses exercises every day or you risk not only injuring yourself but impairing your progress. Take a day off of training your abs at least twice a week. If using weights, you should allow at least 48 hours in between sessions.

I'm by no means to my goal yet, but I know I am making progress and I credit these exercises with helping me. I'm also making sure I do cardio at least 5 days a week which is helping too. A clean diet is important as well but more on that later...If you've recovered from pregnancy and got your fit body back, I'd love to hear your secrets. Is there an exercise you found to be particularly helpful in tightening back up your middle? If so, please share. Us moms need all the help we can get.

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