Let’s talk postpartum core strength! The number one goal I hear from my post-pregnancy clients is to get flat abs again. The muscles in your pelvic floor become stretched and often weakened during pregnancy & after birth. If you're experiencing lower back pain, pressure, pain, bulging, coning, or overall discomfort, something needs to change. Lots of women get ab separation during pregnancy and rehabbing your core afterward takes lots of hard work, intention, and time. You don't HAVE to live with the "mommy pouch." You CAN bring those abs back together, tighten your core, and have a flat tummy again. If you've tried your "typical" ab exercises and still aren't getting any closer to your pre-baby abs (or even making things worse), then we need to first take a step back and strengthen and reactivate in a way that's safe and effective.
Breathing is arguably the most important part to really nail down the best results in rehabbing your abs postpartum. You have got to learn how to do this properly. You also need to apply the pattern - inhale and release, exhale and engage to every single breath you take all day long. Let’s review a few things about proper breathing and suggestions for those struggling. Please comment below with any issues you’re having and I will try to help!
Proper Breathing Technique
When you take a deep breath in and your diaphragm contracts down, it stimulates the vagus nerve. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, this sends a message back up to the brain telling you to relax. Lots of wonderful things happen when we relax. We sleep better, we are more calm, less frustrated/anxious, we go to the bathroom easier (#2), sex is better, our lymph system function improves, food digests better, and so much more.
So, what happens if you have a shallow breathing pattern and the top of your chest and shoulders move primarily when you take air in (which is how most people breathe)? Well, cortisol happens— your body is thrown into a flight or fight stimulus as this is your stress hormone. No one needs that extra stress, life is hard enough especially if you’re a new mom, so let’s break it down a bit more and get you into a correct deep breathing pattern. Aside from this, improper breathing is not helping to heal or strengthen your core unit. With every breath you take, you are either helping your abs or hurting your abs. Let’s make sure we are helping them:
Step 1: Get your ribs to expand out in a 360 fashion when you breathe. Your belly shouldn’t be the only thing that moves.
Step 2: Get 360 expansion of not only your rib cage, but directly underneath your rib cage, as well. Correct breathing is not belly breathing. It’s a 360 expansion of not just your rib cage, but your torso as well.
Step 3: The last step is learning how to use this breathing system for exercise. If you get correct expansion of your entire abdominal wall, you will be able to maintain some core tension (but not holding breath) through an exercise while breathing for both the inhale and exhale. When done correctly, this will take core work to a whole new level. Without this tension and proper expansion on the inhale, you will not be able to maintain spinal stability and your body cheats to make it happen by either going into a shallow breathing pattern or holding your breath.
There is a time and place for proper breath holding, like when you are maxing out your deadlift, but if you are suffering from back or neck tightness, hernias, abdominal separation or pelvic floor issues, you really need to take a closer look at how you manage pressure in your core and why that misutilization of pressure is causing issues. If you lift heavy or go hard and practice holding your breath to increase pressure in your core to get through plyometrics, planks, or heavy lifts- please stop doing this for now. Go lighter, and go slower and move through the exhale never holding and bracing your breath or core— make sense?
Now, let’s get it!
Even if you are not a mom or a c-section mom, this breath WILL get your diaphragm moving down and get your pelvic floor engaged. For those who really struggle to get air into the whole canister and not just the chest and belly, I think this breath variation can be particularly helpful. Learn what it feels like to feel your diaphragm MOVE down and your canister to expand ALL over front back sides and down.
Breathing is only a small part of finding success in rebuilding your core post-pregnancy. My full Ab Rehab program goes into depth on breathing techniques and strengthening and healing your core as a whole, from the inside out. You can download the Ab Rehab program on my site: NAF Ab Rehab Program.
Cheers to a happy, healthy, and core-engaged breath, ladies!