There can be a lot of confusion around core exercises for Mums….. and it’s not just new Mums that are returning to exercise we’re talking about here. It’s all Mums. If you’ve been pregnant or have given birth to a child it’s important (and handy) to know where to start and how to progress/regress movements…. so you can continue to participate in group fitness classes, play social sport, chase your kids or do whatever it is that you want to do in your everyday life…. but also, so you can modify moves at those times when you don’t feel strong enough to safely complete that move yet, or, you’re having an ‘off day’, are experiencing back pain, and need a simpler option.
The thing is, the massive amount of info on the internet can make it all a bit confusing and overwhelming…. And the growing number of ‘influencers’ on social media, can push Mums to purchase sponsored products or do ‘at home workouts’ just like them, rather than guiding Mums toward the appropriate resources or professional support. Essentially, for new Mums, it shouldn’t be about ‘getting back’, it should be about restoring your body. There-after, it shouldn’t be about ‘chasing a bikini-body’, it should be about loving, nourishing and strengthening your body, so it can continue to do what you want and need it to do.
So, this week, we’ve got your back (… and core). We’ve invited Deanne Maughan to chat us through some of her fav core moves for Mums.
Deanne is a physiotherapist and Fit Right Instructor. Deanne strongly believes empowering mums with crucial core strengthening tips can help them feel stronger in their everyday Mumma life. Deanne loves helping new Mums to take time out to look after their own bodies and minds and loves bringing women together through exercise.
Coming off the high of International Women’s Day last week, I feel so privileged to be working as a Physiotherapist in a time where knowledge is power- and it is women at the forefront of the pelvic floor movement. I have been blessed with the most flexible and enjoyable job in my Physiotherapy career thus far which has been working alongside Taryn Watson (Women’s Health Physiotherapist and Director of FitRight) to assist the pregnant and post-natal population in Perth to stay fit through Physiotherapy lead classes, with a strong emphasis on pelvic floor friendly exercises.
As a mum myself, I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to be proactive, not reactive when it comes to the pelvic floor and hope this movement only grows stronger in years to come. Ideally all women both during pregnancy and post-natally should have an individual assessment by a Women’s Health Physiotherapist to ensure they can activate their pelvic floor in a timely and co-ordinated manner – it’s not always just about it being strong!
I’ve chosen the moves below because they tend to come up in exercises classes across the board. I’ve aimed to give some modifications so you can reduce the intensity of the move when you need. Modifications can assist you in group classes where you feel the exercise may be too intense, or you don’t feel strong enough to safely complete that move yet. Or, you may just be having an ‘off day’, are experiencing back pain, and want a simpler option.
**NOTE: It is important with all these moves that if you see any visible bulging of your tummy where your ‘six pack muscles’ sit or pressure down into the pelvic floor (including things like a dragging, heaviness, things pushing out) to please try an easier move and I would recommend an assessment with a Physiotherapist to improve technique and check pelvic floor/ deep abdominal control.
Engaging the transversus abdominus is sometimes a better strategy for engaging the core- which will be discussed further at the MumME event on March 31st. Engaging this corset-like muscle in the abdominal area can be done by imagining you are ‘tightening your belt buckle to the third hole.’ Alternatively, the pelvic floor can be engaged by imagining a lifting action or closing off of front of back passages. I have used core in the exercise descriptions below (which can mean pelvic floor or transversus abdominus).
Most importantly JUST BREATHE through the exercise. Again, I’ll instruct this on the event day, there is no right or wrong way, sometimes an exercise works better on the inhale, sometimes it works better on the exhale, it depends on the individual. Just as long as you are not breath holding and further increasing pressure downwards on your pelvic floor.
Move 1 – Table Top
- Lie on your back with feet on the ground, knees bent up (aka. Crook Lie). Feet should be hip width apart.
- Ensure your pelvis is neutral
- Inhale to prepare, exhale engage core and lift the first leg off the group to 90 degrees. Inhale hold, exhale lift the second leg up.
- Inhale hold, exhale one leg down, inhale second leg down and relax the core again.
*Neutral pelvis in crook lie position: this can be checked by making a diamond or compass points over your pelvis by placing your finger tips on the tip of your pubic bone between the tops of the thighs and palms on the bony outer bits of your pelvis. Roll the pelvis gently up and down until your hands are level with the floor.
Move 2 – Modified Table Top With Feet Low
Start in Crook Lie position (ie. same position as above). This time, as you lift the legs off the floor keep the feet low, ie not bringing the knees to 90 degrees, only the hips. This will reduce the intensity of the move.
Move 3 – Modified Table Top With Alternating Leg Lifts
- Start in Crook Lie position.
- Inhale to prepare, exhale engage core as you lift one leg off the ground. Inhale hold that position, exhale lower the same leg back down. Relax the core.
- Repeat on the other side.
Move 4 – Plank From Four Point
- This move is easiest to execute from a 4-point kneeling position (hands and knees on floor).
- Ensure your hands are slightly forward of your shoulders and hips are over knees. Ensure pelvis is neutral. Prepare the move by engaging the core.
- Inhale to take one leg out straight behind you. Exhale take the second leg out.
- Inhale hold, exhale bend one leg back in. Inhale bring the other leg back in. Relax the core.
* Neutral pelvis in 4 point kneeling position – the pointy outer bits of pelvis should be pointing down to the ground.
Move 5 – Modified Plank, With Knee Lift
- Start from a 4-point position.
- Prepare by engaging the core.
- Inhale to prepare, exhale push through hands and lift your knees from the floor.
- Inhale hold that position, exhale return knees back to the floor. Relax the core.
Move 6 – Modified Plank, Four Point Superman
- Start from a 4-point position.
- Inhale to prepare, exhale engage the core and extend the opposite arm and leg. Ensure the lower back and pelvis stay neutral.
- Inhale hold that position, exhale return to 4 point and relax the core.
Move 7 – Chest Lift
- Start in Crook Lie Position. Hands can either be long by your side with palms down, or hands clasped behind your neck with elbows visible in the peripheries.
- Inhale to prepare, exhale engage core and lift your head and shoulder blades off the floor. Inhale hold and exhale lower yourself back to the floor. Relax the core.
** Consider imagery of a spring attached from the bottom of your ribs to the top of your pelvis and try to shorten that spring as you move into a sit up position. Also, imagine resting a peach under your chin, which you are trying not to squash as you lift into the sit up.
Move 8 – Roll Up Prep
- Start in a seated position with knees bent up and hands resting under the backs of thighs. Aim to be sitting up tall with the normal ‘S’ shape in your spine.
- Inhale to prepare, as you exhale, engage core and roll back into a ‘C’ curve with your spine, stop at a point where your upper abdominals start to work. Inhale hold and then exhale back up again to ‘S’ curve. Keep core engaged till you have returned to the start position, then relax.
** This is not so much a modification, its probably just as challenging as a chest lift, just in a different position. In this exercise you are essentially moving between the normal ‘S’ shape curve of the spine to a ‘C’ shape and back, whilst engaging the core.
Move 9 – Modified Chest Lift, Head Lift Only
- Start in Crook Lie position.
- Inhale to prepare, exhale engage core and you lift head only off the floor. Inhale hold and exhale lower yourself back to the floor. Relax the core.