Ab rehab: post-baby ab exercises

During the third trimester of pregnancy, babies grow rapidly and put increasing pressure on the abdominal muscles. That pressure can cause the rectus abdominis, a paired muscle running vertically down the front of the abdomen, to separate. This separation is called diastasis recti, and it can occur to various degrees above or below the belly button.

If not corrected postpartum, diastasis recti advances with each pregnancy, and may lead to less abdominal support during future pregnancies, which increases lower back pain and poor posture.

To check for separation, lie flat on your back and lift your head and shoulders off the floor. You should be able to feel the two straps of muscle running vertically along the midline of the abdomen. One or two fingers of space between the two straps is common postpartum. This degree of separation is common in women following the birth of a baby and can be corrected by doing modified abdominal exercise, says Skylar Hill-Jackson, founder and director of Baby & Me Fitness in Toronto. The exercises below pull the two sides of the rectus muscle toward the midline to stabilize and support the abdomen.

Start with the first exercise in the early weeks and gradually add more repetitions, and then move on to the others, recommends Hill-Jackson.

Don’t forget to breathe!
During each exercise, inhale through the nose so that the chest opens and expands, breathing into the lower back and sides of the torso. Exhale through the mouth, pulling the abdominal muscles in toward the spine. Relax and breathe normally between sets.

1. Head lift
Lie on the floor on your back, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross arms across the belly button at the waist, using hands to pull side ribs together toward the centre of the torso. Or, use a scarf to help pull the side ribs in as shown above. Press the lower back to the floor. Inhale. Exhale and lift the chin slowly toward the chest pulling the abs in toward the spine. Shoulders remain on the floor. Inhale and release slowly, head on the floor.

Repetitions: 4–8, several sets a day, working up to 40 repetitions per day.

2. Pelvic tilt
Use the same starting position as the first exercise, with arms pulling the side ribs toward each other. Inhale. Exhale and pull belly toward spine, tilting pelvis forward toward the belly button. Lower back is pressed to the floor. Inhale and release the pelvic tilt to a relaxed spine.

Repetitions: 4–8, several sets a day.

3. Alternating heel slide
Using the same basic position as in the first two exercises, press the lower back to the floor (small pelvic tilt). Inhale. Exhale, sliding right foot forward until leg is straight along the floor. Keep lower back pressed to the floor. Inhale. Exhale and bring leg back in, foot flat on floor. Repeat on other side.

Repetitions: 4–8, alternating sides, several sets a day.

4. Double heel slide
Press lower back to the floor (small pelvic tilt). Inhale. Exhale and slide both feet forward along the floor until legs are bent but close to the floor. Keep lower back pressed to the floor. Inhale and bring legs back in, feet flat on floor and knees bent.

Repetitions: 4–8, several sets a day.

5. Single foot touch
Press lower back to the floor (small pelvic tilt). Lift legs to 90° angle (parallel to the floor). Inhale. Exhale and lower right foot to floor. Inhale and lift foot up to original position. Keep lower back pressed to floor. Repeat with other leg.


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