I polled the members of Brianna Battles Facebook group, "The Pregnant and Postpartum Athlete" to see what kind of posts they'd like to see from me. One suggestion was on why you don't need to work your abs during pregnancy, but I thought I'd take it a step further and include the postpartum bit too.
Why don't you need to work your abs during pregnancy?
The word "work" in this concept suggests exercise or training the abdominals. Exercise and training of a muscle group or groups suggest trying to improve the muscle(s) strength and endurance. During pregnancy, our abdominals need to STRETCH to make room for that growing baby & to keep it from smushing all of your organs (even if it does feel like your bladder is being squished down to nothing!). Strengthening = contracting a muscle = creating force. Regarding the abdominals, contracting them increases pressure in the abdomen - but we know that pressure is already being increased in there by the growing baby. So not necessary.
If you're really gung-ho about doing something for your abdominals, I recommend isometric work. This may include overhead holds (my go to during my 3rd trimester for "core" movements), planks, double and single arm farmers carries, etc. HOWEVER, the athlete should be monitored during these types of movements for symptoms like coning, sensation of "pressure" on the pelvic floor/pubic area, or anything that doesn't feel quite right. Focusing on keeping good alignment and breathing are most important.
Hopefully that answers the above question. I'm also hoping that most people would not want to "train" their abdominals during pregnancy.
Do you need to "work" your abs postpartum?
First off, I would not recommend any specific training of any muscle group before 6 weeks postpartum (cleared by physician). Let the body heal and recover from birth.
Second, I would recommend being evaluated by a pelvic floor physical therapist (PFPT). If the evaluation reveals a diastasis recti, the PFPT may give specific exercises to help close the diastasis. In my personal experience, this has been done targeting the obliques. Please do not go and start doing a ton of oblique stuff just because you read ^^^ here. Please go get assessed. It's never too late to get assessed by a PFPT - weeks, months or years later, it's all ok!
I would again go back to the idea of isometric work to strengthen the core - that's a lot of what I do in my "accessory" work in my Saturday sessions. Planks, overhead holds, farmer's carries, pallof press, hollow holds, etc. I would not recommend an athlete jumping right back in to crunches, sit ups, hollow holds, toes to bar or hanging knee raises without doing some mindful work on engaging the pelvic floor with breath. I also like leg raises for strengthening hip flexors and getting the lower abdominals. You can do these hanging from a bar, but I personally find them more challenging to do seated.
But honestly, if you want "abs", it's going to come from eating well and lifting weights, the same thing I tell to many of our gym members - regardless if they've had a baby or not. Your abs were slowly stretched over a period of 9 months, it's going to take some time to build back that strength AND THAT'S OK! I don't think it's healthy psychologically to get hung up on getting abs or your body back ASAP - of course it'll cross your mind, but if it's controlling your training, eating, and everything else, that's not healthy. I think about my body multiple times a day. Thinking about my pre-pregnancy body, looking for abs, judging my loose skin, etc. I'm human. But I don't let it dictate how I live my life. I eat to fuel and heal my body and nourish my baby. I train to be able to move and do all the things I need to do OUTSIDE of the gym.
For reference, I'm 9.5 - almost 10 months postpartum. It is very much a journey and being patient and kind to yourself pays off.
In summary, my recommendations for training abs postpartum is:
1. Get evaluated by a PFPT & follow their recommendations. If you don't like their recommendations, ask why & get another opinion if you want.
2. In the beginning of returning to training, focus on just moving with good alignment and breathing.
3. Begin to incorporate isometric work as long as it can be done with no symptoms and good alignment.
4. Bring in traditional ab exercises after your body has had time to heal - this may mean months.
Nothing is set in stone, it depends on each individual. Questions? Comment below, email or DM me or comment on social media.
***This post is not meant as specific medical advice. If you have specific questions, please feel free to reach out to me, and consult with your healthcare professional. Check out my resources tab as well!