Core strengthening activities

This programme is for mums who have started being physically active and have GP approval to take part in postnatal exercise (try brand new mum if you’ve not yet had clearance).

This is all about your core. Who wants a gorgeous mummy tummy?

You will start by connecting with your core tummy muscles – the ones stretched during pregnancy. You’ll learn how to activate the transversus abdominus (the deep muscles, that help you get a strong flat tummy), then build strength progressively.

Do each exercise once a day until you have mastered it, then move onto the next. DON’T do them all at once! This full set of exercises usually takes mums around 10-12 weeks to master.

You should introduce cardiovascular work alongside this programme, such as swimming, jogging, or dancing. And remember to stretch – every day.

1. Build strength through eight levels of progressive core muscle training

The Supine ‘Ready Steady Squeeze’: Lie on the floor with back flat, knees bent and feet on the floor hip width apart. Place your hands on your lower abs, in a diamond shape with your thumbs touching the navel. Now pretend you want to squeeze into your pre-pregnancy skinny jeans and pull in your belly button towards the back of your spine as you breathe out. Your lower back should press towards the floor. Relax again as you breathe in. Repeat 10 times.

 

Opening flower: Lie on your back, knees hugged into your chest so you are like a little ball. Slowly release the knees and open out your arms and legs to the sides like a blooming flower as you breathe out. Pull the belly down flat and focus on your pelvic floor. Keep all 4 limbs bent and only open to about 30 degrees before inhaling and returning to the start. Repeat 10 times.

 

Seated ‘Ready Steady Squeeze’: Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, straight back, shoulders in line with your hips. Breathe out and pull your belly button in toward your spine. You can imagine trying to squeeze your hip bones towards each other (you can’t though of course!). You can also use your hands to cup your stomach and as you engage you should feel your tummy move away from your hands. Relax as you breathe in. Repeat 20 times.

 

All Fours ‘Ready Steady Squeeze’: Begin in the box press-up position. Place your hands, knees and toes shoulder width apart on the ground, knees on the ground. Pull your belly-button in using your ‘Ready Steady Squeeze’ abs control. Keep your head aligned with your neck, and eyes down to the ground. Don’t lock elbows, you can tone the triceps if you slightly bend your arms. Hold then slowly push backwards through your arms to raise your bum to the sky. Push your arm-pits to the ground, keep your back straight. Breathe! Push back forward into the start position. You can start in a box press-up position at first and progress on to moving your knees further back from your hands to make it more challenging. Repeat 10 times.

 

‘Ready Steady Squeeze’ with heel slide: Begin with the Supine ‘Ready Steady Squeeze’. By now you will have learnt to contract the ab muscles and engage your pelvic floor before trying to include the leg movement. Slowly to count of 10 slide the right heel forward along the floor until your leg is flat on the floor then bring your leg back up to the starting position with your knee bent again to the count of 10. Repeat with left leg. The better you get at this the less weight you need to keep on the heel as you slide. Repeat 5 times on each leg.

 

Ready Steady Squeeze’ and Move: Begin on all 4s with a flat back and neck, hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Stretch one leg backward keeping core position strong and still and eyes down to the ground between your hands. Hold tummy in. Move the extended leg out until it is 45 degree from your body, keeping the rest of your body completely still. Return to centre and lower. Repeat 5 times on each leg.

 

The Full ‘Ready Steady Squeeze’: Begin in the full press-up or plank position, hands and feet shoulder width apart and try to keep your knees off the ground. Don’t lock elbows. Pull your belly-button in using your ‘Ready Steady Squeeze’ abs control. Keep your head aligned with your neck, and eyes down to the ground. Hold then slowly push backwards through your arms to raise your bum to the sky. Push your arm-pits to the ground, keep your back straight and heels towards the floor. Allow your legs to bend if you need to and look back between your knees. This is the ‘down dog’ position in yoga. Breathe! Push back forward into the press-up position. Repeat 10 times.

 

Full Ready Steady Squeeze with extras: Begin in the press-up position, hands and feet shoulder width apart and you will need knees off the ground to do this one properly. Protect your elbows with a slight bend as usual. Pull your belly-button in using your ‘Ready Steady Squeeze’ abs control. Keep your head aligned with your neck, and eyes down to the ground. Hold then slowly push backwards through your arms to raise your bum to the sky. Push your arm-pits to the ground, keep your back straight and heels towards the floor. Allow your legs to bend if you need to and look back between your knees. Next, keeping your hips up and shoulders back, start your sequence of extras: Alternately press your heels into the ground; move on to swaying your hips from side to side; finally lift alternate legs up behind you, keeping hips square to the front. Return to the press-up position after each part of the sequence.

2. Release the tension, and reduce every-day aches and pains with daily stretches

Cat Stretch: Start on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips, with your fingers spread and pushing evenly into the floor. Pull your shoulders down towards your ears, hold the pelvic floor and belly button in. Round your back on out-breath, focusing on mobilising your lower back to make an even curve. Look forwards and make a u-shape with your back on the in-breath.On the u-shape concentrate on mobilising your upper back and avoid crunching the lower back. Throughout, be sure to activate the whole back not just the more flexible mid-back.

 

Stretch under the Cat: Start on all fours. Thread your left arm, palm up, under your right shoulder reaching as far as you can to the right with the back of your hand resting on the floor. Return to the left side and open up, reaching your left hand towards the sky and opening up your chest.

 

Gentle back stretches: Sit or stand up straight with your arms crossed over your chest. Imagine being punched in the tummy and pull your belly button in as you round your back. Straighten up again. Twist to the left and then to the right holding for 2 breaths each side. Next link both hands together in front of you. Take your arms up in front of you and above your head as far as you can. Hold for 2-3 seconds and then slowly lower your arms down again.

 

Releasing back stretch: Hold onto a railing, fence or other immovable object at waist height. With your feet facing the railing and about 50cm away from it pull backwards as if to sit on a stool behind you. Feel the stretch across your mid and lower back as well as shoulders and upper back. Gently sway the hips and partially straighten alternate knees to feel the stretch move across your entire back.

3. What next?

Once you have mastered your core muscle traning, and you are free from postnatal health complications (such as prolapse, C-section scar soreness, pelvis and back pain) you can join in with mainstream exercise.

One of the most popular postnatal workout DVDs in the UK is the 8 part Blast Workouts – perfect for busy mums looking for short, intense and targeted workouts. Or to engage your both body and mind, choose the Yoga, Dance and Mindfulness DVD, and have fun with the kids too while you workout. Early motherhood is also a perfect time to take up a new sport, to set an example to your kids and establish an active, healthy family life.

Whatever exercise you take up, it’s worth doing a proper warm-up.

Rolling down and up: Start standing, begin by rolling the head forward then roll down from the top to the bottom of your back bending forward until you hands touch the ground. You can bend your knees if you need to, let the head hang and look back between your knees. Roll back up again from the bottom to the top of your spine so the last thing to lift is your head.

 

Mobilising warm up: Swing your arms and mobilise all of your upper body. Try swinging your arms freely in whatever ways you feel comfortable and you can do without straining your lower back or tummy muscles – swing in front and round, reach over your head, and swing your arms behind you.

 

Lower body warm up: Start standing on the spot then lunge backwards, sideways and forwards repeatedly. This is an extract from The Blast Workouts DVD.

 

Tell us how you are getting on with your postnatal exercise programme, and share your own fitness tips for fellow mums on Facebook

Comments are closed