No matter what your body was like, pregnancy changes it and after the baby arrives, you'll probably want to go back to the way things were, or at least get close. Sean Gagnon is a certified strength/conditioning specialist and health fitness instructor who also happens to be the VP of Ab Coaster -- a new workout machine getting a lot of buzz these days (you may have seen Mandi using it on The Biggest Loser last month). In his 15+ years in the health industry, Gagnon has worked with many pre and post pregnancy clients and the biggest thing he noticed women want post-pregnancy is tighter abs. So, how do we go to there? Gagnon wrote out some routines for us.
What happens to the ab and stomach muscles during and after pregnancy?
During pregnancy your abdominal muscles (rectucs abdominus) separate. The basic purpose of this to allow the growing fetus to come forward, not backwards which can cause strain on the low back. Though it sounds like a big deal, this is completely normal and in most cases the muscles return to their normal state postpartum. This separation is known as diastasis and is generally detectable after about the fifth month. The problem occurs when the muscles separate too much (generally caused by weak abdominal muscles) which can lead to low back, pain, sciatica, inflammation etc…. The great news is that this separation begins to close within days after delivery. A sound core training plan will have those abs back in shape before you know it – though you should allow at least six weeks for a full recovery.
What are the best ways to tone post-baby?
Generally speaking the best way to tone up post baby is with a routine consisting of cardio vascular exercise, total body strengthening, and proper nutrition. Depending on your pre-pregnancy fitness level and how well you maintained it during pregnancy you should begin with a low to moderate cardio-vascular exercise program (walking, elliptical, swimming) 3-4 days per week for 20-30 minutes. Total body strength training should also be performed using moderate weights and repetitions 2-3 days per week. It's also important to perform exercises that not only strengthen the superficial muscles that you see (rectus abdominus and obliques) but also the deep core muscles such as the transverse abdominus and the low back.
Are there simple exercises you can do at home to tighten up? How long/how many reps?
When it comes to exercise, routines can be as simple or as complex as you like to make them. Personally I believe that exercise should be simple, fun, and efficient to ensure that you will stick with it.cHere is a simple core training program of four simple moves that you can follow and wont require you to do a single crunch!. I call it the Core 4!
- Exercise 1 - Targets the Transverse Abdominus. The Transverse is a deep abdominal muscle that basically acts like an internal girdle to help pull all of the core muscles in tight. Either standing or lying only the ground simply take a deep breath and draw your navel in toward your spine. As you feel your abs begin to tighten, hold that position for about 10-15 seconds and release. Breathe normally the entire time – don’t hold your breath! Repeat 3-5 times working up toward 10 repetitions.
- Exercise 2 – Targets the Oblique muscles which are located on the sides of the stomach. Sit on the ground and bend your knees with your heels touching the ground. Lean your upper body back slowly until you feel tension on your abs. If you feel a strain on your low back, sit up straighter. Clasp your hands in front of your chest and slowly rotate side to side moving your hands toward the ground as you twist. Twist all the way to the right and all the way to the left and return to center. That is one repetition. Shoot for 10-12. As you get stronger, lean back further, lift your feet off the ground or hold a light medicine ball for resistance.
- Exercise 3 – Works the “lower abs”. There really is no such thing as the lower ab but I am referring to that “pooch” area all women want to eliminate. When you work your abs from the bottom up the resistance is closer to the lower portion of your abs and consequently more of the work is being done there. To work from the bottom up lay on your back and bend your knees to a 90 degree angle with your shins parallel to the floor. Slowly roll your hips up ward off the floor bringing your knees toward your chest and return to the starting position. Perform 10-15 slow repetitions.
- Exercise 4. The Plank for core stabilization. The plank is a great exercise to strengthen the entire core. Simply lie face down on the floor. Then prop yourself up on your forearms and toes lifting your body off the floor. Gently pull your navel in toward your spine to create a straight back. Maintain normal breathing and try to hold this position for 10 –15 seconds. Add time with each workout until you can hold the plank for 60 seconds.
You will note that these 4 exercises work the entire core through both stabilization and movement. There is a great piece of exercise equipment on the market called the Ab Coaster which allows you to do all of this on one simple machine. The Ab Coaster mimics the hanging leg raise exercise which is considered to be the gold standard in core training because it requires you to stabilize the core while moving through a range of motion. The problem is that most people don’t have the strength to do it. Now they can with the Ab Coaster.
Stay tuned for Sean Gagnon's post-baby diet tips. In the meantime, do you have any questions for him?