This blog was written by Megan Jack. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.
The deepest part of the abdominal wall―and the most important, specifically for postpartum exercise―is the transverse abdominis. These muscle fibers run horizontally across the abdomen and perform abdominal compression, which draws the belly inward and narrows the waist. It is sometimes referred to as the “internal girdle.”
The Flat-Belly Muscle
After pregnancy or excessive abdominal weight gain, the transverse acts as a splint helping to close any abdominal separation. It is the body’s most important core stabilizer and is responsible for “re-flattening” the abdominal wall. With pregnancy, the abdominal wall has been pushed outward for nine months. It is important to first retrain those muscles to pull back in toward the spine.
A common mistake postpartum is to jump right into crunches, which strengthens the external layers (rectus abdominis). External layers can then overpower the transverse, leaving it functionally weak. This in turn causes the abdominal wall to bulge outward, specifically below the waist. So I encourage my corporate fitness clients to train those abs from the inside out.
An Exercise for Tightening Your Core
It is never too late to retrain and balance out all of your core muscles. Try the following exercise from BeFitMom.com, beginning with 3 sets of 5 repetitions held for 5 seconds, and progressing to 3 sets of 8 repetitions for 10 seconds.
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat.
- Place a Bender Ball between your knees.
- Place an object such as a toy block or two hockey pucks taped together on your stomach in line with the hip bones.
- Without holding your breath, squeeze the Bender Ball between your knees and draw the pucks down into the abdomen without initiating a crunching action. Some visualization cues to think about: “Navel to spine” or “zipping up a tight pair of pants.”
As you pull your belly in, you should notice the pucks or block sinking. If they rise as you complete the exercise, stop, reset, and try again.