When you want to rebuild core strength, especially after having a baby, it can be tempting to go hard. You know, boot camp hard. Intense cardio activity mixed with high reps of challenging abdominal exercises. That’s how you build strength right? Well, wrong. This might be how you go about burning some calories but building strength takes a more focused approach.
To really rebuild core strength and regain spinal stability the best way is gently. Gently doesn’t mean easy. Gently means with awareness. And there are so many benefits:
Core strength and alignment
When you are rebuilding core connection and strength it is really important that you are working the muscles that you want to be working. This is why correct alignment is key to building strength. If you are out alignment it is likely that other muscles are compensating for the muscles you are really trying to get strong. This means you are reinforcing those patterns in your body. When you are pushing yourself in a hard cardio routine, it is very difficult to check your own alignment.
Breathe to rebuild core strength
When we are pregnant there are some things that get moved around internally to accomodate the baby! Our ribs widen, our abdominals stretch, sometimes to the point of non engagement, the position of our pelvis can change. When the baby is out these things don’t always bounce back. All these changes can ultimately change the way we breathe and the functioning of our pelvic floor, leaving us with a shallow breathing pattern that fails to connect to deep abdominals.
To rebuild core strength focus on reestablishing a deep breathing pattern can help to engage your deep abdominals, get your diaphragm and rib cage working again and can return natural function of your pelvic floor. This approach can help with stress incontinence, lower back and hip pain and tight and painful neck and shoulders.
Getting the load right
Once you have established a great deep breathing pattern you can begin to load your abdominals whilst keeping a close eye on alignment. Learning to feel your own spinal alignment and ways to fire your deep abdominals is something you can take into all your movement everyday. And let’s face it, being a mum there is a lot of lifting , twisting and running!
Adding load gently helps you to target the right muscle groups without other muscles jumping in to help. This means your core gets stronger more quickly. If you overload your core, other areas jump in like your neck and shoulders, leaving you with a sore neck. Or your butt muscles will clench and grip rounding your spine, leaving you with a very tight mid back.
Moving with awareness and going more gently helps to be more targeted with your efforts to get better, results faster.
Avoid prolapse and continence issues
About half of all women who have had a child have some level of prolapse, and 1 in 3 women who have had a child suffer from some level of incontinence (The Continence Foundation of Australia).
Using the approach outlined above, reestablishing a deep breathing pattern, learning your own optimal alignment and gradually increasing load will help to avoid stress incontinence and prolapse. These are great reasons to start gently and work up to a more strenuous routine.
Enhance sexual function
Reconnecting with your pelvic floor muscles after giving birth can enhance your sexual experience and confidence. Your pelvic floor is part of your deep core, and a healthy pelvic floor increases blood flow and sensation. A healthy pelvic floor is not a “tight” pelvic floor. Learning to relax and lengthen your pelvic floor in addition to contraction = a better orgasm.
A strong centre (360 degree core) helps with all the positions. Better breath helps distribute oxygenated blood through your body, reducing stress and increasing feelings of euphoria. A strong core helps you stand taller, which results in more confidence. Strong, flexible hips help with everything! Oh also one more point, body fat stores oestrogen and healthy levels of oestrogen increase sexual desire so hang onto some of that baby weight.
Let’s just say your hard core workouts to get back your pre-baby body and six-pack abs can’t do all that!
I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, an ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.