Some abdominal exercises
Side reaches & abdominal rotations
The key to strengthening your abdominal muscles is learning how to 'compress' or tense them. This is a simple movement that builds your abdominal strength, while flattening your tummy and improving your posture. Compressing your abdominal muscles can be likened to performing pelvic floor exercises (but in your belly!). This is because they can be done while you are sitting, feeding your baby, talking on the phone, or driving in the car. You can do stomach compressions anywhere, anytime (and no one will ever know you are doing them!)
To understand how to perform stomach compressions can feel, try:
- Standing or sitting straight, then pulling your tummy in. Imagine you are trying to pull your belly button (or navel) in towards your spine (or backbone), while relaxing the rest of your body. Hold this for about 5 seconds, while slowly breathing in and out. Don't hold your breath. After 5 seconds or so, release (or relax) your stomach muscles.
Doing stomach compressions while performing other postnatal exercises can help you to hold your pelvic area firmly and support other weakened muscles and ligaments.
Some abdominal exercises
To perform your abdominal exercises safely, you need to start with a stomach compression. Firstly, lie on your back on the floor. Make sure you are lying on a supportive, comfortable surface, such as carpet, a foam mat or a towel. Bend your knees up (with knees slightly touching) and have both feet comfortably flat on the floor. Your lower back should not be overly arched, nor overly flattened to the floor, try and maintain the natural small arch in your lower back. Remember to continue breathing, while doing the exercises. By breathing normally as you exercise, you are making sure you do not tense up, therefore exercising the correct muscles.
Image 12-13 shows how to lie while doing stomach compressions (or other abdominal exercises).
- Take a deep breath in, and let your stomach relax. Breathe out, and pull your belly button in towards your spine to perform a 'stomach compression'. Flatten the small of your lower back towards the floor (so you are not arching your back) and hold this position for about 5 seconds, while you continue to slowly breathe. Then release.
- Try doing 5 repetitions of this exercise. Relaxing the abdominal muscles in between. You can slowly increase your stomach strength by extending the length of each stomach compression. (For example, holding the 'stomach compression' for longer than 5 seconds).
Most abdominal muscles involve using the 'stomach compression' as part of the exercise. Abdominal exercises need to be done slowly. So avoid using quick, jerky movements.
- After doing your stomach compressions, you can try some abdominal curls. You may also wish to support your abdominal separation while doing these. Remain on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Flatten the small of your back towards the floor and 'compress' your stomach muscles. Cross your arms over your belly (to help support any muscle separation). Then lift your head forward, placing your chin on your chest, lifting your head and shoulders slightly off the floor. Hold this position for 2 to 5 seconds (or for however long it feels comfortable). Try to repeat this 2 to 4 times, doing less (or more) depending on your abdominal tone and strength. If you have had a Caesarean, and this feels uncomfortable, only perform the exercise to your comfort level.
Image 12-14 shows how to support your muscle separation, while doing an abdominal curl.
To increase the intensity of your abdominal exercises you can place your lower legs on a chair or the lounge. Whatever you use needs to be at a comfortable height for you, so that your bottom is not lifting off the ground. This also allows your legs to relax completely, and helps you perform the exercise correctly.
- Lie on the floor with your legs resting on a chair as illustrated in Image 12-15. You can have your arms outstretched at your sides (or across your belly to support muscle separation). Take a breath in, and as you breathe out slowly, perform a 'stomach compression' by drawing your abdominal muscles towards your spine. Now, slowly lift your head forward, placing your chin on your chest, lifting your head and shoulders slightly off the floor. If your arms are stretched out, they should move slightly forward. Hold this position for about 2 seconds (or more), and then slowly relax. Breathe slowly as you lower your shoulders and head back to the floor.
Image 12-15 illustrates abdominal exercises with legs resting on a chair and arms by the side.
You can try to do 3 or 4 repetitions, in 2 - 3 lots, relaxing your abdomen in between. Do as many exercises as you feel comfortable with and stop them when you feel tired.
Initially you may not feel much tightening of your stomach muscles, until they become stronger. Go slowly. Increase the repetitions as you become stronger and more comfortable. When your abdominal muscles feel stronger, and your abdominal separation is minimal, you can progress to the harder versions of:
- Folding your arms across your chest or
- Placing your fingers on your temples or forehead.
While you do the abdominal curls as explained above.
Make sure that your head does not lag behind your shoulders when you bring your head forward. This avoids straining your neck. You may want to support your head with your hands, if you do not need to support your muscle separation. Some women feel the effects of this exercise in their neck muscles at the front (near their throat). This is normal, and means the abdominal muscles are being worked correctly.
Image 12-22 illustrates abdominal exercises with the hands by the side and no neck support.
Last revised: Thursday, 27 December 2012
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.