Retrain before you strengthen

I’ll cut right to the chase, Mama. Before you start performing double leg raises, bicycle crunches, and other ‘coreblasters’ to slim down your waist you need to start at the beginning.

Peel back the layers of what you call your core and you’ll get to the muscles responsible for alignment, support, and the foundation to movement AND the muscles that truly affect your waistline. Most postpartum Mamas, and a lot of women in general for that matter, have difficulty accessing and turning on these muscles to assist them during exercise and therefore aren’t truly connecting with their core. If you are constantly repeating a core exercise without accessing your diaphragm, transverse abdominals, or pelvic floor your brain will start to shut off communication with these muscles.

Retraining exercises do specifically as they say – they retrain and re-sequence the way your body signals and activates your deep core. (Again, the deep core is your diaphragm,TVA, PF, and multifidus.) It’s common for the body to fire the superficial muscles of the core (obliques and rectus abdominis), rather than the deep core, as it’s been the way your body has likely recruited these muscles years. But you need to remember the deep core is what stabilizes the body and they work to not only support us during movement, but to prepare the body for load.

So before you start crunches, Russian twists, planks or even Pilates teasers you need to spend time teaching your brain and deep core how to communicate and function together. Since you cannot strengthen a muscle that your brain is not using, heading straight into “strengthening phase” may merely be reinforcing a non-optimal pattern of muscle activation.

In my experience, most women enter  pregnancy with an underactive TVA and diaphragm; even if they workout. Common misconceptions and cues used still today in fitness are you need to “pull belly button into spine” or “draw the belly in” which are okay, but they don’t translate well in practice. By isolating the area of the belly button and drawing it in towards your spine,you only work the mid-section of your stomach and leave your lower TVA static. It also places downward pressure on your pelvic floor and since your diaphragm has no place to move you shift into chest breathing. Everything is affected just by activating the muscle improperly. The entire core should function altogether starting with a diaphragmatic breathe and a gentle activation of the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals; which are activating in all regions (lower, middle, upper).

So consider this whether you are postpartum or just a woman looking for answers to building core strength. Start with the foundations: diaphragmatic breathing and gentle core activations,bring your pelvic floor and transverse abdominals into play, avoid popping of the TVA, and learn to allow all the muscles of the core to relax. If you can begin improving the mind-body connection and accessing the deep core with your movements/exercise, you’ll start to see results and guaranteed a stronger,functioning core than you had before.

Your trainer,

Meghan

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