The Path to Solving the Mummy Tummy
Pregnancy starts a large range of changes in a woman's body. Muscles start to relax to allow for big changes in both your tummy and your pelvic floor. As the baby grows, they push on the walls of your abdomen, causing the belly to expand, and the abdominal walls to separate.
While there may be stretch marks on the surface, there is something more significant happening underneath.
Your abdomen is actually made of more than one layer of muscles. On the top is the most obvious: your 'six pack' muscles (aka the 'Rectus Abdominis'). These are the most famous, but for women, they are definitely not the most important.
The muscles that are really doing all the work are you core muscles (aka 'Transverse Abdominis', 'TVA' or 'TA' for short). These muscles are the corsette or 'spanx' holding your body together: keeping your guts in, and your tummy tight.
Why Do You Get Diastasis?
Unfortunately during pregnancy, your TA and your Sick Pack get in the way of your baby bulge and something has to give! The muscles separate down the middle, allowing everything to spill forward - making plenty of space for the baby. When the baby is gone, your muscles are still relaxed and weakened from the Pregnancy. You're still left with this gap between the muscles and the dreaded 'mummy tummy'!
This separation is measured in finger widths. 1 Finger is pretty good, 2 fingers is common, and 4 fingers is getting quite big. You can measure yourself, but the measurement won't be accurate unless done by a professional.
Apart from ruining your beach body, this separation also reduces your core strength, which can lead to additional effects such as posture issues, associated weak pelvic floor, and other muscle imbalances.
It's definitely worth reducing that gap!
Does Exercise Really Work?
The bad news is that ab crunches and traditional core workouts may not solve your diastasis. These workouts heavily work the 'Rectus Abdominis' (Six Pack), but are not very good at working your TA (your core). You can be working hard for months and have strong abs, but still have a bulging tummy, ruining all that work.
What we really need to work on is that underlying core. It acts like a corsette, and if we tighten up the TA, that tummy bulge will start to reduce.
Clinical Pilates is a very successful method for targeting this core area, and if done 2 to 3 times a week, you will notice big improvements in as little as a few months (Sorry, no quick fixes or magic drugs to sell you here!).
If you're in Kuala Lumpur, have a look at our Clinical Pilates system and get in touch. If not, we have a few tips below to get your started.
Exercises for You to try at home.
One: Engaging the Core by finding your neutral spine.
The most difficult part is actually engaging your core in the first place. Start by lying on your back, hands by your sides, and knees bent with feet on the ground.
Start rocking your pelvis back and forth, slowly creating an arch in the lower back, and then flattening it out again. The key is to keep your upper back glued to the floor: you're not arching your whole back!
As you rock back and forth, slowly come to a neutral position between fully arched, and fully flat. You should have space under your lower back for a blueberry, your ribs will still be fully against the floor.
When you have the position right you will feel a light contraction in your tummy (a tightness across the centre), but you still want your six pack to be asleep. If you let your six pack take over, try again until you find the position. You may not be able to feel your TA at first: it's been a long time since it has been used! That's ok. Just check for the light tension with your hands.
Once you've successfully engaged your core without engaging your bigger six pack, just trying breathing exercises first. Big inhales, big exhales. Your core hasn't been used in a long time, and it will get tired.
Two: Abdominal Hollowing
If you've successfully found the right position and engaged your core (your 'TA'), then you can start to turn it off and on again by doing abdominal hollowing.
Still lying on your back, try to lightly draw your belly button inwards towards your spine using only your core (Don't let your six pack do the work!). Hold for 10 seconds, and then let your belly spill back slowly towards the ceiling. Do this 5 to 10 times, and then have a good break. If you try to do too much in one go, your sick pack will definitely take over.
Three: The Plank
Lying on your tummy, try bring your body up into a straight plank between your knees and your elbows. Don't worry about trying to do a full plank just yet (a full plank is from your feet to your elbows).
The key again is to keep focusing on your core muscles. If you've been working on exercises one and two, you will start to become more aware of what is your six pack (Rectus Abdominis), and what is your core (Transverse Abdominis). We want the work to be in your core!
Hold the pose for only 20-30 seconds when your start out, and then build up from there. 3 to 5 planks is all you need.
Remember to rest properly once you've done exercises. You don't get any gains if your muscles don't get recovery time.