Right after “Are you having twins?” (um, NO but thanks for making me feel huge) the single most frequently asked question I get in regards to my pregnancy is “How do I do ab work while pregnant?” I’ve already busted the myth that pregnant women shouldn’t do ab work but now it’s time for more detail.
Not only can mamas do ab work but it has many benefits! Reader Rachel wrote me to ask if it really helps with labor and delivery. You’d think after birthing four babies, I’d have a ready answer to that one but as I am a huge pain wuss and am absolutely convinced every time I transition in labor that I AM DYING AND FOR THE LOVE OF LITTLE GREEN APPLES WHY WILL NOBODY HELP ME?!? I cannot say with certainty that anything “helps” make labor “easier.” It is horrible pain. Every time. Once I even saw a long dark tunnel with a light at the end. Not to scare you or anything. Ahem. But according to the experts (expert: (noun) male who has never given birth but has watched Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Junior” 17 times), working your abs – especially your transverse abs – not only makes pregnancy more comfortable by reducing back pain but it also makes labor easier, especially the pushing part! Also, you didn’t ask (but Reader Katie did!) if prenatal ab work helps your stomach spring back faster. The best way I know to have your stomach spring back immediately is to be young, pregnant for the first time and genetically blessed but apparently ab work can help too – especially if you practice the Tupler technique (see below).
The First Trimester
Don’t change anything. Even at the end of the first tri, your baby is only the size of a tube of lipstick. (There’s a really inappropriate joke here about the tragic misapplication of lipstick but this is a family site so I’ll let you do the math in your head.) So you can sit-up to your heart’s content. Or until you barf, whichever comes first.
The Second Trimester
This is when things start to get tricky. As your uterus gets bigger, it’ll start to put pressure on your vena cava when you lay flat on your back which will make you feel dizzy, nauseous and breathless. For Gym Buddy Allison, who is 30 weeks on Saturday, I don’t even think this has happened yet. For me however, it hit about 24 weeks. Most doctors will play it safe and tell you not to do lying ab work after the first tri.
But just because you can’t lay on your back doesn’t mean you can’t work your abs. An incline bench – with your head at the top, duh – can be really helpful. You can also do some basic ab work including crunches and obliques while sitting and standing.
The Third Trimester
The key here is to know when to stop. How do you know? When your abs have separated (a state known as diastasis – yes I know that sounds like it has some to do with your kidneys but it doesn’t). If you recall, there’s a fun little test to see if your musculature has rebelled yet: Lay on your back (not for long, don’t worry!), feet flat and lift your head and shoulders. Stick your fingers about an inch above and/or below your belly button. You can feel if your abs have separated. One finger’s width? Be very careful. Two fingers? Lay off ab work until the muscles come back together, about 8 weeks after the wee one is expelled.
Some women’s abs never separate. At 27 weeks (on Saturday! I like to round up.), mine already have. I can actually see it when I look in the mirror. There’s a ditch right above my bellybutton. It’s not huge yet but it’s definitely there. Which means I’m pretty much done working my abs for the duration.
The Tupler Technique
But wait! All is not lost. A technique has been developed (by someone named Tupler, apparently) designed specifically for pre- and post-natal women with diastasis. The moves focus on the all-important transverse muscle and, according to research, have shown real improvements.
1. Traditional crunches are bad. You probably can’t lay on your back anymore but even if you can – or are using a bench – the ol’ sit-up will actually make your abs weaker and your diastasis bigger. Not to mention they’re also bad for your back and can actually give you a mummy tummy. Even if they don’t hurt, don’t do them.
2. Support your back by sitting with good posture against a wall. Your back should not move during these exercises.
3. Do the Tupler Technique exercises. These exercises involve very small movements – in fact, when I do them at the gym people think I’m just sitting there with a funny look on my face – but they are precise. I definitely can feel them working.
4. Do them right. Apparently doing them wrong is, well, bad. In addition to the slideshow I linked to in step 3, there are videos you can purchase or you can go to a workshop to make sure your form is right. Me being cheap and lazy, you know I just read the articles and watched the vids but deep down I wish for my very own Tupler Counselor!
5. It’s preventative so start early. You can do the Tupler technique at any stage in pregnancy and in the post-natal period. According to research, women who do the technique early in pregnancy have a smaller diastasis than those who don’t.
6. Get out of bed the correct way. Tupler says that sitting straight up in bed is one of the worst things a pregnant or post-natal woman can do. Instead, roll to your side and use your arms to help you sit up.
A Belly Wrap
One last thing that I’ve read can help with post-partum abs is to use a belly wrap – like the Taut or Belly Bandit – for 6-8 weeks after delivery. It’s supposed to help close the diastasis and reattach your ab muscles to their proper positions. I’ve never tried this with any of my other kids but I purchased a Taut for use after this one and I’ll let you know if I see a difference because of it!