First of all, let’s get one thing straight: When you have a baby, your body changes. And that’s completely OK. More than that, it’s necessary. Every single change that you see in your body is there for a reason — to create another being.
That includes the lower belly “pooch” that postpartum moms just love to hate. Here’s how it works: During pregnancy, and especially during the last trimester, the abdomen has to grow and expand to accommodate that quickly growing bun in your oven. To do so, the linea alba, a band of connective tissue that connects the left and right sides of your “six-pack” muscle (called the rectus abdominis) stretches and thins out.
It’s a handy adaptation, but in a full third of moms, the tissue hasn’t healed after a year postpartum, according to 2016 research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. One result (among many, including a weak core, poor posture, and back issues) is a nice little protrusion around the lower belly. The core isn’t able to hold everything, and a “pooch” is born, Tara Romeo C.S.C.S., C.E.S., an exercise physiologist with Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York, told Fox News.
It’s important for all moms (no matter how young or old your kids are) to work with a physical therapist or trainer well versed in postpartum exercise to help rehab the core and heal the thinning and stretching of the linea alba, called diastasis recti, Romeo said.
She notes that, while most OB-GYNs clear women for exercise six weeks following delivery, if you’ve had a cesarean section, pregnancy-related health complications, or are just slow to heal from labor and delivery, your doctor may ask you to ease back into exercise more gradually.
“Decreasing the ‘baby belly’ takes time, but it can be achieved in part through regular resistance training,” Romeo said. “This will benefit your entire body and will help you take the weight off in all areas.” Belly included. After all, while spot reduction is a myth, research from Harvard University shows that total-body strength training significantly combats abdominal fat, and better than cardio does.
Once you are ready for exercise, try incorporating this at-home-friendly circuit workout into your fitness routine. Each exercise is designed to rehab your postpartum core.
Perform the circuit three times per week on nonconsecutive days. Perform the entire circuit four times through. During round one, perform 14 reps of each exercise, resting minimally between each move. During rounds two, three, and four, drop your reps to 12, 10, and eight, respectively.
1. Goblet squat
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in front of your chest. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can comfortably while keeping your chest up and weight in your heels. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
2. Reverse lunge
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, and holding a dumbbell at each side. From here, take an exaggerated step backward with one leg, landing on the ball of your foot. Bend at your hips and knees to lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor, or as far as you can comfortably. Pause, then push through the base of your front foot to return your back foot to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.
3. Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold two dumbbells against your thighs. Push your butt back and, allowing a slight bend in your knees, slide the weights down your legs until they are just below your knees or you feel a slight pull in your hamstrings. Pause, then thrust your hips forward and straighten your knees to return to start. That’s one rep.
Get on the floor in a high-plank position, your shoulders stacked directly above your elbows and wrists. Brace your core so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels. From here, bend your arms to slowly lower your body until your chest just about touches the floor, allowing your elbows to flare out from your body. Pause, then push through your hands to return to start. That’s one rep.
5. Resistance-band row
Attach the middle of a resistance band to a sturdy object at stomach height, grab both handles, and stand facing the resistance band so that, when both arms are outstretched in front of you, the band is taut. Your feet should be hip-width apart and your palms should face each other. From here, pull your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows to pull the handles to your sides, your forearms parallel to the floor. When they reach the sides of your ribs, pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
6. Standing overhead triceps extension
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, and hold one dumbbell by the end with both hands. Press it directly overhead so that your elbows are straight, but not locked out. From here, slowly bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell back behind your head as far as possible, keeping your elbows tucked in by your ears throughout the entire movement. Pause, then press the weight up above your head to return to start. That’s one rep.
7. Standing resistance-band bicep curl
Stand on a resistance band with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and hold the handles at your sides with your palms facing forward. With your arms fully extended, the band should be taut. From here, slowly lift both handles up to your shoulders, making sure to keep your elbows tucked into your sides and stationary as you do so. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
8. Glute bridge
Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. From here, squeeze your glutes and push through your heels to raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from knees to upper back. At the top, your shins should be perpendicular to the floor. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Lie flat on your back with your arms and legs extended straight up in the air, stacked over your shoulders and hips, respectively. Brace your core to press your low back into the floor. From here, lower one leg and the opposite arm until they are parallel to the floor. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.