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To Crunch or Not To Crunch

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After having a baby, many mothers are ready to get their body back to normal, right away.  Many women will automatically think of doing crunches to rebuild their abdominal muscles. But are crunches the best exercise for post-pregnancy?  



      
      Vionna Jones



In many cases the answer is no. There are numerous exercises available to new mothers that will help to rebuild the abdominal muscles, but crunches might not be the best one to choose.  

Mothers that have a condition called diastasis recti, or abdominal separation, will want to avoid traditional crunches.  Diastasis recti  commonly occurs during pregnancy, causing the outer most abdominal muscles to separate as the belly expands to make room for a growing uterus.  For mothers that experience diastasis, traditional crunches should be avoided until the condition is corrected.   The good news is that there are exercises that can be done to correct a diastasis.  If you are unsure if you have diastasis, please consult your doctor or conduct a simple at-home self-check.  

For mothers who do not have diastasis recti, crunches still may not be the best option.  After giving birth, your focus should be on healing your body rather than losing weight or regaining your six-pack.  Crunches will help to strengthen the rectus abdominis , the outer layer of abdominal muscles that are commonly associated with having a six-pack; however they are not the abdominal muscles that you should focus on at this time.   

The transverse abdominis muscles deserve more attention after having a baby.  The transverse abdominis runs horizontally, as opposed to the vertical rectus muscles, and are the deepest of the abdominal muscles.  It is these muscles that are responsible for the strength of the core of the body.  They are also accountable for giving you good balance and posture, controlling incontinence, compression of the internal organs and stabilizing the spine.  These muscles are also used when laughing and coughing.  The transverse abdominal muscles are often compared to a girdle because of their horizontal orientation and function.  And we all know, the tighter the girdle, the better, right? 
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So how can you make your natural “girdle” stronger?  Here are three exercises that I recommend for strengthening the transverse abdominal muscles:

1. Belly breathing
2. Bridge
3. Plank

These exercises are low-impact and can be done within days of delivery.

If you really feel the urge to do crunches and you are sure that you do not have diastasis recti, I suggest starting off slowly:
1. Lie on your back on a mat with your knees bent, feet hip width apart and heels directly under the knees.
2. As you exhale, bring your belly button towards your spine and lift your head and neck off of the floor. 
3. Inhale to return the head and neck to the floor.  

You should start off with 10 to 12 repetitions of this exercise and do 1 to 2 sets.  If you can do this exercise without pain, you can progress to lifting only the shoulder blades off of the floor as you exhale.  

In the end, it is good to remember that any post-natal exercise is about feeling good and helping the body to heal. All of your other fitness goals will naturally follow after that.  

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