I think every client who comes to me wants a stronger core, and this is where we start. It really is a simple step. Or at least it sounds simple. In reality, it can be pretty hard to master, at least when you’ve just grown a baby!

I’m talking about breathing correctly.

Correct breathing technique is one of the tips in my guide to kick-starting your postnatal fitness, and it’s one of the first things I look at with postnatal clients, before starting any exercises even.

It might seem silly, and you’re thinking “but I feel so weak- I need to get working, feel my muscles again!”

And I get that. But if you don’t get the breath right, you won’t be getting the most out of your exercises.

Let’s start with the core itself.

I’ve explained it in this video, and if you look at the image below, you can see how the muscles of the abdominal wall and the back form a cylinder, with the diaphragm (that’s the main muscle used for breathing) at the top, and the pelvic floor at the bottom.

postnatal fitness

These four elements work together, and when one isn’t functioning properly, it affects the rest of the team.

Before you read any further, try something for me: place one hand on your ribs, thumb to the back and fingers to the front, and the other hand on your tummy. Take a few breaths- what can you feel moving, what’s happening?

Here’s how they should be working together.

postnatal core fitness

As you inhale, the diaphragm moves down, the pelvic floor lengthens, and the abdominal wall (and trunk in general, the low back opens up as well, which isn’t shown here) expands. The rib cage opens up in a 360 degree action too.

Here are the ribs in action:

You should hopefully feel a softening of the tummy and pelvic floor as this happens.

As you exhale the diaphragm rises, and the pelvic floor and abdominal wall naturally tension. You may even feel your low back joining in on a more forceful long exhalation.

How is this relevant to getting a flatter/ stronger tummy?

 

Because so many people have poor breathing technique. Especially new mums. Having your tummy muscles stretched and a baby’s butt pushing into your diaphragm for months will do that. Here are a few of the problems that I come across.

Mistake Number 1- Belly Breathing and Diastasis.

 

Diastasis Recti is when your abdominal muscles stretch apart during pregnancy. Once the baby is gone and the pressure stretching them removed, they should move back together again over the next few months.

But sometimes the pressure isn’t removed. If you’re a belly breather (think BIG expansion of your tummy every time you inhale) then that’s pushing on your diastasis every time you take a breath. Which is about 20,000 times a day. Not good.

Mistake Number 2- Sucking It In.

Holding in the abs. How many of us are guilty of that? In a world where we’re continually informed that a flat tummy and six pack= sexy, it’s tempting to do!

But if your tummy’s sucked in, where’s that pressure going? Down on your pelvic floor, or up on your diaphragm. The whole mechanics of your core is altered.

Strong abs do NOT = functional. You need them to be able to move with the breath. Permanent tension is not practical, and can result in back ache as your low back muscles over work too.

So let it go!

Had to be done!

Mistake Number 3- Shallow Or Chest Breathing.

 

Booby breaths as I like to call them. Think heaving bosoms in corsets. This often goes hand in hand with the sucking in, but many take heavy chest breaths, where the ribs go up as you breath, rather than out. It’s usually a tense and shallow breath, which means the core will not be effectively loading and unloading, so not making the most of your exercises. And think how relaxing a good deep breath is- you’re not getting that release if you’re stuck shallow breathing! If you’re shoulders rise when you breathe in- you’re doing it wrong! Remember- 360 expansion.

Now let’s try connecting to your deep core as you breathe.

 

With one hand on your tummy, one on your ribs, inhale, and try and feel a 360 degree softening in your belly and your ribs open up to the sides. Feel your pelvic floor soften and lengthen.

Now exhale for an 8 count, like blowing bubbles (I get the Restore My Core mums to actually do this!)- can you feel a tensioning in your tummy and hopefully pelvic floor?

personal training core

You might only feel your chest at first. After giving birth, regardless of the type of delivery, nerves can be affected, so this, plus the load carrying a baby placed on you, means this connection to the breath can be lost.

Bring your attention to your tummy and pelvic floor, and take your time.

Here’s a live facebook video I did on this, exaplining how you can practise correct breathing technique (it’s live so forgve me for forgetting to mention- as you inhale try to feel your pelvic floor lengthen, and rise as you exhale):

It takes practise, and there are also certain releases (such as massage, or some self applied techniques that I teach on Restore My Core) that I find very effective in helping to release and open up the rib cage and low back.

Hopefully you can see that even if you do the best exercises in the world to heal a diastasis, if your breath is putting pressure on your abdominal wall all day long, they won’t be effective.

To get a strong core you HAVE to start with the deep muscles. Once they are well co-ordinated, THEN you can start working on your abs.

But only when the inner unit is stabilised! Which means the diaphragm, pelvic floor and deep core working together on every breath.

Once you’ve got the hang of this head to this blog for some postnatal core exercises to get started on, and you can also download my 10 Tips for getting back in shape after having a baby.

When we talk about reducing stress, we often talk about balance. Because we’re all trying to juggle everything- family, running a house, seeing friends, work, exercise, eating well.

And that’s not even including the little things like painting your nails, reading a good book (right now it’s The One I Was by Eliza Graham) and getting a haircut. The list goes on right?

postnatal fitness

See how stressful it is juggling everything? And the state of that worktop! The strain I’m under here.

When training clients, whether it’s postnatal mums on Restore My Core or 1-2-1 sessions working on weight loss, I always ask about stress. It’s important to consider the effect stress could be having on your recovery or fat loss goals. Because increased stress (and therefore increased cortisol) does affect these things.

And most of us try to juggle too much. Inevitably something gives. We let some balls drop (snort). Which then feels like failure because we haven’t lived up to our unreasonable expectations of ourselves.

postnatal exercise

See how sad I am at my juggling failure?

But is it really possible to achieve balance?

Because I feel like balance is bullshit.

Has anyone REALLY ever attained a state of perfection where all these things run in harmony? Getting their fair share of your attention?

Because I fucking haven’t.

But do we need to? I think part of the problem is that we think we should be able to do it, and put too much pressure on ourselves. Probably because there’s always some other mum who looks like she does. I guarantee she doesn’t. I would bet good money she’s either a screaming mess behind closed doors, hyper-controlling with her children, or drinking a lot more wine than you.

So what’s the answer?

I don’t know. It’s a Friday night and I’m writing this, that’s how good my work-life balance is. And I haven’t even had any wine yet. Surely you don’t expect answers to life’s problems from a fitness blog? But since you’re here I’ll tell you the best I’ve come up with.

Prioritise.

Or rotate. Rotate your priorities, that’s better.

You can’t fit it all in. But you can concentrate on what’s important, at least for a while, then something else will need your attention, so you focus your energies there for a bit.

Let me explain. For me, my biggest priorities are family, work, and taking care of my health. I struggle to do all 3 as best I’d like, at once.

So when I feel particularly productive and motivated, I’ll have a period where I focus on my business. I’ll study, write blogs, develop the content I give to clients (videos, education) and generally try and move it forwards.

And I can just about manage this around childcare. But it means late nights, which means exercise is scaled back. I need the extra hour in bed so can’t get up for the gym. I don’t have as much ‘me time’.

Parenthetically I cringe a bit whenever I use that term, mainly because of Man Who Has It All. But while I know its clichéd I’ve yet to come up with a better term that everyone knows- suggestions below please.

So I start to feel a bit crappy, lose motivation and decide to focus on myself for a bit. Which means work takes a back seat. I’m still doing everything I can for clients, but webinars and business plans? Not so much.

But now I can get some early nights, train a bit more, spend a bit longer cooking. And then maybe I’ll use some of my pre-school hours to see some friends.

The idea that you can divide your attention equally to every aspect of your life, every day, is bullshit.

So stop trying to.

Because the more I try to do or balance everything, the more stressful it is.

Ask for help. Let some balls drop (still chortling). You don’t have to juggle them all.

So what if this mean sometimes I forget to order food and we need take away? Or I skip the gym (I make sure I have enough activity with the kids to stay healthy though, or fit in home mini workouts- this is when the fitness knowledge comes in handy!)

Basically stop worrying so much about balance.

postnatal fitness

Look how much happier I am now zero fucks are given. The kitchen’s still a mess, a small child has materialised and will probably start to whine soon, but I’m zen and can handle it all. (Note- I am not suggesting wine solves everything. If that’s what you choose to take away from this then that’s all on you.)

Self-care really is important though

I find litte things can help when everything is getting too much. Again, you don’t have to be too ambitious here. Whilst I love a good Epsom Salt bath, new mums might find that aiming to get dressed and have a shower is enough to feel a bit more human. Maybe go crazy and brush your teeth before midday.

Carving out even a small amount of time for yourself each day can make a difference. Ideally you can do this without having to lock yourself in the bathroom, but if it comes to it, my money says that your OH gets away with the odd 30 minute session in there. If that’s the case then so can you. Just make sure he’s at home to deal with the fallout when you do it.

And on the exercise front, if you want to find out more about how to make the most of your time with your postnatal training, get my 10 tips to getting back to exercise after baby here.