Should postnatal mums do ab curls?

I’ve talked a lot on social media about crunches and sit-ups being a no-no when you’re postnatal, but a video I shared on my Facebook page recently seemed to really hit the mark. Aside from the comments and shares, I had quite a few mums tell me how clear it made things for them.

So I thought it was about time I wrote a blog on this. Unfortunately there’s a lot of bad advice out there when it comes to postnatal exercise, and many new mums do crunches to try and flatten their tummies, so we need to keep spreading the word that IT DOESN’T WORK!

Before I carry on, here’s the video:


Sit-ups, or any variation of this movement that works the six pack muscle, can cause more harm than good.

So, if you’ve recently had a baby and you’re doing sit-ups, STOP them immediately!

During pregnancy the first thing your six-pack muscle (Rectus Abdominis) does is lengthen, vertically. Then, as your pregnancy develops, and your baby grows and your bump gets bigger, this muscle starts to separate around your belly button.  This is referred to as Diastasis Recti. The abdominals can take time to re-align after your baby has been born, so for several weeks and indeed months (or for some, years) after birth, your six-pack muscle remains in a lengthened, separated state.

The first thing we need to do regarding this area is actually focus on connecting to your pelvic floor which is a bit like a sling of muscles supporting you from underneath, and the deep abdominal muscles which lie under your six-pack muscle.  This deep muscle is known as the Transversus Abdominis (TVA).

Strengthening the abdominals after birth, and specifically the TVA and pelvic floor, is a bit like building a house.

If your house has a solid framework and foundations, it will always be strong.  If you work on strengthening the deepest muscles first, then focus on the next layer, then the next layer after that, then your abdominals will re-align to their original structure.

What do crunches do?  They strengthen and work the six-pack muscle.  During pregnancy, we know that this muscle has lengthened and separated.  If you don’t have a solid foundation underneath this six-pack muscle before you work it (I’m talking about your core and pelvic floor here), then by doing crunches, you’re actually going to make your separation worse.  In other words, any separation you had after birth, will now be wider, because you’re forcing the muscle to strengthen, when it’s still in a weakened, separated state.  The amount of abdominal pressure placed on the six-pack muscle when performing a sit-up, forces it to separate further apart. As shown in my video.

And here’s what the pressure can do to your pelvic floor:


I follow a system with postnatal clients which involves locating the TVA first.  We connect to and strengthen that, along with lots of focus on the pelvic floor.  Once function in these muscle groups has been gained, then strength work can be done.

So, I hear you ask: “Why do people do sit-ups?”.  Well, in most cases, people do sit-ups in the hope that they will get themselves a toned, flat stomach and a noticeable six-pack.  I’m here to tell you that doing sit-ups AREN’T going to help you (as a postnatal woman), or anyone you know, male or female, get a six-pack.  Your body needs to be extremely lean to do this, which has nothing to do with sit-ups! (See this blog for my thoughts on having visible abs as a fitness goal.)

As a final point: I don’t even use sit-ups for clients who don’t have diastasis recti. As explained on athletic coach Eric Cressey’s website here:

“World-renowned low-back researcher Dr. Stuart McGill says that we have a finite number of flexion/extension cycles in our back until injury is caused. That number is different for every person, but the bottom line is that by performing exercises like crunches and sit-ups, you’re increasing your risk for injury with every rep!”

Plus, they’re promoting a rounded posture, which is the very one I’m usually trying to get clients out of, after too much time sat at a desk!

I do sometimes use crunches, but never in the early postnatal phase, and doing a crunch where you are engaging your transverse abdominis is very different to an uncontrolled crunch. So I recommend having a professional (physio, trainer) teach you how to do one properly, and also assess whether you need to do them.

Please share this blog and forward it to anyone you think might find it useful, as unfortunately I still see a lot of ab dominant work recommended for postnatal women- this myth needs busting!

For help with your postnatal fitness click here to find out more about my next Restore My Core course, or get my 10 Tips for getting back in shape here. You can also read what core exercises ARE safe and effective when you’re postnatal here.

I have a friend who went on a silent retreat recently: a whole weekend of no talking, no distractions and lots of meditation.

This sounds simultaneously wonderful and horrendous to me: wonderful because I can’t imagine many things as blissful right now as having no distractions, and some time for myself; horrendous because I would find switching off for that long so challenging.

I don’t know about you, but I find it quite hard to meditate. It’s incredibly difficult to stop thinking. I know the theory- recognise the thought or distraction and then let it go, but it’s quite frustrating to do!


 I know, I know, practice makes perfect.

And I will keep at it. But I actually find exercise to be a form of meditation, and I find it easier to lose myself and focus on the moment when training than when trying to meditate.

When running I focus on the way my foot strikes the ground, the way my body moves onto it and how my foot then propels me forward again. I feel how smooth the movement is; am I wasting energy bouncing up and down or can I maintain an efficient forward propulsion? And my breath, the rhythm of it.

I used to throw on my headphones and plod away, enjoying the rush of exercise, the challenge of beating my times, but not always the process itself. Since switching to a forefoot strike and becoming aware of technique, running has become much more meditative for me.

I had a similar experience with swimming, where slowing down and trying to achieve a more efficient,smoother stroke has kept my mind on what I’m doing in the water, rather than just singing in my head while I notch up the lengths.


But what are the benefits of mindful exercise?

Sure, I feel calmer, more relaxed and more clear headed after training like this. And I feel like my movement is more efficient. But what’s the science behind it?

Increased skill.

 Have you seen the video where you have to count the number of ball passes between the players? If you haven’t here it is:

It beautifully demonstrates how we can only really be aware of some of the sensory information our body is receiving. And when we focus on how something feels, that we weren’t fully aware of before, we excite neural activity. This is why, according to Todd Hargrove in A Guide To Better Movement, “focussed attention is one of the key requirements for practise that maximises neuroplasticity and associated motor learning.”

 So to gain the most from practising any skill, you need to be fully focussed on it. This kind of tunnel vision is something top athletes tend to excel at.

Decreased risk of injury.

When we focus on particular sensations in our body we can also improve the sensory information our bodies send our brain. This is kind of important!

Our brain has a sort of ‘map’ of our body, and our nervous system sends it information. Poor proprioreception means the information being sent to the brain is poor, often as a result of poorly facilitated muscles. Think of the difference between someone who closes their eyes and wobbles all over the place and a gymnast who does the same and remains still.

If the brain isn’t confident that a joint is stable, it can restrict range of motion in an attempt to protect it. And if the ‘body map’ in the brain is poor then movement control will suffer. Which means an increased risk of injury!

So to improve your proprioreception, regular mindful movements are best, and ideally they should be complex and novel, as these result in a stronger neural response. Do this by consciously trying to squeeze the muscles you know should be working. Over time it will become more subconscious.

A stronger muscular contraction.

The other advantage to focusing on the muscle being worked is it actually works a lot harder!

This article examines this by conducting a study into the effect of the mind-muscle connection on resistance training. If you’re interested then follow the link for more information, but it shows just how large an effect mindful focus can have.

It’s something I’ve been taught is especially important when coaching kegels, as many women can actually contract the wrong muscles, say the glutes, and not train the pelvic floor effectively. Many Women’s Health Physiotherapists will show their patient a model of the pelvis to aid this with visualisation, and I like to encourage clients to imagine drawing the pubis and coccyx (where the pelvic floor attaches) together.

In this blog physiotherapist and pelvic floor expert Sue Croft describes how effective using the model is, as she can “confirm that I can often feel a stronger contraction on palpation, when the patient views the model compared to not looking at it.”

So there you have it, whether meditation isn’t your thing, or if you’re just not that great at it yet like me, you can still reap some of the benefits by applying mindfulness to you workout!