So often I get asked: “How do I lose this belly pooch up front?” Women will tell me that they have lost all of their weight after pregnancy, but they just can’t shrink their belly. It is true that this is the area most stretched during pregnancy, but you don’t have to settle for the post pregnancy belly pooch. This is an area that can be trained with the appropriate exercises and appropriate posture.
I want to highlight the importance of posture in ridding yourself of the belly pooch. Realistically, if you exercise for 30 minutes to 1 hour a day, you have to recognize that the way you hold your body for the remaining 23 hours will have an effect on your body shape and tone as well. So even if you master all the exercises I will teach you that target your midsection, and you do them every day for 10-20 minutes, but you go right back to sloppy/untoned posture for the rest of the day, you are destined to keep your belly pooch.
However, if you are diligent with the exercises I have listed below AND you work to hold optimal posture as much as you can throughout your day – which requires engaging your transversus abdominis (TA) muscle to hold neutral spine – you will see your midsection cinch up in 4-6 weeks.
So let me introduce you to your TA muscle. It acts like a low back brace, wrapping around your midsection from front to back. You can picture this muscle tightening much like tightening the laces on the front of a corset, squeezing your belly flat.
The following exercises are 3 examples aimed at tightening up your TA and oblique muscles (the abdominal muscles that pull into a “V” position). The last exercise listed is coaching through optimal posture, which is the final key to ridding yourself of the belly pooch.
Before starting, I want to help you help you identify and feel your TA muscle contract within your own body. Finding your TA muscle can be tricky for those of you who haven’t been coached through it before. The easiest way to feel this muscle contracting is to first get on your hands and knees. In this position, keeping your hands and toes on the ground, lift your knees slightly – just barely lifting them from the ground. It is your TA muscle that is working to lift your knees from the ground. To ensure that you’re doing this correctly, remember to barely clear the ground. If you lift too high, other muscles will begin to assist. The closer you keep your knees to the ground the more you isolate your TA muscle. Perform 10 of these TA lifts, holding for a 3 count with each lift and you will feel exactly where you TA muscle is. If you like this exercise, perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions and add it to the other two exercises as part of your routine. The next two exercises target both your TA muscle and your obliques, which are key in ridding yourself of the belly pooch.
1. Plank position with knee drive/rotation – Lie on your stomach and curl your toes under and place your hands under your shoulders. Push up through your arms, lifting your body straight up and ensuring that your weight is on your hands and toes (you should be in a rigid straight positiong, making sure that your back is not sagging and that your buns aren’t too high in the air). Pull your belly button in toward your spine and then pull your right knee up and across toward your left elbow and hold for a two count. The closer your knee gets to your elbow, the better the oblique crunch. Extend the leg out straight and elevate your leg slightly, squeezing your glute for a count and repeat. Begin with 3 x 6 on this exercise and then progress as you are able up to 3 x 10. Remember low back pain/ache is a sign to stop.
2. Quadriped opposite arm/leg – Position yourself on hands and knees with your eyes looking down. Draw your belly button in toward your spine, take in a breath and now exhale as you extend your right arm and left leg out straight. Hold for a 2 count and inhale as you bring them down. You will feel the difficulty of this exercise as you extend both your arm and leg out away from your center of stability. You should be feeling your lower abdominals working hard to keep your body from rocking side to side. As you fatigue, do not rush the exercise. Continue to hold your arm and leg extensions for a 2 count, focusing on keeping your body rigid. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
3. Optimal postural positioning – Let me remind you again about the importance of holding optimal posture throughout your daily activities. This will increase your muscle tone throughout your midsection in just a few weeks, but it does take work. Optimal posture, from the ground up, starts with your feet. Place your feet shoulder-width apart with equal weight on each leg. Be careful not to lock your knees. Find neutral spine of your low back and pelvis, using a mirror to view your lumbopelvic mobility. For more in depth instruction on finding neutral spine of your low back and pelvis, please refer to my previous posture blog and /or our Hab It: Pelvic Floor DVD. To finish and hold this optimal posture you have to draw your abdominal muscles (TA) in tight. Remember, this is like cinching up your corset or low back brace, and work to hold this toned midsection as you go through your daily activities. Then simply open up your hands so your palms face forward. This will roll our shoulders back without effort and produce ears over shoulders over hips over ankles. That’s optimal posture! Good luck everyone!