Sit ups … the fastest way to a flat tummy after having a baby (I lied)

I’m starting with a little rant. Sit ups, crunches and ab curls, call them what you will, are possibly the worst exercise choice you could make after having a baby. Unfortunately, large organisations like Bounty are still recommending sit ups as a tried and tested way of getting a flat and toned tummy.  This is not only incorrect but (in my opinion) shows a failure to care for the needs of a new mum. Show me the folk that this has been tested on and I might change my mind but until then, let me share with you some information based on fact and science which I hope will empower you to make an informed choice about your tummy muscles.

No amount of sit ups will give you a flat tummy. It is scientifically impossible. Your post baby tummy is not flat for the following reasons:

  1. It has spent the last nine months learning how to stretch (muscles have long memories). Your six pack actually grows extra cells, causing the muscles to lengthen in order to accommodate your baby bump. According to scientists this takes two years to return to it’s pre-pregnancy state.
  2. It takes time for your uterus to shrink back to its regular size and go back to it’s pre-pregnancy place.
  3. The most common reason for a fat tummy is FAT – and the only places you’ll lose fat are in the kitchen (nutrition is 80% of fat loss) and in the gym/park/church hall, wherever you choose to workout.

The humble sit up is literally a contraction of your rectus abdominus or six-pack muscles. If these are distended (as they commonly are post baby), performing sit ups could make the distention worse. If there’s fat on these muscles then all a sit up does is squidge the fat into big rolls and makes you feel rubbish about yourself.

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Sit ups could make common post natal conditions like diastasis recti or pelvic floor dysfunction worse.

Pelvic floor dysfunction is the broad term used for any pelvic floor issues, ranging from accidental pees when you sneeze (stress incontinence) to pelvic organ prolapse. These issues are most common in post natal women and post menopausal women. When you perform a sit up, you increase the pressure inside your torso (you are literally squeezing it). Any weakness in the pelvic floor area could be worsened by repeated pressure on the area. There are worse things you can do for a weakened pelvic floor (running, jumping or high impact exercise being the top three) but ask any Pilates teacher which exercise is most likely to produce accidental farts from participants, and generally it involves loaded forward bending, like a crunch or roll-up.

Diastasis recti is the term used when the sheath that connects both sides of the six pack (which commonly stretches during pregnancy) does not return back to its pre-pregnancy state after birth. This means some women are left with a gap between the left and right sides of the six-pack. It won’t kill you but it is really important to focus on the deeper abdominal muscles, like the transversus abdominis (the big corset like muscles) and the pelvic floor before considering any loaded forward flexion or sit ups. Both my experience and the experience of the physiotherapists I work with has shown that focusing on the pelvic floor can really help ‘flatten’ any abdominal doming caused my diastasis recti.

But my doctor said …

I fully respect medical doctors but they are doctors of medicine and illness. There is a reason doctors refer their patients out to exercise specialists – because a doctor or GP is not an exercise specialist. I am! I would never prescribe you with drugs I know only through personal experience or try to diagnose your illness based on a few symptoms but I can explain a great deal about the post natal body and the associated exercise implications, which is why I work with, and educate medical professionals in my field of expertise.

What’s the difference between Pilates and sit ups?

Pilates is a whole body form of exercise. If you come away thinking, ‘ooh what a great ab workout’ you’ve possibly missed the point. It’s so much more than that. Too much for one rather longer than usual post about flat tummies (for more information check this post out: https://alittlefitter.com/2012/08/30/pilates-whats-all-the-fuss-about-why-bother/). In my post natal classes we start slowly, focusing acutely on the deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, really making sure that they are working effectively before sending you out to ‘melt fat’ (love that term – means nothing but wanted to get it into a post one day). No you won’t feel ‘the burn’ like you might in a gym abs blast class but you will be taking care of your still very delicate and very wonderful body.

For more information on nutrition for flat tummies check my post: 10 ways to lose fat and get more energy.

And for more about post natal recover check out this popular post: https://alittlefitter.com/2013/08/02/the-princess-the-bump-your-body-how-long-does-it-really-take-to-recover-after-pregnancy-and-birth/

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool

Biscuit SOS – how to beat the mid-afternoon munchies.

Fesh Chocolate Chip Cookies with Rapsberries and Hot Chocolate

Peckish? Is your 3 o’clock appointment with the biscuit barrel ruining your good intentions? If so, you’re not alone. From lack of protein, to sleep deprivation, dehydration or just your body’s own clever chemical hunger warfare sending your brain ‘feed me’ signals, the mid-afternoon munchies are sabotaging svelte waistlines everywhere. It’s time we did something about it. Here’s my how, why and emergency guide to the mid-afternoon munchies.

THE GHRELIN GREMLIN

Think of your body like a finely tuned eco-system. It fights for equilibrium. You get thirsty or feel sleepy, that’s just your clever body looking after itself.

The same goes for hunger. Our tummies produce hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin makes us feel full but the ghrelin gremlin is all about hunger. Like most of our hormones, they regulate themselves during our restorative sleep hours. So a lack thereof can wreak havoc with our hunger signals.

Scientists know that sleep deprivation will increase ghrelin levels in the body. The 2008 study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that just one night of sleep deprivation can lower leptin levels and raise ghrelin levels.

The ghrelin gremlin peaks in the afternoon and signals the brain to eat, and to eat high calorie foods. Hence our visits to the vending machine or corner shop.

Scientists have also discovered that ghrelin is not good for waistlines. A study published in 2009, in the International Journal of Obesity, found that ghrelin favours an accumulation of fats around the tummy and also in the fatty tissues around our organs, especially the liver. Specifically those areas that put us at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

So if the gremlins strike, aim for healthy, happy fats which are much easier for your body to use as fuel and help prevent the unhealthy fat gain around your tummy.

REGULATE

If you are finding yourself hungry in the afternoons it’s also worth analysing your morning food intake. Did you skip breakfast? Did you nip out of the door with little more than a slice of toast and jam? In order to regulate your appetite and blood sugar levels, the best thing you can do is have protein with every meal. A boiled egg, nuts with your yoghurt or a tuna sandwich will all serve your dietary needs better than a teensy rice cake!

You may also be genuinely hungry? Sometimes a craving for high calorie food is just your body’s way of saying ‘EAT’ – so rather than reaching for a cake, eat something more substantial instead.

FIVE RULES TO BEAT THE MID-AFTERNOON MUNCHIES

1. Aim for at least seven hours sleep a night.

2. Eat breakfast – if you skip it then make sure your first meal contains a balance of proteins and good fats.

3. Eat protein with every meal and every snack – that might just be a few nuts (see below).

4. Drink at least two litres of fluid a day – if you feel hungry, try a drink first (you might just be thirsty).

5. Consider an omega oil supplement – it helps in the battle against unhappy fats.

EMERGENCY GHRELIN GREMLIN BUSTERS

If the hunger has already kicked in, here are a few suggestions for damage limitation:

1. Drink a herb or fruit tea, or a fresh vegetable juice – it can take away the sweet craving and quench your thirst.

2. Have a square of dark chocolate with a few nuts.

3. Eat oatcakes with nut butter or avocado.

4. Have an apple with a small piece of cheese.

5. Have some granola yoghurt.