The term “core” is really a fitness buzzword and its actual meaning can be debated to no end. If you have read Tamsin’s blog you know about the ‘Power Four’ as the main inner muscles of the core that Mama on the Move focus on: The transverse abdominis, (TVA) the pelvic floor (PF), multifidus and the diaphragm.
For pregnant and postnatal women the process of carrying and delivering a baby can place a significant strain on your core muscles, meaning that we often suffer from conditions such as pelvic floor dysfunction, hernias, diastasis recti and low back pain. Quite often it is not just the case that these muscles have been weakened but our brain may also have forgotten how to connect with and communicate with them. If you are pregnant – click here to read our blog on connecting with your core in pregnancy…
- How to engage TVA:
I personally use the cue of “gently drawing your tummy button towards your spine” with my clients, and I believe if you really understand that this is NOT sucking your tummy in as hard as you can then it is an effective cue for lots of people, myself included!
So, we know it isn’t sucking your tummy in hard – WHY? Well think of a tube of tooth paste, if you squeeze it hard in the middle - all you’re doing is displacing the paste. Yes, the centre where you squeeze is thinner, but the paste is still in the tube, it’s just moved. Sucking in your stomach and pulling air up into your diaphragm or pushing air down into your pelvic floor isn’t going to do anything for you.
You also want to add in the correct breathing and connect with the pelvic floor at the same time as “gently drawing your tummy in towards your spine” on the EXHALE and release these muscles on the inhale. When the muscles of your Pelvic Floor turn on, your TVA can engage properly. This is drastically different from simply “sucking in your stomach”. Making a ssssssssss sound as you exhale can sometimes help find the deep core muscles you are working.
- So, how to engage your Pelvic Floor?
This is going to sound a little strange, BUT - imagine using your vagina like a straw. Imagine sucking up a smoothie or trying to pick up a grape. It’s a gentle upward lifting action. Note, it’s gentle, not forceful.
Don’t forget your posture:
Good posture and alignment is crucial. Make sure your spine is neutral, your chest should not thrust – so lower ribs stay back, stacked directly over hips. Your shoulders are relaxed and not up by your ears and your tailbone or bottom doesn’t tuck underneath you. When you engage your TVA, you should not see movement anywhere else in your body.
- Simply drawing/sucking your stomach in doesn’t do anything. So don’t waste time trying to active your TVA independently
- Your Transverse Abdominis AND Pelvic Floor muscles activate together
- Think about your posture, shoulders relaxed, chest not thrust forward, bottom “untucked”
- Proper engagement of your TVA and Pelvic Floor feels like a gentle upward *and* inward pulling
- Don’t forget the BREATHING. Inhale to prepare, EXHALE as you gently pull upward on pelvic floor and inward with tummy to spine. INHALE to release the muscles.
- DON’T FORGET to relax these muscles too -you CAN overuse them– don’t go around trying to hold in your tummy and pelvic floor all day – this will not make them stronger, they need to relax.
When to “engage” the Core:
- Before you lift anything… your baby, the car seat, the buggy…. Prepare and protect your back by properly engaging your core. I know this sounds like a lot to remember but if you re-train yourself to do this then it will become second nature…
- Before you perform exercises such as squats, lunges, press ups etc. Remember also to EXHALE on the EXERTION – which in squats, lunges, press ups is as you push back up
- When you are doing your pelvic floor exercises, don’t forget these muscles work best when worked together so activate your TVA as well.
Our pregnancy and postnatal programmes include Pilates workouts that will help you reconnect with and strengthen your core and pelvic floor. Click here for more details.