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Just in the last 2 weeks alone, I have randomly met THREE different moms who have asked me the same question. Then while reading my social media comments, I realize even MORE of you out there are hoping for my answer to (again) the same question. This is a sign, if you ask me. A sign that many mamas have a common problem and can’t seem to find help ANYWHERE! It’s a sign that you need me to blog about this. 😉 Now usually I includ dads, aunts, nannies, or any mom-like figure in my posts. But this is one Q&A that can only apply to a mother who has housed a watermelon-sized human (or two) in her tummy for 9 months!

If you’ve had a C-section or a hysterectomy, and you are struggling with the surgical battle wounds, this post is for YOU! Now don’t stop reading if this isn’t you…these tips and tricks can apply to any postpartum belly.

The common question goes something like this: “I had a C-section X# of years ago, and I have this shelf of skin now to accompany my pooch that I just CANNOT get rid of!!! How on earth can I get rid of my tummy shelf and postpartum pooch?” Oh mama…that extra skin that gathers at the bikini incision line after a belly surgery can be so frustrating, as can be the seemingly permanent bulge! I get it…you are doing all you can to get rid of it, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to want go away. And not to mention, it’s in one of the worst possible spots for that picture perfect profile you’re wanting to show off after popping that baby out. Well, ladies…it’s time to ditch the Spanx and “shelf” that tummy shelf problem once and for all!

Before we get started with my tried and true exercises, I need to make 2 things clear:

  1. Abs are made in the kitchen, as I always say. While people love to think that unlimited crunches or weighted sit ups can help reduce the layer around the belly shelf (and obtain those washboard abs we’ve always dreamed of), the cold hard truth is that ab exercises have NOTHING to do with minimizing that layer of fat over your abs to reveal the “bricks” underneath. It is a complete myth that you can spot reduce by working an area really hard. Fat is lost globally, which means all over your body at the same time. You may notice fat loss quicker in certain areas, but that has nothing to do with the exercises done to tone or work the muscle. So how is fat lost? With proper nutrition, first and foremost, and through increasing your calorie deficit with exercise.
  2. Just because your extra belly skin has not tightened yet does NOT mean that it won’t. While this isn’t always the case, I want new moms to be patient with your bodies! Any extra/loose skin over your abs will likely tighten (even if just a little) over time depending on your skin’s elasticity. I personally use an AMAZING body firming product for my own belly…and I swear by it! Just try one…any one…it can’t hurt. But if you do have some loose skin that will not go back after lots of hard work and body fat burning, the fact is that we may have to learn to live with it…and appreciate that it is one of our worthy battle wounds we gained while creating our little miracle on earth or from surviving that surgery.

So while you cannot reduce the layer or get rid of the shelf with exercise (we just established that this is done with nutrition), resistance training plays a vital role in sculpting the muscles underneath the layer of body fat and skin. By training the abdominal muscles properly, you’ll add some shape to those muscles and create proper core strength to help you COMPLETELY eliminate the pooch. Bonus: Once that layer IS gone (by eating right), you will have some beautiful flat abs waiting for you.

Even better…we are going to create a solid core from the inside out to help minimize the all-too-common condition for postpartum moms known as Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation).

Here are my top 5 favorite moves to flatten the abs, strengthen the core, reduce the pooch, and start feeling great again.

**NOTE: Please check with your doctor before doing ANY of these moves postpartum/post surgery, as every woman’s body heals at a different pace.

Vacuums: These are my EVERYDAY go-to ab move!! Sometimes I will do these twice a day. Plain and simple: Either sitting, standing, or lying on your back, inhale to fully inflate your lungs, then exhale. As soon as all the air is deflated from your lungs, hold your breath as you “draw in” from the inside of your lower abs, bringing your belly button in and up toward your spine. Hold for as long as you can, even if it’s only 10 seconds to start. When you can’t hold your breath any longer, slowly inhale as your abs remain drawn in. Work your way up to 5-10 sets of 30 seconds each day.

Looks like this: Inhale, filling your lungs…

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Completely exhale…

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“Draw in” from you lower abdomen, and hold.

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Side view of the move during the hold part…

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Vacuums work the inner core muscles that are too often neglected and will help improve posture, tighten your waistline, and stabilize your back (and we are all in need of that after 9 months of carrying a baby!!).

Dowel Rotations: These are another move that will focus on those overlooked internal core muscles and will also throw in some oblique stimulation to help bring in your waistline. How to: With a dowel or a broomstick across your back, perform a vacuum. On the exhale/draw in part, continue holding your breath and squeezing in from your lower abdomen as you slowly twist from side-to-side. Perform as many reps as you can on each side until you need to breathe. Rest. Repeat 5-10 times each day you do these.

Looks like this: Inhale, inflating your lungs completely…

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Exhale all of the air out of your lungs…

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Draw in from the lower abdomen, and hold…

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Slowly squeeze the abs and twist to one side…

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Then to the other.

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Planks: Planks are one of the best stabilizing moves for your core and literally target every single one of the abdominal muscles. Assume the plank position from your toes with elbows on the ground (can perform from knees if toes are too difficult). With your body in a straight/rigid line and core tight, drawing your belly button in and up toward your spine, hold the position for as long as you can. Work up to 5 sets of 30 seconds each time you perform.

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Heel Slides: These are another core-strengthening/diastasis recti-minimizing move for us postpartum moms that focus on those internal core muscles. This one targets the lower abs more than the others…which is right where that bikini incision is. Lying on your back with knees bent at 90 degrees, perform a vacuum (inhale, exhale, draw in). On the exhale and draw in, slowly slide one heel out to full extension, then back up to starting position. Inhale, exhale, and repeat. Start with 3 sets of 10 on each leg, working up to 5 sets of 15 on each leg over time.

Looks like this: Perform a vacuum…

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While drawing in, squeezing the abs, and holding your breath, slowly slide one heel down to an extended leg position…

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Then back up to start and repeat with the other leg.

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Inhale and repeat.

Weighted Crunches (with caution): This is for those who want more!!! I ONLY recommend this once you KNOW you do not have diastasis recti AND once your doctor has cleared you for exercise that is a little more intense. This is the one move of the 5 that focuses mostly on the outer ab muscles (rectus abdominus)—the ones you see once the layer is gone. Lying on a bench with your shoulders hanging over the edge and the appropriate weight behind your neck (or no weight for starters), exhale as you crunch up as high as you can go, then inhale on your way down. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10.

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Recommendation: While I recommend doing exercise #1 every single day, the others can be mixed and matched. I like to combine exercise #1 (vacuums) with one of the other moves, alternating each day. So in short, 7 days a week I do SOMETHING…even if I just vacuum.

Keep in mind that every exercise is done with a “draw in.” Drawing in is NOT sucking in—it’s drawing in from the lower abdomen. Each time an ab exercise is performed, it should be done with this in mind, otherwise we risk actually CREATING a lower abdomen “pooch.” By targeting these muscles with every exercise, we are preventing this from happening.

One final note…it’s all about taking one baby step after another. While these may not seem like much, consistency will get you the results you want and the tummy you deserve! Try these out and feel free to comment below with related questions. I will answer as many as I can!

Xoxo,

Heidi

Related reading:

Diastasis Recti: Closing the Gap
Carb Cycling 101
Emotional Eating: How to Take Control Once and for All