I wish someone had warned me.
Something no one told me about those early postpartum days was that I’d barely be able to stand for five minutes without feeling like my core was going to collapse.
I also had no idea that walking would be hard.
Or that I’d have to use a chair or whatever object was around me to help me stand up from the ground.
This felt SO weird to me because I had worked out my entire pregnancy, and was confused as to why I was this weak after just one day.
Obviously I knew birth takes a toll on our bodies, but I figured I’d at least have SOME strength to show for it.
I just didn’t know what was going on.
SO – if you experienced this yourself, or if you’re currently expecting and would like a little heads up so you don’t feel as confused as I did, here’s what’s happens to us all.
It’s all about your transverse abdominis.
Your transverse abdominis, or TA, or TVA, is your deepest core muscle that is nicknamed the “corset” muscle.
It wraps around your entire midsection (front and back) and acts on tension that rides up against it.
So, before you’re pregnant the TA muscle wraps nice and snug around your midsection creating stability in your body and engaging while performing every day tasks like walking or picking something up.
As you grow during pregnancy, there is still plenty of (if not more) tension that “pushes” up against your transverse abdominis, so you still feel strong and stable, even as you grow your baby.
The catch here is that your TA muscle is stretching and stretching throughout your pregnancy… but since the TA works on tension, you still feel pretty solid.
BUT once you birth your baby, everything that your “corset” was “holding onto” is now suddenly gone. There’s nothing for your TA to “grab onto” anymore, and no tension pushing back against those muscles.
Not only is everything internal (as in your baby and placenta) gone, leaving a void of tension, but your TA muscle is also stretched and lax which makes it hard to activate, causing your TA to be extremely ineffective and weak.
The absence of tension coupled with the inability to fully engage your stretched transverse abdominis is what is causing you to feel unstable and weak!
That’s why recovery takes so long and why it is so crucial to start slow in those first few weeks postpartum!
You need time to reestablish that mental connection between your brain and the transverse abdominis muscle, and you need time to physically strengthen the TA in order for it to work as your stability center as it once did.
To further illustrate how the transverse abdominis works, think of an actual corset.
When you tighten the strings of an actual corset, it will squeeze as close as it can to your body. You’ll feel tight and secure (and probably really uncomfortable, but that’s besides the point).
If you instead put the same corset on a larger surface area (aka your pregnant belly), it’s still going to fit as snug as possible to that belly even though the strings aren’t pulled as tight as scenario 1. The tension is still there keeping you nice and stable.
However, in both situations, if you take your body out of the equation, you’re just left with a corset with nothing for it to grab hold of. It’s just there.
The corset no longer “works” because there’s no inner tension working back against it.
So, how do you recover your transverse abdominis?
This is where breath work and deep core exercises come into play.
First up, breath work.
Breathing exercises use the natural increase in abdominal pressure from your inhale to reconnect and engage the deep core system. It’s the first step to your recovery.
The deep core system is made up of your diaphragm, pelvic floor, transverse abdominis and multifidus. Together they form a can-looking-structure that provides support and stability at the spine and for your entire body.
Here’s what proper breathing technique, aka the Connection Breath, should look like:
- On the inhale, breathe into your belly and ribs/lats. Expand your belly and relax your pelvic floor.
- On the exhale, deflate your belly, engage your deep core muscles, and slightly lift your pelvic floor muscles.
This will help with the mental connection between your brain, transverse abdominis and pelvic floor so they can once again activate automatically during every day tasks. The Connection Breath also uses this flow of pressure to engage and activate the transverse abdominis to strengthen the muscle, and in a sense “reels it back in.”
Second, deep core exercises.
Once you nail down the connection breath, it’s time to use it during deep core exercises. The two go hand in hand.
Some deep core exercises I use with my in person clients and in the FIGR:Postpartum program include:
- Glute bridges
- Bird dog
- Knee twists
- Heel slides
- Single leg knee ins
- Downdog heel raises
As a general rule, inhale on the easy part (or before the movement) and exhale as your perform the movement. This will help you properly engage your core and pelvic floor.
Now it’s time to get to work.
Reengaging and reactivating that TA properly is what is going to get you back to the barbell and all the weights that you love! It is one of the most crucial components to your short and long term recovery, and simply cannot be skipped.
To take all the guesswork and fear out of your recovery, simply subscribe to FIGR:Postpartum. You will have full peace of mind that you are recovering your strongest and doing what’s best for your body! Full details for what’s included in this program can be found here!
I got you,