From carrying around your toddler to sitting at your desk for hours, strong core muscles are essential to any woman’s routine. Pregnancy can leave your abdomen especially weak, making it hard not just to fit into regular clothes, but to do laundry, load the car, and finish similar daily tasks. Balancing work and family often means giving up time caring for yourself.
Luckily, you don’t have to spend all night at the gym to feel healthy and strong. There are a few easy exercises to strengthen core muscles, and you can squeeze them into your busy schedule right at home.
Forget the Crunches
After my first baby was born, I was left with soft abdominal muscles that no amount of crunches would bring back. After the recent birth of my second baby, it turned into a full-blown case of diastis recti, which describes a separation of the large abdominal muscles—a problem that affects many women after birth. Anyone who has experienced an abdominal condition like this learns that sit-ups and crunches can make the problem worse.
The following easy exercises to strengthen core muscles are gentle enough, but can still make a difference whether you have a case of diastis recti or just a bulge that won’t budge. Of course it is always best to check with your primary care physician before starting any new exercise routine.
1. Take a Breath
It may seem simple, but gentle breathing exercises called diaphragmatic breathing can actually help strengthen your core. Taking deep breaths from your belly rather than your chest helps exercise the diaphragm muscles. You can perform it just about anywhere—sitting, standing, or laying down.
Place one hand on your diaphragm and one hand on your chest as you take deep breaths in and out. This ensures you feel the air coming from your stomach. Your belly should rise and fall, but your chest should remain fairly still. Try to tighten your abdominal muscles as you exhale, pushing the air out more efficiently. Take these breaths for at least five minutes, two to three times throughout the day.
“Lift with your legs!” They don’t say this for no reason. You may not realize it, but using your leg muscles is a big part of core strengthening. And a squat is nearly the perfect overall aerobic exercise. Besides working your quads and hamstrings, squats also engage your abdominal muscles without putting pressure on your back (which should remain straight as you raise and lower your body). Squats also work your glutes and back muscles, which help to stabilize your upper body further.
To make sure you have the right form, place your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed straight-out and your arms extended in front of you. Keep your back straight and lean your chest forward as you bend your knees to squat. Make sure your knees don’t extend over your toes as you descend. Hold the squat for a moment before you rise and repeat ten times. Try three reps of ten squats and see how you feel. I like to do these as I’m standing in the kitchen feeding my baby in the high chair, but you can fit them in anywhere you have standing room.
3. Bridge Pose
You may already be familiar with this simple core exercise, especially if you’re a yoga class regular. To start, lie on your back with your bent knees hip-length apart. You want to keep your feet flat and your arms out at your sides, palms facing down. Inhale as you lift your pelvis upward until your thighs and upper body form a straight line—parallel with the floor—with your knees being the peak. Hold your pose for a beat, then exhale as you release back down to the floor. Try to incorporate diaphragmatic breathing as a bonus. Repeat these steps ten times and work your way to three reps of ten.
No matter what routine you follow, the key ingredient is self-love. Some days, even ten minutes of easy core exercises is just too much. And that’s OK! Don’t beat yourself up. If anything, you should treat yourself. After a particularly hard day, I like to take a quick hot shower with some relaxing natural soap, or go to bed half an hour earlier than normal to enjoy a quiet moment. Instead of feeling anxious over missed exercise, a little pampering will leave you refreshed and ready to take on your to-do list (including your workout) the next day.
Images source: Sher Warkentin
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.