Having a baby is the most life-changing experience a woman can go through. It changes the way we look at the world and the way we look at ourselves. It changes our priorities as well as our entire daily (and nightly) schedule. It changes our patience level and the level of laundry. It also changes our body.
Yes, postpartum baby weight is a reality for most normal, healthy women. Particularly bothersome seems to be the weight around the mid-section. This Pilates workout is designed to help pull that tummy back in a little tighter while strengthening the entire core and helping prevent back pain as you learn to carry that car seat everywhere. Those things are awkward and heavy!
The moves below are based on the Pilates method. Pilates is a form of exercise designed to strengthen the core by using gentle, but powerful movements. In the early 1900s, Joseph Pilates formed this technique concentrating on proper breathing and correct spinal and pelvic alignment. Today, people seek out Pilates because they know it strengthens the core and back, flattens the tummy, and balances the body’s strength and flexibility. Best of all: no equipment needed. Not even shoes!
Related: 10-Minute Postpartum Power Workout
This workout will provide you with a series of Pilates-based exercises all of which are performed in a seated or lying-back position. That means you can do them anytime, anywhere, even on the floor with your baby lying right next to you. Now here’s the best part: you don’t have to do all of them! It’s great if your little one naps long enough for you to finish, but even if you practice one or two a day you will be on your way to a better mid-section and feeling more confident.
A few things to note before you begin:
- Always ask your doctor if your body is ready for any activity, including this one. Every body is different and every pregnancy is different. Listen to your doctor and your body.
- The breathing matters! Spend a little time learning to activate Pilates breathing before you start. You can do it in the car, in bed, or watching TV. Simply practice inhaling through your nose filling deep into your belly, then exhaling by blowing through pursed lips as if you had a coffee stir stick in your mouth. This is a forced-air exhalation and should make noise. Done properly you should be able to feel your transverse abdominal muscle activate just like when you cough – this is good.
- Quality vs Quantity – Finally, keep in mind that how you perform these is more important than how many. Keep it slow and steady with good form. Don’t expect a “burn” like in weight lifting. The process feels more subtle but the outcome is not!
Ideally, you can go through the following exercises 8-12 times each moving slowly and directly from one exercise to another. However, if you can’t get to all of them, pick a few each day and progress your way to the whole set. Some day you might even have time to do the entire thing twice through!
A) Start seated with knees bent and feet on the mat. Arms are rounded in a circle shape in front of the chest.
B) Inhale as you scoop the abdominals and round back towards the mat slowly until you reach the mid back, then exhale as you engage your abs even deeper and roll back up to your starting position. Perform 8-12 reps.
Full Body Roll-Ups
A) Start lying on mat with arms extended overhead, legs long, and feet flexed.
B) Inhale as you lift arms up and begin curling chin and chest forward. Exhale as you roll the entire torso up and over legs keeping abs engaged and reaching for toes.
C) Inhale as you being rolling your spine back down one vertebrae at a time and exhale as the upper portion of the back lower and arms reach pack overhead. Repeat moving slowly and using the abdominals to lift and lower, not momentum. Perform 8-12 times.
A) Start lying on your back. Bring both knees into the chest to form a tabletop position. Bring your head, neck, and shoulder off the mat. Arms are long at the sides. Extend legs long and lower as far as possible while keeping the abs engaged and back connected to the mat in a slight imprint. You can modify by bending knees or bringing feet to mat with bent knees.
B) Pump the arms up and down in a quick, controlled manner while taking five short breaths in and five short breaths out (like sniffing in and puffing out). Be sure to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed and focus on your abdominal muscles doing all the work.
C) Instead of 8-12 reps you will do this only once for 100 arm pumps. Count like this: “Inhale-2-3-4-5, Exhale 2-3-4-10, Inhale-2-3-4-5, Exhale 2-3-4-20” and so on until your last number reaches 100.
A) Kneel on the mat on all fours and inhale. As you exhale, reach one arm long, draw in the abdominals, and extend the opposite leg long behind you.
B) Hold arm and leg still and straight without arching your back and inhale again. Exhale as you return to all fours.
C) Repeat on the other side. Perform 4-6 repetitions per side (8-12 total).
Double Leg Stretch
A) Start lying on back with knees bent 90 degrees and arms lengthened alongside calves. The low back should be pressed against the mat with head, neck, and shoulders flexed up off the mat.
B) As you inhale, stretch your arms straight behind your head and legs straight to a diagonal position in front. As you exhale, circle arms around and back to legs while drawing knees back in to the 90 degree angle. To modify, keep you head and shoulders on the mat. Repeat for 8-12 reps.
A) Start lying on back with feet off the floor and legs in a tabletop position. Hands are behind the head and head, neck, and shoulders are flexed off the mat.
B) Inhale as you bring one knee in and the opposite elbow over reaching towards it. Exhale as you twist to the other side. Continue in a criss-cross motion working the obliques. Make sure to keep your chest and arms stay open and you don’t pull on your head. Perform 8-12 twists per side (16-24 total).
A) Start lying on back with arms next to side and legs pointed straight into the air above hips. Press low back into the mat so abs are tight. Take a deep breath in.
B) Exhale and lower right leg a few inches from the mat. Sniff a quick inhale and exhale as you raise right leg up begin lowering left leg the same way. Continue switching right and left exhaling each time either leg comes up. Perform 8-12 per leg (16-24 total).
C) The key to the move is to keep your body still and not rock back and forth.
A) Lie on back with bent knees hip distance apart, and feet flat on mat stacked under the knees.
B) Engage the core and exhale as you squeeze your glutes and lift your hips to a bridge. Hold, squeezing tight and inhale, then exhale to return to mat with control. Keep your spine in a straight line the entire time whether lifting, lowering or holding. Repeat for 8-12 reps.
Alison B. Marsh on June 1, 2016 at 7:04 PM
Pilates is AMAZING for getting the body back in shape after pregnancy. One thing you want to check for before doing these exercises is Diastasis Recti, the separation between the rectus abdominus muscles that can happen during pregnancy. If you have a split larger than about 2 finger widths, you want to avoid contraction or crunch positions, and work the transverse abs, by pulling the belly back and lengthening the spine. Basically just keep the head down in all of the exercises. Working the transverse and pelvic floor, and paying attention to breathing, will flatten your tummy just as well, if not better, than getting into a roll-up position.
Chris Freytag on June 2, 2016 at 10:59 AM
Thanks for sharing, Alison! You're definitely right. We have a whole article on Diastasis Recti you may want to check out: https://gethealthyu.com/how-to-get-back-into-exercise-with-diastasis-recti/