Exercising to the weakest link is vital in pregnancy and post-birth to help keep your pelvic floor and abdominals safe. And for most people the weakest link is generally your pelvic floor straight after having a baby especially if you had a vaginal birth. However, depending on your pregnancy, your 2nd weakest link will most likely be your abdominal separation which occurs in all pregnancies and it all depends on the degree of it post-birth as to how it may affect you long-term.
The biggest healing time for any women postpartum is the first 6 weeks. This is a crucial time to start doing pelvic floor exercises within 24hrs of birth and to start activating your lower transverse abdominals again to help heal your abdominal separation. But for some women who may have had a difficult birth with forceps/vacuum, long pushing and/or a perineal tear, healing may take a little longer. But I can’t stress enough about being proactive in the first 6 weeks post-baby to assist with healing and rebuilding strength again to minimise chances of incontinence.
And for women who have had a c-section, feeling your lower transverse abdominal muscles may take a little longer if you are feeling numb at the incision site.
But all is OK because there is always help available if you are unsure about your activation of your pelvic floor and TA muscles. I always recommend girls to see the physio in the hospital before they go home from hospital, and then to have a full check up with a Women’s Health Physio at 6-8 weeks post birth to get the green light to start a Safe Return to Exercise program with a qualified trainer. You can find a trainer in your area here
Because when you restart your fitness journey, we want to make sure you are training safely and strengthening your foundation again from the inside out.
So then why is it important to exercise to the weakest link post-birth?
Exercising to the weakest link is applied with bodyweight, with weights and resistance bands and also in your position during the exercise, especially on all fours or on your back.
If we are not listening to our bodies and pushing too hard and too fast we can cause damage by pushing excess pressure down and out of the weakest link which will be our pelvic floor and or abdominal separation. Which is NOT what we want.
In pregnancy and post-birth training, we MUST think Pelvic Floor first and adding on TA (transverse abdominals) Activation where we can to help stabilise us further to help build strength from the inside out.
The pelvic floor muscles form the base of the group of muscles commonly called the 'core'. These muscles work with the deep abdominal (tummy) and back muscles and the diaphragm (breathing muscle) to support the spine and control the pressure inside the abdomen.
During exercise, the internal pressure in the abdomen changes. For example, when lifting a weight – the internal pressure increases; when the weight is put down – the internal pressure returns to normal.
Training to the weakest link is super important to ensure that you are rebuilding your foundation again correctly from the inside out.
Bottom line is if you CAN’T contract your pelvic floor under load then get rid of the load or choose a more basic position of using bodyweight and start from the basics. There is no rush post-birth.
Listen to your body and you will achieve your goals NOT complications.
Below you will see 3 positions when I train my girls to exercise to the weakest link:
During pregnancy, the majority of women will stay in a Level 1 position for all of their pregnancy to minimise any strain on the abdominal muscles which can cause abdominal separation.
Post-birth from 6 weeks, I will ALWAYS start my girls back in a Level 1 position.
Upgrading to Level 2 ONLY occurs if you can activate pelvic floor and TA and you have NO abdominal strain or bulge with your abdominal separation or pressure down on the pelvic floor.
Once Level 2 is mastered with no complications and you have built adequate strength and you have core control, then you can attempt Level 3. For most girls a Level 3 exercise will be a minimum of 6-12 months postpartum plus depending on the birth and degree of abdominal separation.
I can't stress enough about taking this process slowly to minimise lifelong complications of incontinence, prolapse and back pain.
Anita Guerra is a Registered Midwife and Certified Fitness Trainer. She runs Fit For 2 in South Morang, Victoria. To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.
You can also find her on Instagram.
If you are a new mum returning to exercise and are not sure where to start check out our FREE Safe Return to Exercise for New Mums program to learn all you need to know.
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