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Get ready for labor and prevent incontinence down the road with these essential prenatal exercises.

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The payoffs for having strong abdominal and pelvic-floor muscles are plentiful. “These muscles are a pregnant woman’s best friend,” says Julie Tupler, R.N., author of Lose Your Mummy Tummy (Perseus, 2005) and creator of the Tupler Technique, which is illustrated in her Maternal Fitness DVD/video series (Moon Mountain Entertainment, 2001; www.maternalfitness. com). “If your abs are weak or if they separate from a diastasis [see pg. 64], you won’t be able to push effectively,” she explains. And, a strong pelvic floor can help prevent urinary leaks later. This workout, designed by Fit Pregnancy fitness editor Teri Hanson and based on the Tupler Technique, teaches you to work the deep transversus abdominis, or transverse, muscle (it wraps around your torso like a girdle and involuntarily contracts when you sneeze) and the pelvic floor separately (see “Preparing for Labor,” pg. 64). Try to do this workout up to 3 times every day. Do the exercises in the order shown, performing 10 repetitions of each move and progressing to 20 reps when you feel strong enough.

1 BELLY BREATHING Sit on the floor with your legs crossed comfortably and your back against a support; place your hands on your belly. Without moving your back or shoulders, slowly inhale through your nose as you expand your belly. As you exhale through your mouth, draw in your abdominals, bringing your navel toward your spine [shown]. Strengthens the abdominal muscles and prepares you for the remaining exercises.

2 BELLY DANCING ON ALL FOURS From the Belly Breathing position, kneel on all fours, knees hip-width apart, wrists under shoulders, toes curled under. With a flat back, draw the abdominals up and in by bringing the navel toward the spine and hold, breathing normally. Keeping your upper back from curving, tilt your pelvis under, bringing the pubic bone toward the navel [A]. Hold and count to 5. Return to the flat-back position and repeat. When finished with the final rep, come to standing position by bringing one leg forward, foot flat on the floor, and pushing off the thigh with both hands [B]. Strengthens abdominals, back and upper body.

3 ELEVATORS Sit with your low back supported, one hand on upper belly and one on your navel [A]. Imagine your transverse is a sideways elevator with six “floors.” Inhale and, as you exhale, draw your abs toward your spine to the fifth floor [B]. Hold and count out loud to 30. Then, do 5 squeezes from the fifth to the sixth floor. Release and repeat. Strengthens abs, especially the transverse.

4 SQUAT COMBO Hold an immovable object, feet wider than hip width [A]. Lower into a deep squat, weight in heels [B]. If heels do not touch the floor, place a towel under them. Do a Kegel and hold, counting out loud to 10. Slowly release and draw your abs in as you exhale. Remaining in squat, repeat combo 5 times, then sit down and rest. Strengthens legs, abs and pelvic-floor muscles.

[Kegels] To do a Kegel (note: you don’t have to be seated), squeeze and hold the muscles around the vagina as if you are stopping the flow of urine; hold for 10 seconds, breathing normally, then slowly release. Do 20 10-second holds 5 times a day.

What is a diastasis? Diastasis is a separation of the outer rectus abdominis muscle that often occurs during pregnancy. You can check for it before or after you give birth: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your fingertips horizontally 2 inches above or below your navel. Exhale as you slowly lift just your head [right]. Press gently and feel for a separation the width of three fingers or more and a soft area in the middle; that’s a diastasis. After checking, roll to one side and use your arms to push yourself up to a seated position. Safety note: If you feel dizzy, roll to one side. Do not remain in the back-lying position for more than 10 seconds. If you have a diastasis: Avoid doing twisting exercises and remember to draw your navel toward your spine before getting up or down from a seated position or lifting objects. Also try splinting, which can keep the separation from getting larger

[Preparing for labor] The transversus abdominis, or transverse, is the innermost abdominal muscle, and it encircles your trunk like a corset. The action of this muscle is forward and backward, which compresses the abdominal cavity. The main muscle of the pelvic floor, the PC (short for pubococcygeus), lies in a figure eight around the openings of the urethra, vagina and rectum. During the pushing phase of labor, you ideally will work the transverse and the pelvic-floor muscles separately, drawing in the transverse and relaxing the pelvic floor to let the baby out.

how to splint for a diastasis A splint is simply a piece of cloth that can be used to help keep the two halves of the outer abdominal muscles together as you do abdominal exercises. It also can help you prevent a diastasis or avoid exacerbating an existing separation. Take a strong scarf or piece of fabric that’s about 62 inches long and 6 to 9 inches wide (towels are too thick; splints are available at www.maternalfitness.com). Wrap the cloth flat around your lower back, holding a section of the cloth in each hand (do not make a knot). Bring your right hand across your body and pull toward your middle, resting your hand on your abdomen. Bring your left hand across to your right side. Pull gently from both sides toward the middle over your bellybutton and hold as you do any abdominal exercises.

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