A progressive exercise program in which you start slowly and then work your way up to more strenuous exercises.
Sometimes meeting your postpartum fitness goals means taking things one day at a time. Michelle Dozois, co-owner of Breakthru Fitness Studio in South Pasadena, Calif., simply wanted to be able to do a roll-up (a type of sit-up) after she had her baby.
"Even if you're in great shape throughout your pregnancy, your abs take a beating," says Dozois, who appears here and in the video Breakthru Core-Conditioning Pilates (available at www.breakthrufitness.com).
A progressive exercise program in which you start slowly and then work your way up to more strenuous exercises is one of the best ways to go. Start with our "First Exercises" right away (with your doctor's approval, of course). Continue doing them and, when you're ready, add the moves beginning here to your routine.
"When you do [these exercises] in order, you progress gradually and continue to challenge yourself to get back in shape," says Dozois. As you master each move, add the next exercise until you complete the series. It might take you three months or more to be able to do all five moves, but be patient; the payoff is great-looking abs. For best results, do this program every other day.
1. BASIC BALL CURL-UP Sitting on a stability ball, walk your feet in front of you, rolling the ball up your back until your torso is leaning on the ball, knees bent and feet on floor. Reaching your arms toward your knees, pull navel in toward your spine and lift your head, neck and shoulders (A). Maintain position, inhale and extend right arm overhead (B). Exhale and lift your left arm overhead as you lower your right arm to your side. Switch 9 more times; then rest (this is 1 set). Work up to 3 sets. Goal: To keep tops of shoulders lifted, with abs pulled down and in, the entire time.
2. BALL BRIDGE WITH KNEE LIFT Lie faceup on the floor, feet together on the ball, knees bent. Contract your abs, pulling navel toward spine, and lift hips until your upper torso forms one straight line (A). Using your abs to maintain the position, draw one knee in toward your chest (B). Hold for 3 breaths; lower and repeat. Switch and repeat. Work up to 3 sets (1 set is a knee lift on both sides). Goal: To remain still as you hold your hips level with one leg lifted.
3. MODIFIED ROLL-UP Sitting with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, place your hands behind your thighs (A). Pull your navel inward, inhale and curl your spine, holding in your ab muscles and rolling back as far as you can without feeling any tension in your back (B). Exhale, roll up and repeat. Work up to l0 reps. Goal: To lower and lift yourself with your feet flat on the floor the entire time.
4. FOREARM PLANK Kneel with your forearms on the floor, elbows lined up under your shoulders, hands clasped. Position your knees hip-width apart, just behind your hips. Contract your abs, pulling your belly up and in (A). If you can hold this position for one minute, progress by extending both legs behind you so that you're balancing on your forearms and the balls of your feet, your body in one straight line from head to heels (B). Hold for 10 seconds to start, working up to 1 minute. Work up to 3 reps. Goal: To keep your body in one straight line and your abs contracted the entire time.
5. MODIFIED HUNDRED Lie faceup on the floor, knees bent, feet up, calves parallel to the floor. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor; tip your chin down. Extend arms, holding them about 6 inches off the floor; reach toward your heels (A). Maintain position and pulse arms up and down, keeping them straight. Inhale for 5 counts and then exhale for 5, pulling navel toward spine. As you progress, extend both legs to a 45-degree angle (B). Begin with 3 sets, working up to 20 (1 set is an inhale and exhale). Goal: To keep back against the floor and head and shoulders lifted.