Adding Sit-Ups Back Into Your Postpartum Workout

Here at BIRTHFIT, we are generally “Team No Sit-Up” during pregnancy and the first year postpartum. If you want to know why we take this stance check out this Instagram post. But what happens after that first year of postpartum? As much as we are #teamnositup, we are also “Team Movement” and not fearing movements. Team Movement means just that – we don’t want to fear or avoid movements that may be required at some point in our life.

There isn’t a magical timeline that makes one year the perfect time to add sit-ups back into the workout. But around nine months to one year postpartum, our tissues have healed, and it may be a great time to test our new boundaries. We are each unique, and while some people may be able to perform a sit-up as early as four months postpartum, it may be a better idea for others to wait for a year or longer. So how do we know it’s a good time to add in movements like sit-ups? 

 

Like all exercises, let’s progress to a more functional sit-up! There’s a big difference between churning out 100 crunches or sit-ups on an ab mat as fast as you can and doing a slow, methodical sit-up. A slow, methodical sit-up will help you maintain your breath and stability throughout the entire system and also increase your strength!

 

Three things to ask yourself as you progress toward a postpartum sit-up:

  1. Can you perform a dead bug while moving both arms and legs without tenting, bulging, or coning of the abdomen or increased pressure or heaviness on your pelvic floor? 
    1. If not, then stick to the dead bug for a little while longer and focus on breathing into all 360 degrees of the core (lower ribs, pelvic floor, back, and belly).
    2. If you can perform a dead bug without compensation, move on to step 2.
    3. If you have a functional diastasis (a gap that doesn’t cone or tent), move on to step 2. A diastasis is one indicator of how the core is working, but not the only indicator. Instead of fearing the movement because you have a diastasis, test the boundaries and see if you can perform it without compensation. 
  2. Can you maintain tension (a low level of pressure) in your abdomen when you do a neck curl or curl up? Or do you lose tension/support and find yourself collapsing into the abdomen?
    1. If not, then work on the dead bug a little longer and focus on breathing and adding in a neck curl or curl up. The key here is to not lead with your neck. You want this to be a global movement
    2. If you can perform a neck curl and maintain tension in the abdomen, move on to step 3.
  3. Can you breathe in and maintain tension throughout your core and maintain a neutral spine while you sit up?
    1. If you can do a sit-up without driving your low back into extreme extension and using your low back and momentum to complete the sit-up, go get it!
    2. If you can do a sit-up without jutting out your neck and chin to get momentum, go get it!
    3. If you do a sit-up and you feel your neck, quads, or low back are taking the load, back off a little bit and focus on breathing, the dead bug, and slowly train up to a sit-up by doing the exercises below.

 

You can also focus on the individual components of a sit-up to better train the overall movements of a sit-up.

  1. Eccentric loads: Start at the top of a sit-up and slowly descend to the ground. Similar to segmental cat-cow, you will feel a global extension of the low back as you slowly and segmentally bring your body towards the ground. Global extension is when you feel a nice gentle curve throughout the entire spine rather than in just one point.
  2. Isometric load at the top: Start at the top of a sit-up and slowly lean back. When you are starting out, you will be more vertical, and as you gain strength and control, you can start to lower yourself towards the ground more. Hold this position for 2 breath cycles. This will help you build strength and endurance (ideally confidence as well!).
  3. Isometric load at the bottom: Start at the bottom of the sit-up and do a slight curl-up. Keep your chin tucked and neck extended, trying to not jut the chin out and doing a curl-up with only your neck. This will be a global flexion movement through your upper abdominals and upper to mid-back. 

*During these movements you can add a little bit of dorsiflexion to the foot (bring your foot towards your face) and push against the heel to help keep the pelvic floor activated.

 

 

We would love for y’all to not FEAR postpartum sit-ups. Instead, the next time your class has sit-ups listed as part of the exercise, feel excited, comfortable, and confident. Even if you’re not ready for the full sit-up just yet, you know the progression to build up to a sit-up! You may even realize that doing 5-10 slow and controlled sit-ups is a way harder ab exercise than the 100 sit-ups you did before having a baby.

 

Lauren Keller, DC, DABCA

Elemental Chiropractic, Inc. @mamaspelvic floor

 

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