Following the birth of my second son by caesarean section I decided I would make an effort to follow the postnatal exercise programme I had been given on discharge. I was familiar with the exercises because as a Physiotherapist I had taught them all on many occasions. I am a bit of a naughty Physiotherapist though. I don’t often follow my own advice however this time I was determined to do these exercises religiously. After all, I needed to tone up the stomach, not just for reasons of vanity but to strengthen the muscles that help support my spine and pelvic floor. That was the plan. It will be of no surprise to the parents among you that the exercises weren’t adhered to very well at all. My stomach was very numb after the second section so I had no clue as to which muscles I was tensing. This is known as poor proprioception. Plus there just didn’t seem to be the time, with a newborn and a toddler to look after. When my husband came home from work I was just too tired and wanted to flop. Terrible really, as the exercises just required me to lie on the floor. I moved on to my next great idea.
The gym ball had sat in the house from when I was about 38 weeks pregnant. We had bought one for me to bounce on in the hope that all the jiggling would bring on labour. It didn’t. So the new plan for the gym ball was that I was going to do exercises on it to tone my tummy and improve my core stability. Baby T was a hefty weight and lifting him was making my back twinge. I found a little booklet with some gentle core stability exercises and for a week I was doing them regularly. Then my toddler got hold of the ball. He took it into the garden and I forgot to bring it in. After a night outside it was covered in all sorts of bugs and I couldn’t bring myself to clean it and bring it on. It remains an outside toy for toddlers. I moved onto my next oh so clever plan.
I had seen some exercise DVDs advertised on the television. Out of the adverts I had seen the one that had appealed to me most was a dance type workout. I fancied something a bit fun. Dancing is really good for your core so I popped to the shops and got myself a copy. I finally had a chance to give it a go when husband was at work, toddler was at nursery and baby was having a nap. I did my best with it, really I did. I discovered I was totally uncoordinated, couldn’t get the hang of the dance routines and I just got annoyed with myself. I tried the abdominal toning section and I found that even the beginners section was far too hard for me. Very disappointing. I also got a bit self-conscious that someone might look in the window and see me. Turned out it wasn’t my cup of tea at all. So if anyone wants a Ministry of Sound workout DVD let me know.
For a while I gave up on the abs obsession and started running but my core muscles are so weak that it is a wonder to me how I can actually stand upright let alone run. I think I am setting myself up for injury because if spinal stability muscles are weak, other muscles take over such as hamstrings and adductors. These muscles aren’t built for this job and can become stressed by the extra load. I really shouldn’t ignore the fact that my core is so weak and its become less about appearances and how my stomach looks and more about concerns about my lower back. I need to try to work the spinal stability muscles because research has also shown that these muscles, such as the ones they cut through when you’re having a section, don’t spontaneously strengthen, they need specific training. I know all this as a Physio but I’m still struggling to find the right exercises for me.
Recently I have been having a running magazine delivered to me and I have found a really simple abdominal strength programme in one of the articles. It’s supposedly a tummy toning programme too so bonus if it works. My approach to this has been very faddy so far and I never thought I was like that. I should also have more patience with my Physiotherapy clients when they haven’t been able to do the exercises. However if I don’t do something about these muscles things won’t improve.
I’m still running despite my wobbly abs and my back is still twinging, so I promise to give these exercises a go and see if they make a difference. Watch this space.