Sit-ups are one of those exercises that I’m really not keen on. Many people perform them incorrectly, they are not safe in pregnancy or post-birth… and yet they are often one of the main exercises people will be doing.
A sit up or any variation of this movement where you go into forward flexion , bringing your upper body towards your knees, is not a good thing for postnatal women. In fact it can cause more harm than good as it works the tummy muscles in the wrong way. So, if you’ve recently had a baby and you’re doing sit ups, STOP them immediately.
Sit ups work the tummy muscles that run vetically down the tummy, called the Rectus Abdominis but commonly known as the six-pack muscle. These lengthen in pregnancy and as your baby grows and your bump gets bigger, this muscle my start to separate around your belly button. The abdominals can take time to come back to normal after your baby has been born, so for several weeks and indeed months after birth, these muscle remains in a lengthened, separated state.
The danger of doing sit ups in this state is that you can widen any separation you may have of the abdominals and you can actually strengthen the muscles to stay in this separated state. The long term problems with separation include the risk of a hernia (the intestines poke out as there are no tummy muscles covering them), pelvic floor weakness and it also means you won’t get a flat tummy back again.
Instead of doing sit ups, you need to focus on strengthening the pelvic floor and the Transversus Abdominis, which runs like a corset around your lower tummy. By strenghtening these muscle that are deep inside you will strengthen the body from the outside in. These muscles are your foundation, once they are working then they will help realign any abdominal separation you may have and will knit you together again.
Our specialist Postnatal Pilates class and our DVD focuses on strengthening these muscles in the correct order. So we find the lower tummy (transversus abdominus) muscle first, along with the pelvic floor. We then shorten the rectus abdominus muscles running down the tummy. When this is strong enough and any abdominal separation has been realigned, then the other tummy muscles can be worked.