By Marianne Ryan PT, OCS
Clinical Director MRPT Physical Therapy
It's New Year's resolution time, and you want a flat tummy. Do you want to learn safer exercises to flatten your tummy?
In a previous post, we’ve talked about why crunches and sit-ups are not such a good idea and how we need to be careful of exercises that cause downward pressure on our pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles. Our core muscles are very important, and we need them to be strong to support our backs, help with stability throughout our bodies, as well as maintain normal bladder and bowel control.
So, how can we work out our abdominals safely?
The thing to keep in mind is that we have a few different groups of abdominal muscles. We are trying to avoid strongly activating the top group of muscles. This is the ‘six-pack’ group of muscles. It works when you cough and sneeze, and when you do sit-ups or crunches. It is also guilty of pushing our pelvic floor downwards, eventually causing it to fatigue, and losing it's "trampoline like" support. Fatigued pelvic floor muscles can not support the internal organs, and will hang loosely like a hammock.
We discussed how your pelvic floor muscles act together with your lower abdominal muscles and how they are supposed to contract automatically at the same time. Instead of doing sit-ups, we are going to teach you how to activate your lower group of abdominal muscles. These deep muscles, called the Transverse Abdominus, wrap around the lower portion of our abdomen and act like a natural corset, attaching onto our spine.
How do we activate this deep set of muscles?
(Note: Please read disclaimer prior to performing exercises)
THE PELVIC-CORE STARTER
First, we have to find them with an exercise that will "activate" or turn on your core muscles.
- Lie comfortably on your back on a firm surface. Keep your head relaxed. You may use a low pillow if you like.
- Bend your knees and hips, keeping your feet flat on the ground, hip width apart.
- Make sure you have the normal curve in your lower spine – try sliding your flat hand under your lower back to assure there is a small space.
- Place your hands on the top part of your panty line, just inside your pelvic bones.
- Now, perform a gentle pelvic floor contraction, as if you are trying to stop the flow of 1 or 2 drops of urine. At the same time feel your lower tummy move towards your spine. Keep breathing normally and quietly. Try to hold that contraction for 10 seconds.
- Remember to be gentle! If your head has lifted, then the contraction is too strong – you don’t want to get those upper abdominal muscles working.
Got it? If you’re having trouble, try doing the same thing lying on your side. Let your tummy relax and bulge outwards, keep your hands on the top of your panty line, and feel your tummy gently draw in towards your spine as you perform a pelvic floor contraction.
Now, when you have the idea, work up to doing 10 of these in a row, with a 20 second rest in between each contraction.
When you can do 10 of these muscle activations in a row, you are ready to move on to something a little more difficult:
- Again, lying comfortably on your back with your legs straight.
- First contract your deep abdominal muscles by doing the "pelvic-core starter" exercise (above). Place your hands on your panty line and feel your lower tummy drawing in towards your spine. Keep your hands there to monitor control, don't let your pelvis wiggle.
- Keeping that contraction, slowly slide one heel along the ground towards your buttock, until your knee is bent at a right angle and then slowly back down again.
- Make sure you don't wiggle your pelvis and maintain the normal curve in your lower back!
- Repeat with the other leg.
- Do this 10 times on each leg and work up to 3 sets of 10.
Well done! You are now well on your way to a strong core, the safe way!
Stay tuned for our next post, we will give you a few more exercises to try in part 3.
If you miss part one of this three part series click here to read it.
Note: Physical Therapy exercise pictures copyright VHI