8 Exercises to Get Rid of the Mom Pooch

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

For over two years after having my third child, I had been working pretty consistently to get my body back in shape. While I was never striving for a perfectly sculpted “bikini body,” I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed that after two years of changing my diet, eating very healthfully, and consistently working out, my bulging tummy just wasn’t budging.

My arms felt stronger, my legs looked toned, and my butt was even a bit perkier, but my mom pooch was still ever-present. While I wasn’t beating myself up about it on the daily, I did wonder, “What gives?” Why, after losing all the pregnancy weight and being overall pretty fit, did my stomach still bulge out? Why did I still have this mummy tummy?

After a bit of research, I learned about diastasis recti, tested myself for it (here’s a great self-test video), and confirmed I did in fact have a 2.5 to 3 finger gap. To quickly recap, diastasis recti is a condition that happens to many women — as many as 1 in 3 who have had two or more pregnancies — and causes an abdominal separation, often times leaving your stomach looking poochy and in some cases, you may even appear pregnant. Besides causing a “mummy tummy,” diastasis can also cause incontinence and back problems.

I wrote about my initial diastasis recti self-diagnosis a couple of months ago, and at the time of the article’s publication, I hadn’t yet decided on a treatment plan. After a lot of research, I finally settled on the MuTu System and have been working on the exercise plan for a few weeks. I’m not doing MuTu exclusively because running and taking part in weekly bootcamp workouts with my friends is still very important to me. However, I’ve modified many exercises to fit in with the recommended plan to heal diastasis. Through this workout system, plus modifications to my other routines, I’ve been able to close my previous 2.5 finger gap to a 1 finger gap. And while my backaches haven’t gone away completely, they do feel noticeably better.

The most important thing I learned about diastasis right off the bat is that if you have it, traditional ab exercises can actually cause more harm than good.

Planks, crunches, sit-ups and all those other dreaded “core workouts” should be immediately eliminated from your exercise routine and be replaced with much safer exercises meant to heal the connective tissue, close the gap, and of course, truly strengthen your core. The core work focuses primarily on strengthening the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis, and then when those inner muscles are strengthened, you can move on to the gut-wrenching abdominal work we’ve all come to love and hate. Planks, I’m looking at you!

So do I still have my little pooch, now that my gap has closed? The answer is yes, I do, but it is much less significant than before. Plus, I am still only halfway through the program so I may say sayonara to the mummy tummy eventually!

For now, I wanted to share a few of the exercises I’ve learned from the MuTu System and other online resources and books I’ve read. Besides MuTu, this little workout by Lindsay Brin is helpful and I learned a lot of great information in the book Baby Bod: A Groundbreaking Self-Care Program for Pregnant and Postpartum Women by physical therapist Marianne Ryan.

The key to healing diastasis recti is to be gentle and patient with yourself. Many of us want to push our body’s limits after having a baby and snap back into shape right away, not realizing that many things have probably shifted around inside and our workout routine that worked before, may no longer work.

If you are an enthusiastic exerciser like I was, you may feel these exercises are too easy, but I assure you that they are doing a specific job and they do work! After consistently doing my core work every day for a few weeks, I noticed so much more core strength, and I can actually hold plank pose without my abs “doming” like they once did. And of course I can’t underscore the importance of eating right as well, as there’s only so much that can be achieved with exercises alone.

The following exercise routine (created with help from the MuTu System) should take you about 10 minutes to complete. These are gentle enough to do every day (or even twice a day like I do) if you’d really like to see results quickly, or at minimum 4 days a week. They aren’t strenuous and as you’ll see, you can whip through them pretty quickly under just about any circumstance, including toddlers crawling all over you and while you’re watching TV at night.

In addition to doing a low-impact routine like this daily, I also take a daily 20+ minute brisk walk, and as I mentioned above, two days a week I alternate this routine with a workout with my bootcamp, which includes plenty of cardio. I began seeing results within about 10 days, but everyone’s results will be different, especially if you are (or are not) watching what you eat.

Even if you don’t come out with a set of flat abs though, you will notice a difference in core strength if you perform these exercises on a consistent basis.

Before you begin this exercise routine make sure to check out this great article on proper transverse abdominal muscle engagement, as it’s important to make sure you’re using the right muscles when completing these exercises.

Good luck!

1. Heel Tap

Perform 10 reps on each leg

Lying on your back, tilt your pelvis and engage your transverse abdominals to be pulled in and down, and then raise both legs to a 90-degree angle.

Engage your core and very slowly lower one heel down to touch the floor, while exhaling.

Inhale and bring your leg back up to meet the other leg, and repeat on the other side.

Note: To engage your transverse abs properly, you want to create almost a sucking up sensation of your pelvic floor, up into your abs. If you place your fingers on your very low belly area when you are lowering your heel, you should feel this area engage. Also, make sure not to let your lower back pop up when lowering your heels.

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

2. Heel Slide

Perform 10 reps on each leg

Lying on your back, legs raised and feet flat on the ground, tilt your pelvic area and engage your transverse abdominals to be pulled in and down, then scoot your flexed foot along the ground until your leg is all the way flat on the floor.

Slowly bring it in and switch sides, making sure to exhale on the extension and inhale as you bring the leg back in.

Make sure to keep your lower back and shoulders flat on the ground as you perform this exercise.

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

3. Resistance Band Leg Pull

Start with 10-15 reps, working your way up to as many as 20 reps as you increase your strength

Lying on your back, place a resistance band around your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, slightly separated less than a hip-width distance.

With your back and shoulders flat, work to separate your legs, working against the resistance of the band while engaging your transverse abdominals as you pull to separate.

Breathe out as you pull apart, and breathe in as you release. Again, you should feel a sort of pulling up and in with your pelvic floor, which helps to engage your transverse muscles.

An advanced version has you raising your bottom into a bridge pose and performing the pulls.

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

4. Knee Ball Squeeze

Start with 10-15 reps, working your way up to as many as 20 reps as you increase your strength

Lying on your back with your legs raised and feet flat on the floor, place a flexible ball between your knees. (It needn’t be a proper exercise ball, a standard child’s ball will work just fine.)

As you exhale, gently squeeze the ball and engage your transverse abdominals, and inhale to release. The ball shouldn’t move much: you’re not aiming to pop it, just a gentle squeeze to properly engage your transverse muscles.

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

5. Weighted Bridge

Start with 10-15 reps, working your way up to as many as 20 reps as you increase your strength

Lying on your back with your legs raised and feet flat on the floor, place either a 10-12 lb. exercise sandbag on your hip area or 2 small dumbbells on each upper leg.

Keep your shoulders flat on the floor, but scoot them in towards each other to achieve maximum rotation, much like you would do with a standard bridge pose in yoga, and raise your weighted hips into the air, exhaling as you do.

Inhale as you release and repeat, making sure you engage your transverse abs as you do each rep.

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

Leg exercises are an important part of building core strength too, so these will not only help your legs and booty, but will improve core strength, stability, and overall balance. Here are three of my favorites.

6. Traditional Squat

Perform as few as 10 reps or as many as 20-30 depending on your strength

With your spine in neutral position, toes pointing forward, legs hip-width distance apart, and pelvic tilted (not butt out), exhale and lower down into a squat.

Your butt should stay above knee level, your toes should remain pointed forward with the weight primarily in your heels so that you can raise your toes even, and your shoulders should stay down and relaxed with your chest lifted.

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

7. Resistance Band Hop

Perform this exercise for 30 seconds

Place a resistance band around your calf area, and with your head and chest lifted, toes pointed straight ahead and neutral spine, hop from side to side.

Try to keep your feet always at a hip-width distance apart so that you keep tension on the resistance band at all times, and aim for a hopping motion so that you hop from one foot to the other, with both feet never on the ground at the same time.

This is a great leg, hip, butt, core, and cardio exercise and your heart will get pumping for sure!

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

8. Lunges — 3 Different Types

Perform 10 complete sets on each leg

With your feet a hip-width distance apart, you’re going to perform a traditional lunge, then a lunge at an angle equaling 2 o’clock or 11 o’clock (depending on the leg), and then a side lunge.

Your toes should always remain pointed straight ahead, in the direction you’re going, and your chest should be lifted, shoulders relaxed, spine neutral.

As you perform the side lunge, you do want to stick your butt out so as to avoid hunching over and maintain proper alignment.

Image Source: Andrea Howe
Image Source: Andrea Howe

Disclaimer: I am not a physician and, as always, you should consult your doctor for any health concerns and before starting any exercise programs.

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