As many of you already know, Thomas and I welcomed a new baby into this world in November. It is truly amazing what pregnancy and childbirth do to a woman’s body! I am a firm believer in the old saying “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”. That proved to be extremely true for me as I slowly took time off Jiu Jitsu through pregnancy and postpartum. My core turned to mush.
For me, I didn’t stop BJJ cold turkey. I did less and less until my body said, "Okay lady now it’s time to rest." Even in my — very difficult for me to do — rest, I still moved every day. I walked a mile every day. I did yoga. I did band work. I even got massages, though they became fewer and farther between once our little girl showed up. I moved. BUT my abdomen stretched to allow my baby to grow. My hips spread. My ligaments weakened. I was left with quite a bit of abdominal separation. I had a natural childbirth of an eight-and-a-half-pound baby and my body reacted as though I had been in a major car wreck. That really made me sit (okay, LAY) my butt down and recover. No movement happened here, sometimes for days at a time. I was so stiff, so weak, and had very limited mobility!
At 4 weeks postpartum I decided I was feeling pretty great. I had been doing some yoga and a little bit of band work. I felt like I could handle some more intense Yoga and flow rolling with my husband. I was wrong. I mean...I handled it but I also didn’t feel like moving anything for a week after, so I guess I didn’t handle it.
My body’s ability to move dynamically, to move quickly, and to implore flexibility that no longer existed made that first session back extremely uncomfortable. I knew I had to go back to the basics and really retrain my core to stabilize my limbs, to protect my spine, and strengthen those overstretched abdominal muscles and abdominal separation (diastasis recti — if you know, YOU KNOW) that my 8.6 lbs baby left me with.
Whether you're a new mom, new to Jiu Jitsu, or you're just tired of dealing with low back pain or core weakness you need the basics. When I teach my students about core work I don’t go right into sit-ups. To really understand the basics of core strengthening you must understand the abdominal muscles AND that the “core” is more than your belly. That’s right, I said it. Core = more than a 6 pack. Buckle up.
Tiny Anatomy Lesson Time!
Local Core Muscles:
- Rectus Abdominis
- External Obliques
- Internal Obliques, and
- Transverse Abdominis
Diaphragm and Pelvic Floor Muscles:
- Spinal Muscles
- Quadratus Lumborum
- Iliocostalis, and
Does that sound like a lot? Well, that is only the local group of muscles but just so you know the core also has a global group! The psoas, the erector spinae, adductors, and the glutes make up the global portion of the CORE. We don’t have to get into all of that today but it is good to note that the core is sooooo much more than the abs.
That being said, I want to share with you my favorite Core exercises that are so simple and specifically target the muscles you need to work to get your core active, strong, and stable. Here are the basics.
Let’s start with the deep core.
Transverse Abdominis Action: Compresses the abdomen and spine, May assist in spine rotation
Try this standing and laying on your back with your feet on the floor.
- Take a few thoracic abdominal breaths (breathe into your belly)
- On an exhale try to squeeze your belly button to your spine
- Hold this position for at least 10 seconds
*should feel like a really tight corset or cummerbund.
External and Internal Oblique Action: Flex the spine, Laterally side bend the spine, Rotate the spine
*External oblique is an opposite side rotation muscle, while internal oblique is a same side rotation muscle. They work together.
Right external oblique and left internal oblique rotate the spine LEFT.
Left external oblique and right internal oblique rotate the spine RIGHT.
To explore the actions, place your hands on your lateral ribs and rotate while you visualize the muscles working together.
- If you flex, rotate left and side bend the spine slightly the left internal oblique will shorten completely.
- If you flex, rotate right and side bend the spine slightly the right internal oblique will shorten completely.
- To shorten the right external oblique completely, rotate to the left, side bend to the right and flex the spine.
- To shorten the left external oblique completely, rotate to the right, side bend to the left and flex the spine.
It can take time to fully wrap your brain around the mechanics of the obliques, just keep practicing and try teaching it to someone else.
External and Internal Oblique Exercises:
- Lay on your back, feet flat on the floor.
- Flex the spine by crunching away from the floor.
- Rotate spine to the left while trying to pull your left shoulder blade off the mat.
- Repeat on right side
Rectus Abdominis Action: Flexes the spine, Laterally side bends the spine
This is the 6 pack muscle! It’s best to work the muscle at its origin and insertion, meaning contracting the belly under the ribs AND above the pubic bone.
Rectus Abdominis Activation
- Lay on your back feet flat on the floor
- Flex the spine buy crunching away from the floor
- Drive the lower ribs down into the ground while tucking the pelvis under slightly
- Alternate only ribs down- crunches, only pelvis tucked- reverse crunches, and both ribs down and pelvis tucked- cannon ball
Spinal Muscle Action: Extend, Rotate, and Stabilize the spine
Spinal Muscle extension and posterior chain weakness can result in core dysfunction. This is a key element to maintain a stable core.
Spinal Muscle Activation
- Lay on your belly, palms down beside your hips
- Keep your hands lightly on the mat, raise your head and chest and your legs
- Roll your shoulders down and back
- Keep the back of your neck long and emphasize lifting your sternum instead of lifting your chin
- Hold for at least 10 seconds
- Then, Pulse for 10 seconds
These exercises are a great way to isolate each muscle group and start to figure out where your core strengths are, where your weaknesses are, and guide you to finding a functional core. I love that they are simple and focused on each group separately.
Here’s the WORKOUT!
Start with your deepest layer, transverse abdominals for 10 rounds of 10 second holds.
- Move into your oblique exercises for 5-10 second holds on each side.
- Then practice the 6 pack exercise for 10, 10 second holds.
- Lastly, practice spinal extension for 10, 10 second holds.
- Go back through each muscular layer and find as many pulses as possible in 60 seconds!
You will be amazed at how much that burns AND how quickly your core starts to become defined, strong, and stable! Enjoy!!!
For more movement snacks and Functional Yoga Classes check out our online academy!
*Diaphragm and Pelvic Floor Muscles will be detailed in our next blog!