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Chasing Potential: Core after Baby: Part Two

 Wednesday, June 08, 2016

I LOVE running by water in the mornings. It is such a peaceful way to start the day! The sunrise photo above was thanks to #babygirl, who woke up at 5am on a recent morning. Once I was up and she was fed, we had the perfect opportunity for an unplanned morning run. Looking back, I'm glad she woke me up for this beautiful foggy run!

During my recent runs, I have been focused on my core (or "cage" as Coach MK refers to it). She tells all clients to "lock your cage" before runs. That means dropping your shoulders, and drawing your shoulder blades back and together. That naturally straightens your posture, engages the muscles around your rib cage and abdomen, and helps the glutes to engage so the pelvis tucks into a proper alignment. I don't have the core strength yet to hold that position for a long run, but I'm working on it. Below are some of the exercises I've been doing to regain core strength after Baby #3 (who is now 8 months old). I've been working on this post for awhile, but didn't want to share it until I could do justice to what it takes to rebuild my core as a mom of three. With the a flurry of summer training class launch dates, an office move and the end of the school year all coming together in the last two weeks, it took longer than expected to finish it. Hopefully it was worth the wait! 

Disclaimer: This is simply an overview of exercises I am currently doing, for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have concerns about your posture or core strength, you should seek out a qualified health professional. 

I've seen a chiropractor at the Life Clinic in Chanhassen many times over recent years, so a visit there was my first stop to get an evaluation of what's going on with my weak core. I'm lucky not to have Diastasis Recti, a splitting of the rectus femoris muscle. It's very common among pregnant & postpartum women. When I was a pre & post-natal training specialist, I learned the Sahrmann exercises, which are a common tool for repairing Diastasis Recti. Perhaps doing those regularly during pregnancy & postpartum helped me to avoid one problem! Unfortunately, I still have significant weakness in my TVA (Transverse Abdominis), which is the muscle that acts as a "girdle" around the lower part of the abdomen. The TVA is located just below your belly button, so it gets stretched significantly during pregnancy. Mine hasn't bounced back into shape yet, and that is putting strain on my hamstrings and limiting my ability to do any fast-paced training.

My current exercises are targeted to the TVA and also the external obliques, which hold in the sides of the abdomen. I repeat each of the exercises below for a minute before moving on.

*It was really sunny outside on the day I took photos of these exercises. Next time I'm waiting for clouds to roll in, or I'll get indoor pictures! Sorry for all the squinting.* 

Pelvic Tilts

This one is hard to see from my pictures, as it's very subtle. 

Step 1: Lie down with your feet flat on the ground and your back in a comfortable, natural arch. 

Step 2: Flatten your back by drawing in your belly button towards your spine. Focus on using the TVA to draw in your lower abdomen while breathing naturally. Hold for 5 seconds and then repeat.

Reverse Crunch -

Step 1: Keeping your shoulders down, press the small of your back into the ground & lift your knees. Hold this position. If that feels easy, move on!

Step 2: Extend your legs slowly until they nearly touch the ground. Your low back will come off the ground slightly, but your shoulders should stay down. 

I don't have the TVA strength yet to repeat this with decent form, so I modify this exercise to do just one leg at a time. 

Step 3: From the initial position, straighten your legs BEFORE lowering. (Sorry - no picture as I can't do this yet!)

Superman Ball Lifts - 

These work the back & glutes. 

Step 1: Hold the ball between your ankles, with your arms & legs extended on the ground. 

*I don't know why I was holding my wrist. Don't do that! Both arms should be extended. Ideally the ball would have been smaller - a 55cm diameter instead of 65cm. I have a 65cm ball at my desk that I'm sitting on as I type, so it was handy for the photos.

Step 2: Raise your arms & legs to lift the ball. I have to work on getting more height!

Metronome - 

These are THE WORST. The first time I tried, it was clearly evident my lower abs were doing nothing. I couldn't get my legs off the ground! I am making progress, even though it's slow. 

Step 1: Lie flat on the ground with legs extended and arms straight out from your sides. Press your lower back into the ground, while pulling your belly button to your spine to engage your TVA. Keep that position for your core throughout the exercise.

Step 2: Lift your legs a few inches off the ground. If you can do that, you're a step ahead of where I was a few weeks ago!

Step 3: With your legs off the ground, alternate moving both to the right, and then to the left, like a metronome going "tick - tock". I couldn't get a good picture of this, in part because I can barely get my feet off the ground to begin with. Next time I might make Coach MK send me images of HER doing it, as she has serious core strength for a mom of 3!

Double Glute Bridge Lift and Hold - 

This works the glutes, hamstrings, TVA and low back. 

Step 1: Lie on the ground with your legs extended and heels on a stability ball, and your arms in a "T" out from your sides. 

Step 2: Raise your hips off the ground to form a straight line from your shoulders through your hips to your ankles. Balance for a few seconds, lower your hips and repeat. Focus on keeping your core engaged and your lower abs drawn in. 

Since it has been about 2 weeks since my last post, I'll just post a quick recap of my typical week. I'm still focused on base training while I strengthen my core, so it is pretty simple!

Here is what my runs have looked like lately:

  • Monday - Rest day
  • Tuesday - Easy 45 (HR under 140) + Short Strength & Resistance Bands
  • Wednesday - Gentle 30 (HR under 130/ Active Recovery)
  • Thursday - Easy 45 + Short Strength
  • Friday - Rest day
  • Saturday - 1:15 Run with Pickups 
  • Sunday - Recovery 30 (HR under 120) 

With summer races coming up fast, I look forward to playing with a little more intensity in my next training cycle! Check back next week to learn more about Fartlek Runs - a great transition from easy runs into more intense workouts. It's not just a funny word, but a fun and timely workout for my #chasingpotential readers who are transitioning from base-work into faster runs.

Last blog post: "The Mile" 

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Rebekah Mayer, National Run Training Manager at Life Time Fitness. Follow me on Instagram at rebekah800, on Twitter at @rebekah_mayer and our team at @lifetimerun. Find us on Facebook at Thanks to Peter Spencer from Life Time Cycle for taking the core photos for this week's blog!