Build Strength From The Inside Out: Pre & Post Natal

A number of years ago the fitness industry became obsessed with training the ‘core’ and has always been obsessed with making the abs BURN!

A traditional PT session wasn’t over unless you had given your clients a good ‘ab blast’ consisting of sit-ups and crunches, oblique crunches and a good long plank hold.

There should be, and is, another way for all clients, especially for pre and postnatal women—and here is why…

When you tell your clients to ‘brace’ what do you do? If you think to yourself ‘Abs on’ what happens to your body? When you ‘tense’ – what happens then?

Try it.

The majority of us will move into some kind of breath holding, ab tightening, pushing out, baring down, tensing, bracing, hardening of the outer abdominal muscles pattern.

For the most part, unless your clients have been educated otherwise, an activation pattern such as this does not put you in a stronger position; it just puts you into a more stiff position. And from experience, over time, stiff things break.

When most people brace and tense and tighten they are working only with their top layers of abdominal muscles – their rectus and their oblique’s. For the postnatal population, along with those in office jobs spent with tilted pelvis’, rounded backs and hunched shoulders, this is also an ineffective to build true ‘core’ strength from the inside out.

Jen Dugard - Pre and Post Natal SpecialistAnd so I believe, as a whole, we need to change the phrases we use to activations and awareness and learn how to properly engage our inner core —pelvic floor and transversus abdominis (to keep it simple)—especially when working with pre and postnatal women.

To ensure they are working properly and efficiently from the inside out, we need to retrain ineffective bracing and tensing patterns to ensure they are not bearing down through their pelvic floor or pushing out through a weak abdominal wall.

The very best way to learn more for yourself and assist with teaching your pre and postnatal women about activating from the inside out, is to work alongside a Women’s Health Physiotherapist. You then have the use of tools such as Real Time Ultrasound to effectively teach and assess these internal muscles working. This will also offer you a full picture of where your client is right now and how to best work with her moving forward for her pelvic floor and abdominal work.

We might also address what Antony Lo, The Physio Detective, describes as ‘tension to task’. Do you need to ‘prepare your body to pick up a 3kg bag of shopping in the way you might prepare it for a 40kg deadlift? When asked like that we might say ‘of course not,’ but by using bracing cues in the gym are we getting it all wrong out of the gym?

Many of the early pre and postnatal women I work with will need to work with a pre-activation before lifting in or out of the gym.

They do need to remind their pelvic floor and TA to activate before moving into specific movements or tasks but they don’t need to brace or tense!

A well taught and cued pre-activation can enable the body to ‘remember’ that it needs to engage through pelvic floor and transversus abdominis (TA) as it moves into a specific movement pattern and can help to prevent bearing down, leaking and other pelvic floor symptoms. It can also help to maintain control through the abdominal wall.

Some women will potentially need to work with their own pre-activation techniques for the rest of their lives; depending on what their body has been through pre-children, in pregnancy, in birth and post-natal. Each case is different. Through working with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist you can ensure each client is looked after to the best of your combined ability.

And what about the BURN?

What about sit-ups?

Beginning with the very basics. When the majority of the general population do a sit-up or a crunch they are laying on their back, have their hands clamped tightly behind their neck and are going hell for leather up and down, up and down. Their rectus is working overtime, their neck is being wrenched, their lumbar spine is doing who knows what. If your client is postnatal, or has a weak pelvic floor, the intra-abdominal pressure created in their abdomen isn’t doing them any favours, and from an aesthetics perspective, this movement is doing nothing for the flat stomach they think they will get.

From a postnatal perspective I know more and more that sit-ups are not THE most detrimental activity a postnatal woman could be doing, however I believe it’s certainly not the most effective, is rarely done well and ‘could’ be doing her harm. For this reason I stand my belief that I will never prescribe a sit-up to any of my clients.

Personally, I would rather prescribe something much more fun and challenging.

Think along the lines of toes to bar, TRX jack knife or knee tuck for something that works her whole unit to stabilise as well as targeting rectus.

For more info on Jen Dugard and the Body Beyond Baby program, visit

Article written for the What’s New in Fitness Magazine – Spring 2017 Edition.

View this article in the digital publication

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Alongside Body Beyond Baby Jen runs and accredited 12CEC pre and postnatal course called Safe Return to Exercise – for upcoming course dates CLICK HERE.

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