If you’ve done any research on postpartum core strength or diastasis recti, you’ve likely seen conflicting information on crunches.
“Never do them again!”
“They are the only/best way to heal your core!”
Well, like most things in life, the answer to “Can/Should I do crunches?” is…complicated.
So, let’s talk about crunches.
When to avoid them, how to know when you are ready to get back to them, and how to do crunches in a way that won’t damage or re-injure your postpartum core.
WHEN TO AVOID CRUNCHES
A common recommendation for postpartum women is to avoid crunches altogether.
Where does this advice come from?
Newly postpartum women often have a separation of their abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) and a lack of coordination and muscle tone in their core/pelvic floor muscles.
Not sure if you have a diastasis? Here’s a self-test video.
This lack of muscle coordination makes doing a crunch with proper technique almost impossible!
Proper crunch technique requires that you engage your deepest layer of core muscles (the transverse abdominis) and your pelvic floor as you crunch.
When those muscles are engaged, your core will have a very flat appearance as you crunch (there won’t be any doming or raised area in the middle).
If those deep core muscles aren’t working, when you do a crunch it puts extra pressure on the weak connective tissue of the abdominals (making a diastasis worse) or pushes pressure downward into the pelvic floor muscles (which can contribute to prolapse or pelvic floor dysfunction).
That increased pressure out on the belly is also the reason that, for some postpartum women, crunches can make a pooched belly appearance worse.
So, If you can’t engage your deepest core muscles effectively (the transverse abdominis and the muscles of the pelvic floor), then you want to stay away from crunches until you have better control over those muscles. That will allow you to protect your pelvic floor and connective tissue from the pressure inside your abdomen.
If you know you have abdominal separation or need help getting your muscles firing in a coordinated fashion, Heal Your Core With Yoga is a great place to start with rebuilding those core muscles from the inside out.
Once you’ve got your deep core muscles and pelvic floor coordinated and strong do you still need to avoid crunches?
No, You’re ready for crunches!
PROPER CRUNCH TECHNIQUE
Once you have those muscles working, let’s make sure you are doing a crunch the RIGHT way. Poor crunch technique can cause problems!!
The core and pelvic floor naturally engage when you breathe out. So we will use that natural engagement to your advantage!
– Lying on your back, breathe in deeply.
– Then, on the exhale, engage the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis and imagine a corset wrapping around your belly as you lift your head and shoulders off the ground.
– When done properly, your abdomen should look flat from side to side. This is a sign that the transverse is firing!
Issues to watch for:
DOMING: If your belly looks like it is doming (highest in the middle and lower on the sides) this is a sign that you aren’t maintaining transverse engagement (and an indication that you are putting pressure on your linea alba, the connective tissue at the center of the core).
Stop doing crunches until you have gotten the muscles strong enough to prevent doming.
PRESSURE IN PELVIC FLOOR: If you feel pressure or heaviness on your pelvic floor as you crunch (or immediately after), this is a sign that your pelvic floor engagement isn’t sufficient for the amount of pressure being placed on it during the crunch.
This could be because your pelvic floor is weak OR it could be that you have an overactive pelvic floor.
Either way, you’ll want to make sure you address this issue before continuing with crunches.
So, do you have to give up crunches forever? No!
You just need to make sure that your body is ready for crunches and that you are doing them in a way that protects your postpartum body.