This post has got my mental wheels turning. I scrolled through the comments and found a link to this program. But the honest truth is that the core is my professional speciality. So really, if anybody can figure out how to get the tummy flat (or as flat as it was pre-pregnancy), I can! It follows that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth sharing, because I know all too well, that I am not the only one with this situation.
What follows is a personal narrative, which I hope will help others to find their own personal narrative around their very own tummies. I am not pretending to be a licensed expert, just a very extensively trained Pilates instructor.
I never had a flat tummy. Period. Which means I always (even when I weighed in at 135 pounds and wore sizes 2 and 4 – I’m currently in the mid 150’s and only wear stretchy clothes) had a little bit of extra in the space between my navel and my pubic bone. And my current evening dose of bikini views thanks to our current version of passive meditation,has me noticing of late that even the skinniest gals have that little extra bit there. It’s just that when your skinny, there is only a teensy little bit.
Way back when, when I would do my Pilates workouts, I would often notice that my tummy stuck out as I was exercising (oh no! Say it isn’t so!!!). This meant that I was not in the pocket. This is not good, and perhaps part of the reason that I’m in my current pickle. I asked Romana once, “is my tummy supposed to be flat the entire time?” She said, “yes”. Of course she did. Because in Pilates we are supposed to be using all the layers of muscle in perfect coordination with each other, which means that the most superficial muscles (in this case the rectus abdominis) must not do more than their fair share. The superficial muscles are big show offs and are typically in the habit of doing far more than their assigned parcel of work. In a Pilates workout, we use mental focus to dial them down so that the other muscles can stand up and do their part.
Fast forward to pregnancy and the gradual increase of pressure on my tummy. Up down, forward back, inside out, all around, PRESSURE. I watched that little lump of fat change position. I asked my OB-GYN at one point what it was (so many changes, I found it challenging to keep tabs on everything all the time). She suggested fat. I agreed. Still there. Well of course. (I had some sort of strange hope that while my tummy stretched, the fat would spread out too. Silly me.)
I exercised very carefully throughout my pregnancy, always with the primary goal of keeping my body moving. I wasn’t interested in all that extra fluid settling any one place in particular. Or the little person in there settling any one place either. No, it seemed to me that it was best to keep everything moving, on account of all that pressure, you know.
Having heard stories from my colleagues of their own bouts with severe diastasis recti I had formulated one of my pet theories that people like us, who are admittedly rather obsessed with abdominal exercise might be more prone to having severe cases of this unfortunate tear of the linea alba which connects the two columns of our most superficial abdominal muscle (the one that gives us the “six pack”). Because exercise puts pressure on those muscles, and it is a challenge for each of us to get it just right (in the pocket) it follows that we Pilates instructors may have a higher propensity to experience this condition.
For that reason, and because I heeded the words of JHP, I have always been careful to go easy with my ab series. I’m not a high reps kind of Pilates instructor, and I usually remind myself and my clients that when it comes to burn in the abs, less is more. Because that rectus abdominis burns, but the transversus abdominis and the obliques not as much, at least not in the same way and not at first when the RA is used to being the one doing the lion’s share of the work. The key to the flat tummy are the latter mentioned, deeper layers of the abdominal wall. I knew that it wouldn’t serve me to do lots and lots of reps if my muscles were not lining up properly anyway. In other words, if I did lots and lots of reps with poor form (my tummy protruding as it were), then I’d simply be exacerbating the problem by building up my RA while continuing to leave my other deeper layers of musculature de-conditioned. As I’ve already pointed out, I never had a flat tummy, so it was clearly a reasonable first goal. What with all the other things that happen along the way (childbearing being the current one, but various injuries and other things to tend to) this is turning out to be a rather long term goal.
Having read this book cover to cover, as well as this one, and knowing what I did about my propensity for a split linea alba based on my line of work, I was very careful. But of course my abs stretched apart. That is what happens. So while I don’t believe that I ever had a tear, I had the normal amount of spreading. And here’s the thing. It’s still there. I’m not sure why. I’m thinking that it’s because I’m still nursing (this has been corroborated by my trusted support practitioners) and therefore still have the relaxin in my body.
(There is always that nagging feeling though, that perhaps, my over training of my superficial muscles has led me to this apparent split, because that is what it feels like. When I palpate my tummy I can distinctly feel the firm sections of my RA and they are sort of splayed out. Admittedly, it used to be worse by some measure, back when I had a fair amount of inflammation in my abdomen from the deeper layers of stuff having trouble getting comfortable again. And If I gather all my Pilates training inward and upward, the apparent splay disappears leaving a significantly flatter tummy – along a layer of flub.)
While on the one hand, I can find perfect reason for a lactating mom to have a soft tummy, heaven knows that my boy likes to squish it around. But. I am a Pilates instructor. And frankly, it’s not that much fun to have a belly like a bowl full of jelly. There is, as I’ve already confessed, also a fair amount of extra fat in that area right now. So that doesn’t help matters.
But! Here’s the good news. I’m seeing progress. Here’s what’s been happening. Since very shortly after my birth I have been taking care of the many layers of my abdomen, carefully shepherding each layer back into her place of comfort. Thanks in large part to my reading, and the careful care of my midwife, and others who I have surely mentioned before and will do so again and again and again and again, I have been able to monitor that each and every bit of my viscera, connective tissue, musculature, and skeleton, have gone back into their rightful home. So, my spine, ribs, and pelvic bones are doing well. So are my bladder, uterus, intestines (there are A LOT of those), liver, spleen. My psoas has demanded attention a few times to be sure, so has my diaphragm (those gals are real whip crackers, let me tell you). The fascia enveloping all these various layers of stuff are nice and slippery these days after several painfully assertive demands for attention. And all the ligaments seem to have regained as much of the elasticity that they are going to until weening time. As for the muscles of my abdominal wall, I’ve been tending to them with the same tender loving care that I’ve always applied, and I’m fairly confident that they’ll lay right once weening occurs. (I say fairly, because neurosis begs me to hedge my bets, see above). And as far as the fat goes, well I’ve already shared my plan for that. There are some more updates, which I’ll get to soon enough. But it would seem that we are on the right track.
My point in all this, is to share just how much I have seen go into what I have faith will someday again be my flat (ish) tummy. While it probably goes without saying, and I already sort of did, I’m going to do it again anyway. For emphasis. That the body of the mother needs and therefore deserves a tremendous amount of care and support to bear children and to return to herself afterward. As we each have our own soul journey, so we each have our own body journey. But we share enough commonalities that sharing our stories can be a powerful vehicle for our individual and collective empowerment as women and mothers.
That’s my tummy story. Layer by layer. Someday approaching flat. All this tummy talk reminded me of a tip that a client gave me from her nursing days. I’ll post that one next.