Almost every mom dreams about getting her abs back in shape after giving birth (unless you're one of the lucky few who shrank back to your old self the minute you left the delivery room). The logical solution is to do tons of crunches, right? Actually, that's one of the worst moves you can make, says Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at Auburn University, in Montgomery, Alabama. "Crunches only target one of several ab muscles -- primarily the rectus abdominis -- and that's the one that's most overstretched during pregnancy," she explains. Not only will going crunch-crazy get you iffy results, you'll put too much pressure on this now-delicate, overburdened muscle.
And even if your child is older and your abs have long since healed, all moms will get the best results possible by doing a mix of tummy-toning moves that target all your ab muscles. Her crunch-free Pilates plan does just that -- and, as a bonus, it strengthens your pelvic-floor muscles, which also get weaker during pregnancy. Do this super-quick workout three times a week and you'll see firmer abs in no time!
Lie faceup on the floor with your arms at your sides, palms down. Scoop your belly in (imagine you're pulling your belly button toward your spine) and extend your right leg toward the ceiling, toes pointed and turned slightly outward. Inhale and imagine that you're tracing a circle about the size of a dinner plate with your right leg, tightening your abs to keep hips still on the floor throughout the movement. Circle 10 times clockwise, then repeat in a counter-clockwise direction. Switch legs and repeat.
Come into upper push-up position with your hands beneath your shoulders, feet together. Curl your toes so that some of your weight is on the back of them. Keeping abs tight and tailbone straight, lift one leg a few inches off the floor and point your toes; hold for five seconds and release. Repeat with the opposite leg to complete the set. Do 5 to 8 sets.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and shoulder-width apart, feet flat on the floor, and your hands behind your head (or ears, if you tend to pull on your neck). Scoop your belly in and curl your shoulders off the mat. Hold there for 5 counts, then exhale as you slowly lower yourself back down onto the floor. Do 5 to 10 reps.
Come into the same starting position as you did for the quarter curl. As you exhale and lift your shoulders off the mat, twist your torso to the left and bring your left elbow toward your right knee; look toward your right elbow. Hold for 5 counts, then inhale as you return to center without letting your shoulders rest on the mat. Exhale, then twist to the opposite side to complete the set. Do 5 to 8 sets.
Lie faceup on the floor with your legs in tabletop position (knees bent at a 90-degree angle with feet off the floor), palms facedown by your sides. Tighten your abs and exhale as you lower your right foot to the floor, keeping knee bent. Inhale, then exhale as you return your right leg to starting position in 4 counts. Tap 5 times with each leg.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the June 2008 issue of Parents magazine.
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