A plank is an abdominal exercise that puts a great deal of pressure on our abdominal wall. After pregnancy, whether you have DRA (split of your abs) or not, planks should be approached with caution – normally one of the last things to return.
As always, a graded exposure back to movements is the name of the game. No amount of time you wait will allow you to jump back into a full plank.
Establish a foundation. Add some load. Check your response. Repeat.
Once a momma has been cleared of DRA, has spent weeks connecting to and progressing her inner core is when we talk about dabbling in some planks.
First things first, lets go over the things to avoid. Being aware of when an exercise is no longer appropriate must be established postpartum to help a woman self-monitor. The moment when these things come can change day to day sometimes depending on sleep, nutrition, stress levels etc. That is why there is never a one size fits all exercise or even reps/sets for a given exercise. Helping women understand their bodies to make informed decisions themselves is how I treat. No other way. Don’t be fooled.
-pressure or pain on the front of your belly, at your c-section incision or at your vagina.
-pain. This could be back pain, hip pain, pain at your pubic bone. Shoulder pain….any pain.
-leaking of urine, stool or gas.
-big changes in your belly (coning/doming/tenting – whatever term you want to call it)
**In order to monitor your belly, I encourage all moms to perform with a sports bra on only. You must have eyes on your stomach. You can use your own and look down. If this isn’t possible, use a mirror or video on your phone. If you aren’t comfortable performing with your shirt off in a class setting/gym, then this means, this all needs to happen in the comfort of your own home, or in a clinic with a health professional that is monitoring for you. This step is huge and cannot be ignored.
When you get to your hands and knees and initially engage your inner unit, take note of what your belly looks like. The engagement should be a drawing in of your low belly and a generally flattening out of your entire abdominal wall. If you feel as thought the appear of your belly changes at all as you progress, this is a sign your inner unit is no longer functioning in your favor. This normally manifests itself in a coning of the linea alba (connective tissue in the middle of your belly) or the appearance of a “plateau” or turtle shell shape of your belly. If you are unable to correct this change, you you performing at a level that is too advanced. Back off to the last known level that you are able to control it.
Goal 1: Timing. Your inner unit (pelvic floor and transversus abdominus) naturally are an automatic system. In real life, we shouldn’t have to think about these guys, when they turn on etc. After pregnancy (and injury) the ability for them to work as they were intended becomes compromised. We must manually override this automatic system for a while (not forever). Each exercise needs to be performed with this in mind. First we must challenge and focus on the timing. Each exercise you will start with an exhale, engagement and then a movement. Return, reset and repeat. I think of performing these as “single attempts”. You must master this timing first before moving on to the next.
Goal 2: Endurance. Once you have mastered the “single attempts” You then can begin to challenge your cores ability to endure. Exhale, engage, move and then hold. Can you breathe? Can you maintain engagement for 5 seconds? 10 seconds? Once you begin to notice a wavering in your ability to hold, Return, reset and repeat.
With these things in mind, lets get to some progressions to help you get back to planking!
Exhale, engage and move out to the modified plank. Work on sets of 10 paired with your exhale initially. Once you are able to do this fairly effortlessly, progress to endurance holds. I suggest the ability to hold for 2-3 sets of 60 seconds prior to moving to the next progression.
Once we are able to successfully hold a modified plank positions without loss of position or symptoms, we take a leg out. Can you hold by performing singles first? Don’t forget to monitor that belly.
Two leg plank – Rinse and repeat, peeps. Timing first (singles, if you will) then to holds.
The time it takes to progress through these is 100% different from person to person. This is dependent on your body type, pregnancy, labor and delivery and so much more. Allowing yourself to progress through these based on your body and how you respond is the fastest way you will get back.
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