Can Ab Exercises During Pregnancy Help Your Tummy Recover Faster?
Q. I’m worried about how my stomach is going to look after I have my baby. Is it a good idea to start working out my abs now, while I’m pregnant? Will that make them recover faster?
A. While some women snap back to their formerly flat abs after they have baby, others swear that their tummy never recovers. A pregnant belly is big for several reasons: excess fluid, excess fat and, of course, a baby. To determine the likelihood of returning to your pre-pregnancy state, and how to do so if you can, you need to look at the different factors that make a belly flat.
Your Belly Before Baby
Some people tend to genetically have flatter, leaner torsos. Usually that means that there is less fat stored in the belly area. If this is your body type, you’re probably more likely to return to it. If you had fatter abs prior to pregnancy, you may not transform into having flat, lean abs unless you really work at it (more on that below).
Ab Fat vs. Ab Muscles
Once the baby and excess fluid is out, it’s the amount of excess fat that mostly determines how your belly looks. Excess belly fat is the No. 1 culprit when it comes to having fat , rather than flat, abs. Any exercise, such as Pilates or an abs-targeted regimen, that you do to strengthen and tighten the muscles buried in that extra fat won't have much effect on the overall look of your tummy. You can do exercises like planks, crunches and curls on exercise balls till the cows come home, both before and after having a baby, but no study has shown that they will reduce excess fat from your belly. To reduce belly fat, you must eat nutritious foods in healthy portions and do more overall exercise to increase your weekly calorie burn Either longer, lower-intensity or shorter-but-harder cardio workouts will work, but you'll need to modify the routine while you are pregnant.
What you can do while pregnant
Although you want to gain enough weight during pregnancy to provide the physiological support that the baby inside your body needs, gaining excess weight could result in excess fat later. It’s not a good idea to diet while you’re pregnant, but you can and should avoid splurging on junk. Instead, make sure you’re fueling up on highly nutritious foods to keep your weight gain within the healthy ranges.
Exercising while you are pregnant can not only improve your health and stamina, and the health of your baby, but it may also help prevent excess fat gain. Of course, the type of exercise you do matters. Muscle strengthening moves are helpful, but cardio exercise such as walking is most beneficial for fat burning.
The more exercise you are able to do while pregnant, the more likely it is that you will bounce back into shape quickly afterwards. But how much exercise you can do depends on how fit you were to start with and the status of your pregnancy.
Only your doctor can give the OK to exercise and specific recommendations based on your individual needs. Research shows, however, that if you are fit going into a pregnancy, as long as your health is good, you should be able to maintain the level of exercise you are used to doing throughout the pregnancy. Some women have run marathons in their eighth months (although that might be extreme!) A rule of thumb is that you don’t want to try to increase your fitness level while you’re pregnant, so as not to overstress your body and your baby, but only maintain it.
Any exercise you do during pregnancy will automatically exercise your core muscles, but doing specific abs and back exercises may be helpful also (although they won’t affect your body fat.) After the first trimester, it’s best to avoid any exercise where you are lying flat on your back, so stick to planks or on-all-fours core work.
What you can do after you’ve had your baby
Once you’ve had your baby, and your doctor gives you the all-clear to exercise, you should focus on increasing your cardio to reduce excess belly fat. I’ve written extensively about thathere. You can also add specific ab muscle exercises and lifestyle modifications that may help your belly. I’ve written about thathere. The book I co-wrote with Lisa Druxman of Stroller Strides is called Lean Mommy and can also give you ideas.
More from MSN Healthy Living:
- What Happens to Your Body After You Have a Baby
- 10 Things That Might Surprise You About Being Pregnant
- How to Swaddle Your Baby
- Bing: Pregnancy, Week-by-Week
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