Postpartum Core Support

by D. Braud on Nov 02, 2012


Moves that help new moms rebuild their abdominal muscles.

After having a baby, many women decide to head back to group fitness classes, hoping to get their “bellies” back in shape. While traditional crunches may not be appropriate, this is a time to “rebuild” the core, along with doing other supportive activities. If you teach a class that is specific to the postpartum phase of a woman’s life, feel confident using the following moves as a component of a safe, well-designed workout.

The exercises are adapted from a series developed by Shirley Sahrmann, PhD, PT, FAPTA, a physical therapist who specializes in rehabilitating abdominal muscles. The moves are taught as a progression: Participants perform each move with correct technique for 20 reps with each leg before moving to the next one. In a class setting, this requirement may be a challenge; therefore, teach the first three exercises and then add the last two over several weeks.

Note: All postpartum women should have a physician’s clearance before exercising.

The Routine

Begin all exercises by lying on back, arms extended at sides, knees bent. Slowly inhale and exhale several times. On last exhalation, pull navel in toward spine and rib cage, and hold. Do not tilt pelvis or flatten the back. Maintain proper positioning of abdomen and back throughout all exercises.

Keeping one knee bent, slowly slide other leg out until it’s parallel with floor. Bring leg back and repeat with other leg. Alternate, completing 20 reps with each leg.

Lift one knee toward chest and straighten same leg so it is about 2–3 inches off floor. Bring leg back and place foot on floor. Repeat with other leg. Alternate, completing 20 reps with each leg.

Bring knees up to 90-degree angle one at a time. Keep one leg bent and lower other leg at hip joint, tapping floor with toe. Bring leg back and repeat on other side. Alternate, completing 20 reps with each leg.

Bring knees up to 90-degree angle one at a time. Keep one leg bent and extend other leg until it’s parallel to but not touching floor. Bring leg back and repeat on other side. Alternate, completing 20 reps with each leg.

Straighten both legs over hips so they are perpendicular to floor. Slowly lower both legs toward floor, going as far as possible without releasing abdominal contraction or overarching the back. Repeat for up to 20 reps.


Sahrmann, S.A. 2001. Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes. St. Louis: Mosby.

IDEA Fitness Journal , Volume 9, Issue 11

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

D. Braud IDEA Author/Presenter

Dawn Braud, MS, ACE-certified advanced health and fitness specialist and personal trainer, is the operations manager of the Fitness Club at Woman’s Center for Wellness, an affiliate of Woman’s Hos...


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  • Natalie Imrisek

    I agree with the above comments---when I have worked with post-partum patients the focus initially is teaching them to stabilize and find their abdominal/pelvic floor muscles through breathing exercises and movements with legs stable (or in contact with the ground). The first few weeks/months post-partum the muscles are healing or the client may even have a diastasis. The above exercises are a wonderful progression to the basics and appropriate after several months/or once diastasis and abdominal muscles have properly healed.
    Commented Jan 07, 2013
  • Joanne Cobbe

    I agree with Christine. These exercises are all modified Pilates moves- some cueing of upper body alignment would be really beneficial to make sure the client is not tensing the shoulders or neck especially in the progressions. The core could be cued through use of pelvic floor to make sure the client is not "bearing down" into this area, creating strain on a potentially weak area but focusing on gentle activation to ensure there is no bracing.
    Commented Nov 27, 2012
  • Christine North-Minchella

    Interesting article especially as I work in abdominal rehabilitation post-natally. I really like the exercises until we get to the last progression. Maybe I am being over cautious but I think the last exercise is too challenging even as a progression for a post-natal client. The majority have a diastatis and don't have the core strength to maintain the neutral curve of the spine. Thus pushing out the abdominals and straining which compounds the situation.
    Commented Nov 20, 2012
  • Ian Rubin

    I'm curious where I can find some of your thoughts on Pre-natal core training as well. Thanks.
    Commented Nov 19, 2012