More than 30 percent of births in the United States are through a cesarean section. Unfortunately, the recovery period from a C-section is more complicated and takes longer than the recovery from a vaginal birth.
While you may be eager to lose the belly fat you accumulated from the pregnancy, you must proceed with caution since your abdominal muscles and skin need more time to heal.
After a C-section, or any surgery for that matter, you should follow up with your physician to see if you are ready to begin an exercise program. Once cleared by your obstetrician, it is best to strengthen your abdominal muscles and lose body fat through a combination of diet, cardio and strength training.
You cannot spot reduce fat solely from your abdomen. You need to lose fat all over through both diet and exercise.
Before You Start Training…
Before you start it is best to wait at least 6 weeks after your cesarean section before beginning any sort of exercise. Your body needs time to recover after the trauma from the surgery and if you exercise too soon you may open the incision, cause a muscle tear or hernia.
Be patient with the healing process. Be sure to follow up with your obstetrician who will assess you during the physical exam and can safely advise you in regards to when to begin exercise.
Once you are cleared it is best to begin with low stress exercises that do not put too much strain on the abdominal muscles or pelvic muscles. Avoid doing any abdominal exercises at this point as much as the temptation calls for you to do it.
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Your body must recover. Start off with walking on a treadmill or light jogging. You will not burn a lot of calories. At this point the goal is to get into a routine and give time for your body to adjust to the exercises.
Remember To Train Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
After pregnancy and abdominal surgery such as cesarean section, the pelvic muscles get weak so it is best to begin training them with Kegel exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Simply find the muscles you use to urinate and squeeze them for three seconds then relax for three seconds and repeat 10 times. Repeat these sessions 3 times a day. Each day increase the time you squeeze and relax and try increasing the repetitions as well.
It is encouraged that you do yoga to strengthen your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. Do different poses such as lying flat on your belly and lifting your hands and feet above your head and ground.
Or for the more advanced, attempt the bridge by lying on your back and bending your knees and press your hands into the ground and push your hands into the ground so your pelvis rises to the ceiling. This will strengthen your core and pelvic muscles.
After a week or two of these low impact exercises, if you haven’t had any injuries or cause of concern, move towards exercises that have more intensity. Increase from light walking to moderate intensity jogging, jump rope or even cycling.
You can even push the baby stroller in the park. You want to begin the fat burning process, and cardiovascular activity will do this without putting too much muscular strain on your abdominals.
Try High Intensity Interval Training When Your Doctor Thinks You’re Ready
If your doctor thinks your recovery is complete, then try doing high intensity interval training for the ultimate fat burning.
For example, jog at a high intensity for one minute, then lightly jog for 1 minute, and repeat that set for 8 times. Or even do cycling sprints for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds, and repeat this process for 8 sets.
The more high intensity interval training you perform the more calories you burn. You can apply this training philosophy to other exercises such as the stair master, sprinting, cycling, jumping jacks, and rowing machines, and even the elliptical.
What Strength Training Should You Do?
Strength training will be essential to developing your abdominal muscles after the surgery.
Do not attempt strength training until you have been evaluated post C-section by your obstetrician, and after you have safely been able to perform light cardiovascular activity without any injuries or complications.
Remember though, don’t push yourself until you are safely able to perform this exercise otherwise you may risk abdominal injury.
Start with easy isometric ab exercises first. Start by standing up then and then sucking your abdomen into your spine and holding for ten seconds, relax, and repeat for 20 repetitions. Work up to 100 repetitions a day.
Once you can do that you can safely move onto more conventional abdominal exercises such as crutches, or side planks. While these will not burn lots of calories, this is critical in developing a stronger core after surgery.
Add some variety with these fun new exercises. Be patient and work up to 10-20 repetitions for each exercise and slowly add more sets as you build strength and tolerance. You can even do this with your baby. Try doing crunches with your child in your hands to add some resistance during the exercise.
Be sure to exercise your entire body to get stronger. Add in more exercises that work your abdominal core, pelvic muscles, and lower back such as squats, lunges, and dumbbell deadlifts.
When you are in the gym I advocate that you begin with a total body workout routine for 30 minutes a time for 3-4 days a week. Here is a workout plan I suggest for those post C-section who are doing a total body workout for the first time in months. Remember to wait until you’re fully recovered before trying this workout.
Post C-Section Total Body Workout
3 sets of 15-20 repetitions. Use your body weight alone to make sure you have proper form, and as you get stronger add on dumbbells.
3 sets of 15-20 repetitions. Use your body weight alone and do lunges across the gym to work your core, glutes and quads. As you get stronger add dumbbell weights.
3 sets of 15-20 repetitions with a pair of dumbbells. This is a great exercise that strengthens the entire posterior chain (back muscles, glutes, hamstrings and abdominals).
3 sets of as many as you can do! If you need help, use the assisted machine pullup bar. As you get stronger take off more weight so you can do pullups on your own with just your body weight.
Standing shoulder press
3 sets of 15 repetitions. This will build your shoulders and triceps, and since you are standing it forces you to keep a strong abdominal core to give you support.
Bicep curls and push up super sets
3 sets of 15 repetitions. Do bicep curls for 15 repetitions then get on the floor and start doing push ups.
If you cannot get 15 then do push ups with your knees on the ground to provide assistance. As soon as you are done stand up and do more bicep curls. Repeat this process for 3 times to get a nice burn!
Pick any set of exercises from this list and do a total of 6-8 sets of anywhere from 15-20 repetitions.
Finish off with either moderate intensity for 30 minutes of your choice (running, jump rope, boxing, elliptical, cycling, etc.), or do high interval training for 6-8 sets.
Stretch out and head home! Do this routine 3-4 days a week and you’ll see results!
Just like any weight loss program you need to follow a healthy diet and stay disciplined with your cardio and strength training.
Do not get dismayed if you lose fat from other areas but not your abdomen. It is impossible to spot-reduce fat from any area of your body.
In order to lose fat from the abdomen you need to lose fat from everywhere. Stay consistent. Take your time and wait those 6 weeks.
See your doctor to be sure that you are well healed. Once cleared, you should transition into your workout routine slowly. Patience is essential. Soon you will have your flat abs back again!
Diastasis recti is a separation of the rectums abdominis that can be stretched often from a pregnancy or C-section and results in a pouch on the abdomen. It often presents with a protrusion from the middle of the belly.
Do not worry, this does not mean you need surgery. You can build your abdominal core back. Avoid crunches which can increase the diastasis recti separation.
Instead, do corrective exercises that pull the abdominal muscles inwards rather than pushing them outwards. Reach out to your obstetrician and physical therapist before beginning any exercise.
Rajiv M Mallipudi, md, mhs is an internal medicine resident physician, personal trainer, athlete and author. He has over a decade of personal training experience and helped hundreds of clients of all levels achieve their weight loss and fitness goals. This inspired him to work as a clinical researcher at the nationally recognized, Johns Hopkins Hospital Weight Management Center. During medical school he and his classmates created the health and wellness organization, med fit, which provided personal training and nutrition counseling to the medical student body. In his spare time, Dr. Mallipudi enjoys playing ice hockey, dancing, and training for his next bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions. Dr. Mallipudi serves as a contributing writer for Vixen Daily.
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