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One of the hardest (and most common) body parts for mums to tighten and tone after having kids is undoubtedly the tummy area! Our bodies spend the best part of ten months carrying a baby (or babies) in a warm, snuggly and tight pouch but once our little angels enter the world, those muscles that have stretched and held everything in place are suddenly weaker and ‘saggy’ (gosh I hate that word!) I found that although I could shake off some of my baby weight, the one area that seemed to stay squishy and stubborn was my tummy. That was until, I started concentrating on what I like to call, the three C’s – CLEAN, CORE and CARDIO and after about six weeks, I noticed substantial changes.
While pregnant with the twins, my stomach felt like it had been stretched to the moon and back, not once… but twice, actually make that three times. And while I still have excess skin and can deal with that, – I really did question whether I would get any sort of firmness back to my tum tum at all. Since doing my strength training, eating clean and doing some high intensity cardio exercise a few times a week for the past ten months – i feel like i’ve got a stronger and more toned tummy then when i was a teenager! And here’s the secret….. i didn’t do 200 sit ups each day.
As I started my training, like any woman – yep, I wanted to look good. But once I started gaining strength, I realised how strong my core felt, how good it felt to feel such strength and how much it improved my neck, shoulder and back pain at the end of the day as well. So now, it’s something I feel I have to do for the health and sake of my entire body (and mind!)
Your back, neck and shoulders get a massive workout each day with kids. Think of how many times you bend down to pick them up, push them on a swing, hold them, put them into a cot or bed, bath them leaning over, put them in the car or in and out of a pram – it’s endless and they’re only going to get heavier! Our back in particular gets a major workout all day, every day! Your stomach supports your back. So you owe it to yourself and your back to strengthen that mid section.
I also believe it’s super important to tighten your baby pouch back up if you plan on having more kids down the track. It’ll keep your back strong for pregnancy and make it easier to tighten the tummy muscles up yet again. Think of an elastic band and how far it can stretch… if they stay stretched for years on end, it’s going to make it a lot harder to tighten back up again.
Before I go on about my three C’s, I’d like to make a quick point on muscle separation. If you have muscle separation, or even hernias, I highly recommend seeing a physio that specialises in post natal care. Most physio’s these days offer a private health care rebate and it’s definitely worth the investment. I wore a velcro tummy band after both of my births for the first 12 weeks and felt that also helped with my separation. I’d also like to restate that I’m not a personal trainer or nutritionist. This advice is purely based on my own experience. For more information on safe exercises to do for those with muscle separation, head over to www.mumafit.com.au
Righteo, here we go! The three golden C’s that worked for me:
1 – Keep it CLEAN.
It’s not rocket science, there is no secret! If you can get your body fat levels down, your muscles will start to show. When you start to work those muscles correctly, they will look toned, firm and strong. Eating clean, wholefoods every few hours helped me achieve this.
I cut out all sugar, commercial grains, alcohol, processed meats, dairy and packaged foods initially for six weeks and enjoyed a cheat meal once a week. After six weeks, my energy levels were through the roof, my hair, skin, nails, digestion were all clearer and my little muscles were shining on through – that 6 week phase then turned into routine, daily eating and my staple diet and I can confidently say, it’s never stopped for me (almost one year on!). I don’t count calories, I don’t weigh myself every week, I don’t worry about what I can and can’t eat every day. I eat every three hours, I ensure I have lean protein, natures carbs and good fats at each and every snack and main meal. I drink 2.5L of water per day. I drink coffee and i love wine (for 3 nights of the week) and still enjoy one, sometimes two cheat meals per week.
Yes, the first few weeks were hard. Your body hits detox mode and you’re basically re-training your taste buds to come back to enjoy the foods they were intended to taste. But if you can tough it out (not if, make that when you decide to tough it out), and you come out the other side of it- it really is an eye opener and game changer. Suddenly that chocolate bar tastes sickly sweet of chemicals or that soft drink immediately bloats you and creates havoc on your skin or your anxiety resurfaces from a weekend of binge eating. Your more in tune with your body and you can see for yourself what commercial foods and their chemicals are doing to you.
There are thousands of articles online about clean eating and a paleo style of eating. I’m not going to delve into it here, but do yourself a favour and invest the time to do some reading for yourself.
By eating clean, your body responds almost instantly – it starts working at its optimum levels and results in increased energy, improved digestion, clear skin, clear eyes, improved moods, lower body fat levels and if you’ve got your training right, increased muscle mass. If your goal is to lose weight, I do believe in the old saying ‘it’s energy in, versus energy out’. So even though i don’t believe in counting calories, I would be ‘aware’ of calorie dense foods. There are some amazing raw/clean recipes out there – but I wouldn’t be devouring three pieces of raw cheesecake and a clean snickers slice every day – in addition to a curry laden with coconut oil and three protein smoothies if you’re trying to shed a few pounds. You get my drift? They are absolutely filled with good fats, natures carbs and protein – but they are still a treat. Stick to the basics for the first few months and then once you’re comfortable with your weight, enjoy those delicious and nutritious wholesome treats. If you’re wanting to maintain and build muscle, then find your happy medium. Start eating clean for a four to six week period and if you’re dropping too much weight – like i started to find – then add in your ancient grains (quinoa, spelt, rye, oats, black and brown rice etc) and up your fat intake (avocado, oils, nuts, hemp seeds, chia etc).
I eat almost the same thing every day and experiment at night time with delicious and different clean dinners. Our grocery bill is cheaper, I know what I’m buying each week and I don’t spend hours thinking about what I can and can’t eat. I feel like i’m more creative in the kitchen than ever before!
There is a reason I put CLEAN as the first C in this post. It’s because I believe that if you don’t have your diet down pat and you want to either lose weight or build lean muscle mass – there’s no point beating your head against a brick wall and exercising. Your food intake is your fuel. You need to make the time to nurture and love yourself from within before working on the out. Get that fuel right. Even if it means cutting back on the exercise initially so you have time and can focus solely on it. (Trust me though, once you start eating clean, you’ll naturally want to get that body moving!)
2 – Work on activating your CORE.
Bringing those saggy (!) muscles back to life is extremely important as I mentioned above, and to get them grooving again – you have to work on activating them. Surprisingly, I actually don’t do a lot of situp’s and if your tummy muscles are weak, I don’t suggest you do them first off either. Pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on your pelvis and pelvic floor muscles (I always get nervous about writing those words… pelvic… floor ….muscles. Mum’s often just grin when it’s mentioned. It makes me wanna go to the loo just thinking about it. Sorry, side tracked!). Anyway, your pelvis suffers and so does your back, so trying to do 50 situps every day will probably do you more harm than good. I find that by strengthening my core, I work all of the muscles that support my tummy and those around it. My favourite core exercises are:
– Planks (respect your body, I initially only started off holding a plank for 20 seconds at a time. I’m now up to 2-3 minutes in a general workout and my max plank time is six minutes. My aim is to increase that time by 15 seconds every week or so. I put my phone infront of me with the timer on and blast my music. I usually have three kids trying to jump over me and ok – now and again, I move them away with some toys and start again, but otherwise, I let them jump over me, I grit my teeth and get through it!) I also love side to sides (laying flat on your back, knees raised and slow and controlled reach around and tap each ankle), mountain climbers, ab twists, flutter kicks.
– Do body weight strength exercises and when possible, lift weights. (If you don’t have weights, use your kids if they are light enough!) You will have seen in some of my videos that I often squat with my twins and raise them into the air. It’s fun for everyone! As I’m doing those basic exercises, I’m concentrating on tightening my tummy and activating my core. If you have a kettlebell or dumbbells, google some exercise workouts and use them! I tend to lift light weights and do more reps.
Technique is absolutely key, and as I’m not a personal trainer, I’m not going to go into detail on the how-to’s. You could google some technique advice, visit your local gym or personal trainer for some advice. Keep it basic though! There’s a lot to be said for just squats and lunges!
3. High intensity CARDIO SPRINT! If you haven’t done sprints in a while, you’ll probably laugh while you’re doing this! But it’s the easiest and quickest way to get that heart pumping. Go to the park with your kids and play a game where you all have running races from one tree to another! You only need 20secs of sprint time! Repeat it 10-15 times if you can. There are loads of high intensity cardio exercises but I find sprinting is the easiest. I also like to skip for a minute or two and break it up with some burpees or high knees and tuck jumps. I’d like to make another personal note here; from my opinion if you want to lose weight – you will probably need to lengthen your cardio time initially. As I’m at a happy weight, I have backed off on my cardio quite a bit and am concentrating on body weight strength and core work. If I was wanting to lose weight, I would still definitely be including a low-intensity cardio sesh (ie- a 40 minute walk once a week, 20 minutes in the pool doing laps at your own pace, going for a bike ride etc).
That’s it! The recipe that worked for me: CLEAN,CORE and CARDIO.
A great workout to incorporate core, strength and high intensity cardio is a Tabata workout. Tabata is about 20 seconds of intense work and then 10 seconds recovery time – this is repeated 8 times for a four minute workout. If you can really build up to good intensity where you’re really pushing yourself and working for every second of the ‘go’ time – then you could just do it three times and have a saucy and sweaty little 12 minute workout. I love it!
You can even download a tabata music timer on Itunes “Tabata Timer”. Go for the Hip Hop version, it’s awesome. It’s a four minute song and it tells you when to start and then after 20 seconds, it’ll say “break” for ten seconds, it’ll then prompt you to start again. It only goes for the one round though (4 mins), so catch your breath and start it again and get straight back into it! It’s great, because you don’t need to look at your stopwatch through the workout! Even just doing it twice would be a great start!
Here’s a favourite of mine:
Station 1: Mountain Climbers & Squats (i hold my dumbells to add weight or you can do jump squats to intensify) – (ie – 20 seconds of Mt climbers, 10 sec rest, 20 sec squats, 10 sec rest, 20 sec mt climbers, 10 sec rest, 20 sec squats etc until you’ve hit 4 mins). Have a one-two minute break and get stuck into it again at the next station.
Station 2: Burpees & Ab twists
Station 3: Push ups & Skipping (or high knees) – if skipping or high knees will make you want to pee…. then wear a nappy, or maybe just go for walking lunges!)
Remember, you’re stronger than you think. Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done. Love Kimberley x