Just like the diet world jumping around with the idea that carbs are good or bad for you, the postpartum world has been in debate about whether or not sit ups and crunches are a contributor to pelvic floor dysfunction and may worsen conditions like diastasis.
Bottom line. Just like with dieting, there is no one perfect solution for every single person. Some body may be able to handle crunches and sit ups better and others may not.
The confusion lies when woman want to work on their core by using crunches and sit-ups in hopes to return their tummy to how it looked before baby or use it at a tool to flatten the belly.
Spot training will actually not flatten the tummy or reduce belly fat to any noticeable degree. This comes from a combination of a full body workout, dialed in nutrition, managing sleep and stress.
These are all several factors that are very difficult for many moms to spend time and energy on especially during the early postpartum stages.
One of the biggest concerns with crunches and sit ups is that the amount of intra abdominal pressure is too much on the abdominal wall worsening conditions like diastasis or contributing to pelvic floor dysfunction.
However some research suggests that maybe we can create more pressure from simply sitting out of a chair and that crunches may actually help draw in the distance in that gap with proper form and engagement of the deeper abdominal muscles. You can check out a great article here.
If we are looking at crunches and sit ups from a functional perspective they are not the most ideal for actives of daily living and are unlike us to assist in the actions that we need to do on a daily basis like picking kids off the ground and awkwardly taking kids out of the car seat.
Sure they can assist us in rolling up from a seated position but we don’t do much where we need to be super strong in spinal forward flexion to have a strong core. In fact we need to work in multiple position to work stability in movements that actually prevent this forward flexion, extension and rotation.
Not that every exercise needs to be functional. Sometimes we can do exercises just because we like them BUT not if they are contributing to pain or dysfunction we might want to rethink our approach.
Another consideration is that moms are often limited on time and if return to strength, fat loss, and function is the goal it is more ideal to include multi joint exercise that target multiple parts of the body and different muscle groups all at once. Exercises paired together that achieve a metabolic effect to get us breathing a little harder and challenging us a little bit more.
This will be a much better approach to fat loss than just doing hundreds of crunches throughout the week.
Sit ups with high reputation, poor form, and lack of any pelvic floor awareness can potentially lead to more pelvic floor dysfunction and worsen diastasis. Sit ups with good form, proper focus on pelvic floor connection and good form may lead to improving conditions. We just don’t know from body to body and the help of a women’s health physical therapist or a personal trainer with a strong background in training postpartum clients will help you figure this out.
The first question I ask my mama clients is why do they want to do crunches. Is it to get stronger? Is it to lose belly fat? Do they like the way they feel?
I then educate them, like I have shared above.
I currently don’t program crunches into a routine unless I know the mama just love the way they make her feel. If this is the case we start start small and make sure they don’t feel any heaviness in the pelvic floor and bulging in the abdomen.
Remember doing tons of sit ups and crunches will NOT flatten the belly.
This extra layer of fat is determined by several factors that range from your nutrition to activity level to your hormones. You can do as many core exercises as you want but the abdominals will not be visible if there is a layer of fat on top. This is simply stated to give you a perspective not to encourage you to achieve a 6 pack.
Core strength and stability will come from several factors such as full body lifts, unilateral movements, breath, alignment and activating the deeper abdominal muscles. Bottom line is crunches and sit ups have very little to do with reducing belly fat.