Most moms know the struggle of the post-baby belly bulge. It seems like all of the crunches in the world can’t tighten our stomachs the way they used to.
Still, few know the scientific term behind this common complaint. The problem (and the reason moms should skip the crunches!) is called diastasis recti. This occurs during pregnancy as the growing baby pushes the mother’s abdominal muscles apart, creating a space in the connective tissue running down the middle of the stomach. For some lucky women, this gap in the core muscles goes back on its own, but in others, it often stays open after birth. (Learn how to work the deep core muscles, or transverse abdominis, with this one move.)
Simply realigning those abdominal muscles will cause the stomach to flatten again, experts say. But to get results fast, there’s one simple, 5- to 10-minute exercise for a stronger midsection—and you won’t even need to leave your home to do it. (You can also eat these 15 science-backed foods for a flatter stomach.)
How to do the “core compression” exercise
It’s all about working your transverse abdominis, pelvic floor, and diaphragm in one, says Leah Keller, a certified personal trainer in San Francisco, CA, and creator of the EMbody program. She’s dubbed the move a “core compression.”
Here’s how to do it: First, sit cross-legged on the floor with your hands on your belly and take a deep breath, letting your stomach fully expand. Then, as you exhale, suck your belly muscles back toward your spine. With your stomach flattened against your spine, start taking deep breaths and pulling your stomach in with each exhale. Start with 5 minutes a day and work your way up to 10.
“Ensure your abdominal wall is drawing the muscles up and in on exertion, never bulging, bracing or flexing forward,” says Keller. “Coordinate your breath and pelvic floor so that you are both exhaling and performing a Kegel with each core compression.”
So far, the exercise has shown promising results in science. A small pilot study conducted by Keller and Geeta Sharma, an OB-GYN at Carnegie Hill OB/GYN in New York, NY, tracked the progress of 63 pre- or post-natal women. After 12 weeks of doing the exercise for 10 minutes per day, all of the women saw significant improvements in their diastasis recti.
A few keys to the move you need to keep in mind, according to Keller: Avoid holding your breath, and never flex the abdominal muscles forward, making them bulge. Instead, think about lifting both the abs and the pelvic floor toward the head and exhale as you engage the core. Don’t bear down. “Control is more important than intensity,” Keller says.
Although this exercise hasn’t been tested on men or women who haven’t been pregnant, something tells us that it’s definitely worth a shot.
No gym membership? No problem. These 23 tricks will flatten your belly without a lick of exercise.