Transform Your Postpartum Body with These 5 Ab Workouts

Postpartum ab workouts can help you restrengthen your core postpartum. These 5 postpartum ab workouts are safe to perform after having a baby. Avoid doing exercises that cause pain, coning, doming, or bulging.

whitney doing bird dog
Core exercises can help retrain your core postpartum so they coordinate as they should.

Let me start this article by saying your postpartum body is beautiful and amazing. But I know the feeling of wanting your stomach to go back to looking how it was. That’s one reason why I am sharing ab workouts for postpartum runners. Another reason? These ab workouts are a safe way to help your core recover to be strong and functional.  

The postnatal core workout I share below is informed by pelvic floor physical therapists I have worked with personally and for my site. However, I will always recommend postpartum women work with a pelvic floor physical therapist for guidance specific to their bodies.

Download My Free Postpartum Running Plan

Our bodies go through so many (borderline miraculous) changes to grow and birth a human. For example, the abdominal muscles stretch and the connective tissue down the center, called the linea alba, thins and separates (known as Diastasis Recti—ab separation) to make room for the baby. The ligaments and joints in our pelvis become unstable (thanks to the hormone relaxin) to enable delivery. Also, our back muscles shorten and our rib cage slides backwards to accommodate the process.

When we give birth, all this doesn’t go right back into place. It takes time, and often, targeted exercises. An intentional approach to postpartum exercise, such as the one outlined below, can help you recover so you are strong and healthy for you and your growing family.

Note: I am a running coach, not a doctor. Talk to yours before you begin any exercise regimen!

So, let’s get to it!

When can I start working out after giving birth

You can start working out postpartum (if you had a normal delivery) as soon as you feel ready with gentle exercise. KEYWORD: gentle. This does not mean you go right out and start running and lifting heavy weights.

For most postpartum women who feel physically and mentally ready, they can start walking postpartum and focusing on breathwork to help retrain their core coordination. When walking feels comfortable, they can begin walking hills to strengthen their musculoskeletal system in a low-impact way, and start begin pelvic floor exercises and core activation.

A pelvic floor physical therapist can prescribe specific exercises for your body. Dr. Carrie Pagliano, doctor of physical therapist, says she aims to see her patients between 2 and 4 weeks to provide basic abdominal coordination and breath exercises. Before this time, postpartum women should focus on recovering.

Related: My Complete Postpartum Running Guide

POSTPARTUM AB WORKOUT PIN
Pin this postpartum ab workout for later.

When to start exercise after normal delivery with stitches

If your pregnancy and delivery were uncomplicated but you did have stitches from an episiotomy, postpartum women can start gentle exercise when they feel ready. As noted, this can include walking, breathwork, and pelvic floor and core exercises such as the ones listed below.

It is a general assumption that women can start more rigorous exercise such as running at 6 weeks postpartum. Why wait 6 weeks postpartum to exercise? Because things such as postural changes and soft tissue injury takes at least 6 weeks to start healing.

However, the 6-week guideline is not appropriate for many women. This is because recovery and healing postpartum can take much longer than 6 weeks, being impacted by many variables such as whether you had an emergency c-section or vaginal delivery.

Related: Is 6 Weeks Too Soon to Return to Running After Having a Baby?

When to start exercise after C section

Women who had a c-section may be able to resume gentle exercise such as walking before 6 weeks postpartum. However, in most cases, the timeline for high-impact exercise like running is pushed back by at least 2 weeks if you had a c-section. This means, that the earliest most women can resume running (in most cases) is 8 weeks postpartum.

A caesarean section is a major abdominal surgery. It takes time for the scar and tissues to heal. Even if your scar looks healed on the outside, there is still healing happening beneath the surface that you cannot see.

Related: Running after C-Section: What to Know

5 Postpartum ab workout ideas

The following postpartum ab workouts are safe for women with normal pregnancies and deliveries who have been cleared to resume exercise by their doctors. Do not do these exercises if you experience any pain in the abdomen, pelvic region, or low back. Anything that feels off or weird, talk to your doctor.

When doing these ab workouts for postpartum, focus on your breath (inhale when lifting or crunching and exhale when letting go) and avoid any coning or doming of your stomach.

Focus on pulling your belly button to your spine, including the space below your navel. If your stomach curves upward, you are not ready for this core move yet. I like to place a hand on my lower abs to make sure the muscles are engaged and flat.

POSTPARTUM AB WORKOUT PIN 2
Learn the secrets to transformative postpartum ab workouts, from the moves you can do to how cardio can support your goals. Pin these postnatal core workouts for later.

Before you begin these exercises, perform some transverse abdominal breathing:

  • Inhale slowly relaxing your stomach
  • Exhale slowly as you pull your belly into your spine
  • Repeat for 5-10 breaths to engage your core
  • You can also do this in a cat cow position, pushing your limbs into the ground as you inhale.

Move 1: Small crunch

whitney doing an ab crunch
Ab crunch
  • Put your knees and hands on the ground.
  • Inhale as you extend your right arm and your left leg. Hold for 1-2 seconds. Then return to kneeling position.
  • Exhale as you alternate, extending your left arm and right leg.
  • Aim to do 15 for 3 sets.

Move 3: Bicycle

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees up in a tabletop position. Interlace your hands behind your head with your elbows open wide.
    Whitney doing a bicycle ab workout
    Bicycle ab workout
  • Lift head so your shoulders are off the ground and twist your left elbow towards your right knee as you engage your abs and inhale. If lifting your head makes your abs dome, keep it on the floor.
  • Exhale as you alternate elbows, reaching your left elbow to your right knee. Becareful not to pull on your neck. And fully extend your straight leg. Do 50 reps total.

Move 4: Toe taps

  • Line on the floor with your knees bent in a tabletop position.
    whitney doing a toe tap
    Toe taps
  • Place one hand on your lower abs.
  • Inhale and pull your belly to your spine as you lower one pointed to the ground.
  • Exhale as you bring your knee back up and alternate legs. Lift your head with your neck straight and shoulders off the ground to progress this move.
  • Repeat 30 times total.

Move 5: Modified side plank

  • Lie on the floor with your arm bent and your shoulder stacked above your hand. Your bottom knee is bent on the mat and the top leg is long.
    Whitney Heins doing a side plank
    Modified side plank 
  • Lift your body into a side plank position so that your body is in a straight line parallel to the floor. Don’t let your hips arch or drop.
  • Feel your abdominals engage and hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side and do 1-2 more times each side.

Related: My Experience with Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Other ab workouts for postpartum

There are other exercises you can do to work your abs in addition to this postpartum core workout:

  1. Yoga
  2. Pilates
  3. Barre
  4. Weight lifting postpartum starting with bodyweight and progressing to weights in exercises such as:
  • Squats progressed to single leg squats
  • Lunges
  • Bridges
  • Dead lifts
  • Thoracic rotations
  • Single leg calf raise
  • Single leg bridge
  • Single leg sit to stand
  1. Walking (walking postpartum should start on flat surfaces and progress to walking hills)
  2. Running

Running is a full-body exercise. However, returning to running postpartum should involve an intentional approach. A running coach such as myself can guide you in how to safely return to running after having a baby.

Related: Can You Lift Weights While Pregnant?

Risks of exercising too soon postpartum

While your brain may be craving to get out and move like how you did before you became pregnant, exercising before your body is ready can have some long-term health consequences such as pelvic pain, low back pain, bladder and bowel problems, pelvic organ prolapse, and running injuries if your body isn’t properly stabilized.

If you are itching to strength train, you may wonder, what happens if you lift something heavy after giving birth? Your chance of prolapse is increased. If you have a scar from a C-section and episiotomy, you risk trauma to the scar and slow healing from exercising too vigorously postpartum.

This is not to fear monger, but to encourage you to be cautious and mindful of your return to exercise postpartum. Exercise benefits your body and mind postpartum, but you shouldn’t jump right back into what you did prenatal.

Postnatal core workouts, recapped

Working out postpartum is good for both your body and mind. Performing a postnatal core workout when you feel ready can be beneficial to restrengthening and retraining your core. This should be approached mindfully and intentionally as the muscles have been stretched and separated, and the body is still recovering.

Whether you perform these postpartum core exercises or work with a pelvic floor physical therapist (which I always recommend!), you can start retraining and engaging your core in everyday movements such as picking up your baby or squatting to pick a toy, and practicing deep belly breaths throughout the day.

These small steps can make a big difference in your overall recovery so you can be ready to run and take on whatever the day—and your new baby—has in store for you.

Download a Free Postpartum Running Plan »

If you’d like assistance with your postpartum running journey, check out my run coaching services and my other free training plans:

 

 

  • Line on the floor with your knees bent in a tabletop position.
  • Place one hand on your lower abs.
  • Inhale and pull your belly to your spine, keeping your lowering abs flat, as you lift your head 3-4 inches. Keep your neck straight.
  • Exhale as you slowly lower your head back to the ground.
  • Repeat 30 times.

Move 2: Bird dog

whitney doing bird dog
Bird dog
  • Put your knees and hands on the ground.
  • Inhale as you extend your right arm and your left leg. Hold for 1-2 seconds. Then return to kneeling position.
  • Exhale as you alternate, extending your left arm and right leg.
  • Aim to do 15 for 3 sets.

Move 3: Bicycle

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees up in a tabletop position. Interlace your hands behind your head with your elbows open wide.
    Whitney doing a bicycle ab workout
    Bicycle ab workout
  • Lift head so your shoulders are off the ground and twist your left elbow towards your right knee as you engage your abs and inhale. If lifting your head makes your abs dome, keep it on the floor.
  • Exhale as you alternate elbows, reaching your left elbow to your right knee. Becareful not to pull on your neck. And fully extend your straight leg. Do 50 reps total.

Move 4: Toe taps

  • Line on the floor with your knees bent in a tabletop position.
    whitney doing a toe tap
    Toe taps
  • Place one hand on your lower abs.
  • Inhale and pull your belly to your spine as you lower one pointed to the ground.
  • Exhale as you bring your knee back up and alternate legs. Lift your head with your neck straight and shoulders off the ground to progress this move.
  • Repeat 30 times total.

Move 5: Modified side plank

  • Lie on the floor with your arm bent and your shoulder stacked above your hand. Your bottom knee is bent on the mat and the top leg is long.
    Whitney Heins doing a side plank
    Modified side plank 
  • Lift your body into a side plank position so that your body is in a straight line parallel to the floor. Don’t let your hips arch or drop.
  • Feel your abdominals engage and hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side and do 1-2 more times each side.

Related: My Experience with Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Other ab workouts for postpartum

There are other exercises you can do to work your abs in addition to this postpartum core workout:

  1. Yoga
  2. Pilates
  3. Barre
  4. Weight lifting postpartum starting with bodyweight and progressing to weights in exercises such as:
  • Squats progressed to single leg squats
  • Lunges
  • Bridges
  • Dead lifts
  • Thoracic rotations
  • Single leg calf raise
  • Single leg bridge
  • Single leg sit to stand
  1. Walking (walking postpartum should start on flat surfaces and progress to walking hills)
  2. Running

Running is a full-body exercise. However, returning to running postpartum should involve an intentional approach. A running coach such as myself can guide you in how to safely return to running after having a baby.

Related: Can You Lift Weights While Pregnant?

Risks of exercising too soon postpartum

While your brain may be craving to get out and move like how you did before you became pregnant, exercising before your body is ready can have some long-term health consequences such as pelvic pain, low back pain, bladder and bowel problems, pelvic organ prolapse, and running injuries if your body isn’t properly stabilized.

If you are itching to strength train, you may wonder, what happens if you lift something heavy after giving birth? Your chance of prolapse is increased. If you have a scar from a C-section and episiotomy, you risk trauma to the scar and slow healing from exercising too vigorously postpartum.

This is not to fear monger, but to encourage you to be cautious and mindful of your return to exercise postpartum. Exercise benefits your body and mind postpartum, but you shouldn’t jump right back into what you did prenatal.

Postnatal core workouts, recapped

Working out postpartum is good for both your body and mind. Performing a postnatal core workout when you feel ready can be beneficial to restrengthening and retraining your core. This should be approached mindfully and intentionally as the muscles have been stretched and separated, and the body is still recovering.

Whether you perform these postpartum core exercises or work with a pelvic floor physical therapist (which I always recommend!), you can start retraining and engaging your core in everyday movements such as picking up your baby or squatting to pick a toy, and practicing deep belly breaths throughout the day.

These small steps can make a big difference in your overall recovery so you can be ready to run and take on whatever the day—and your new baby—has in store for you.

Download a Free Postpartum Running Plan »

If you’d like assistance with your postpartum running journey, check out my run coaching services and my other free training plans:

 

 

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