Getting to the Core of Core Strengthening

There are so many names for it. Baby belly. Moma pooch. Or as my daughter lovingly calls it, “Mommy’s big fat tummy.” Whatever you may call it, it’s the bane of existence for any jeans-wearing mom post-baby.

What it actually is (in many cases) is diastasis recti, which is when the outer walls of the abdomen separate. Moms spend hours crunching, planking, and praying for it to go away. But we might actually be making it worse.

Fitness expert Erica Ziel, the founder of Knocked-Up Fitness and the Core Rehab program, explains that these kinds of exercises, when not done effectively, can actually do more harm than good when it comes to healing ab separation and pelvic floor dysfunction (the dirty culprit responsible for why you pee when you sneeze).

Here she shares some pearls of wisdom about exercising during and after pregnancy, how core strength can help during labor, and when she got the hang of the “mom” thing.


“You don’t have to live with those aches and pains or incontinence issues after having a baby. It’s so much more than getting a six-pack back or having strong abs. It’s really the core of our entire body. When you learn how to appropriately carry your body and strengthen your core during pregnancy, it changes everything. The sooner you start implementing tiny changes; it doesn’t even have to be exercises. Literally, I teach posture. How to carry their body, how to carry their child.

So many women get into motherhood and have back pain and think it just comes with pregnancy. But it doesn’t have to. It’s learning how to control this new body, that many women feel like they have after pregnancy. It’s really empowering women that you should feel good and confident.”


“I was sick at the beginning with all three pregnancies. I had that “all day” sickness for the first three to five months with each one. The first one I was the most active. You know, it’s your first one. You don’t have any other kids you have to keep up with. But I stayed really active with my second because I had a toddler to chase. With my third one I had to be put on modified bed rest. My doctor was like you can’t even walk in the park because I had a cyst. I never ran with any of mine because it never felt good for me. I look back and think it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t run because it can do so much harm to your pelvic floor.”


“And I had an old-school doctor who did episiotomies. I didn’t know what that was until I had one. I pushed her out in 10 minutes and didn’t even need one. It was an old-school mentality. “We’re just going to cut and get the baby out.” Let me tell you, that scar tissue bothered me for nine years.

With my second one, he was a nuchal cord baby. And they were yelling at me like “He has to come out right now.” And I was able to push him out in two or three pushes. I found out later the doctor wouldn’t have let me continue to push more than I did, and they were going to rush me off for a C-section. But by being strong enough [in my core] to push him out so quickly, I avoided that. When women learn to strengthen their core and release the pelvic floor, it can really help them with this process.”


“You have to take a couple steps back. Many moms launch into things that are too high intensity, doing exercises that are too much for their body and encouraging the protruding belly. Versus if you take a step back and do more simplistic, really effective deep core exercises, it’s a great way for women to rehab their body. Work on our foundation, our core, then slowly go back and increase our exercise again. Many women are over-exercising and stressing their bodies and that is sometimes why they aren’t seeing the results they want. My guideline is if you don’t feel better after a workout, it was too much for the body.”


“It took me three kids to make me feel like I knew what I was doing. But by the third you’re like “OK, I’ve got this!” Of course every kid’s different, and you’re still learning. But by my third one I had this feeling like I have this down now. As they’re getting older, my 10-year-old now, I’m in this realm of “new” again.”


“For the first time ever in my life, I went to a four-day retreat in Ojai, California. No technology or anything. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I’m not an amazing self-care person. For me, working out isn’t really self-care because it’s what I teach all the time. So it doesn’t refuel me. Just getting outside and doing nothing or going for a walk by myself, no phone. Out in nature. I don’t do that as often as I should, but I’m working on it. You get busy, and you forget about you.”




Erica shares some great tips for healing your abs, regardless of how long it’s been since baby was born.

Exercises to avoid

  1. Crunches and planks, at least until the diastasis recti is healed
  2. Any exercises that causes “coning” of your belly or the bulge down the middle of your abs [I call this my “alien belly”]
  3. Any exercise that puts pressure on your pelvic floor or causes leaking

 Activate your deep core

  1. Think about “zipping” your lower abs and pelvic floor back to your spine while you inhale into the sides and back of your ribcage.
  2. 2. Start every exercise with this deep core activation.

Pelvic tilts to heal abs after pregnancyPelvic tilts

  1. Lie on your back on the floor
  2. Inhale, breathing through your ribcage, allowing your deep core and pelvic floor to relax
  3. As you exhale, squeeze your kegel muscles together and zip your bellow toward your spine, causing your pelvis to tilt slightly upward
  4. Inhale and release
  5. Do 10 reps slowly

Squats to heal abs after pregnancySquat Pulses

  1. Stand with your legs apart, wider than your shoulders and slightly turned out
  2. Lower down into a squat, going as low as you can without tucking your butt, making sure to engage your deep core
  3. Exhale as you pulse with small movements in the squatted position
  4. Do 10 to 20 reps, then stand and release
Natalie Kurz

Natalie is a writer and editor who published her first piece in 10th grade (in a national literary magazine, but her mother says it still counts). In her spare time, she's a parent to two kids (10 and 6) who provide her with daily fodder for her writing. And an added excuse to drink wine and eat chocolate.