Effective Tips for a Reflexive Core
A reflexive core is not achieved by strength alone. We need awareness and automaticity.
This week’s question comes from one of the Institute for Birth Healing students. The questions is:
“How do we get our client’s core reflexive?”
I love this question! Ensuring we get reflexivity back into the core system in our postpartum clients is imperative to their postpartum recovery.
Where to Start for a Reflexive Core
To get a reflexive core, we first need to get more coordination and strength back into the system. Pregnancy and birth stretch out the central core muscles, especially the abdominal muscles with transverse and rectus abdominis, and the pelvic floor muscles. Making sure those muscles can fire well is where we need to start to support a reflexive core.
Pelvic Floor Muscles’ and a Reflexive Core
The pelvic floor muscles need to be tended to so they can fire like a light switch, quickly turning on and off. Several issues can keep the pelvic floor muscles from firing well including scar tissue from tearing or episiotomies, pelvic organ positioning and mobility, open birthing pattern in the pelvis, or disconnection from trauma. All of these issues play a role in the ability of the pelvic floor muscles to fire.
Abdominal Muscles’ and a Reflexive Core
For the abdominal muscles, we need to remember how lengthened the abdominal wall got during pregnancy. How well are the different muscles able to contract? What is their primary core activation strategy currently? Are they oblique dominant? Is there diastasis recti and/or tightness in the oblique muscles? These issues must be dealt with first so the muscles can contract well.
What I find in my postpartum clients is the lower part of their abdominal muscles don’t contract as well as their upper abdominals do. You can see overdeveloped upper abs and softness in the lower belly. The most common pattern I see when a client activates their abdominal muscles is an oblique dominant pattern, where the upper abdominals contract, sometimes causing the lower rib cage to approximate.
Exercises to Support a Reflexive Core
To treat this pattern, we work to get the lower abdominals to engage again, more so than the upper abdominals. I like to instruct my clients in a zipping up the zipper movement of the abdominals from down low to up towards the ribcage.
Once the core musculature can contract well, we will then need to build coordination and automaticity in the system. I like doing end-range contractions or pulses, as I like to call them, of the transverse abdominal muscles (TA) to help shorten the over lengthened abdominal wall. I feel this wakes up the connection between the TA and the brain. Once my clients feel this muscle contracting, I will have them do functional movements so they can feel it while doing these.
Helping Clients FEEL Their Reflexive Core
My whole goal with core activation and reflexiveness is to get my clients feeling the contraction and the muscles of the lower belly working well again. Can they feel the muscles activating to keep their body still while doing bird dog or tabletop? Can they feel the lower belly engaging with sit-to-stand? If they are a yogi, can they feel the TA pull back and in when going from cobra to downward dog? I also have them stand and pull back on my arms while I resist them and see if they feel it kick in. This is mimicking pulling open a door. I have them pretend to pick up something from the floor like they would their child, as I resist them too. If the baby and car seat are available, we practice with that.
Another activity I like to practice with my clients to promote automaticity in the core is coughing and laughing. I like to check to see what abdominal strategy they are using in these situations. Ideally, we want them to respond in a way where the lower belly is more active in pulling back and in than the upper belly. If the lower belly is not engaging well with either of these two activities, then I have them start with shushes. Practice shhhhh’s with a gentle force, making sure the lower TA is pulling back and in more so than the upper belly. Have them work up to more forceful shhhhh’s, then to a cough.
More than Strength for a Reflexive Core
By bringing awareness to the core and the movement of the body, your clients will start to feel their core firing which can help facilitate the reflexivity of the core. Their homework is to become more aware of when their core activates with everyday activities.
Strengthening the core system is not enough for our postpartum clients. It’s even more important to ensure clients regain their core reflexivity/automaticity because if they don’t, their symptoms will most likely return when they stop doing their core strengthening exercises.
About the Author: Lynn Schulte is a Pelvic Health Therapist and the founder of the Institute for Birth Healing, a pelvic health continuing education organization that specializes in prenatal and postpartum care. For more information, go to https://instituteforbirthhealing.com