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Why Progressive Overload is Essential in Your Postpartum Ab Workout Routine

Updated: Jul 11

personal trainer working with a client on her postpartum ab workout routine

Understanding the Transformation During Pregnancy and Childbirth

Pregnancy and childbirth are incredible journeys that profoundly change a woman's body. The transformation is miraculous, from the expansion of the abdomen to accommodate a growing baby to the hormonal shifts that prepare the body for labor. However, these changes also mean that the postpartum period requires careful attention, especially regarding exercise.

The Myth of the 6-Week Postpartum Clearance

It has become common practice for women to do little to no exercise in the first six weeks postpartum, only to jump back into their pre-pregnancy workout routines once they receive the all-clear from their healthcare provider. While well-intentioned, this approach is highly discouraged by fitness experts.

Medical Clearance vs. Physical Readiness

It's important to understand that the six-week postpartum checkup focuses primarily on medical clearance, not physical fitness. While your gynecologist has your best interests in mind, they may not be experts in physical fitness. This distinction is crucial because a gradual reintroduction to exercise is necessary to avoid complications and promote healing.

Birth as a Traumatic Event

While childbirth is a beautiful and life-changing experience, it can also be traumatic for many women. Like recovering from an injury, easing back into a fitness routine is essential to avoid creating more issues.

Potential Issues from Improper Postpartum Workouts

Jumping back into a fitness routine, especially an ab workout, without gradually increasing intensity can lead to several problems. Let's discuss two of the most common issues women experience.

Diastasis Recti

Nearly 100% of women who reach 36 weeks of pregnancy will experience diastasis recti. This is a normal and natural part of pregnancy where the rectus abdominis muscles separate to make room for the growing baby. Problems arise when women return to traditional ab exercises without allowing time for the core to heal and progressively overloading the core to build back strength gradually. Diastasis recti can lead to lower belly pooch, lower back pain, hip pain, and more.


Incontinence, or urinary or fecal leakage, is sometimes seen as a rite of passage for postpartum women. However, the truth is that incontinence is not normal. Just because something happens often doesn't mean it is "normal." There are things you can do during pregnancy to strengthen your pelvic floor and promote easier labor to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction, such as incontinence. If you are experiencing incontinence in the postpartum period, fear not - this is something you can reverse. Progressive overload and the exercises I will walk you through will help.

Why Progressive Overload is Essential in Your Postpartum Ab Workout

What is Progressive Overload?

The National Academy of Sports Medicine says: "The Principle of Progression states that increases in time, weight, or intensity should be kept within 10% or less each week to allow for gradual adaptation while minimizing the risk of injury. Without this progressive overloading, muscle growth will plateau." In other words, to progress in your workouts, you must increase intensity over time—but not too much at once.

Benefits of Progressive Overload

Progressive overload ensures continuous improvement and adaptation, helping to build strength and endurance safely and effectively. It prevents plateaus in muscle growth and helps avoid injuries by allowing your body to adapt gradually.

bridge exercise for postpartum ab workout routine

Implementing Progressive Overload in Postpartum Ab Workouts

Starting Point: Breathing Exercises and Pelvic Floor Activations

Begin with simple breathing exercises like 360-degree (diaphragmatic) breathing and pelvic floor activations. Practice these exercises in various positions, such as sitting, lying, quadruped, side-lying, etc., focusing on neutral alignment and posture. For a free five-minute training on the 360-degree breathing technique, click HERE. For a detailed blog post on pelvic floor activations, click HERE.

Adding Simple Movements

Once you've mastered the breathing and pelvic floor activations, it's time to connect those techniques to simple movements. This includes exercises such as bridges, heel slides, and bird dogs. These movements help to gently reintroduce your body to exercise while maintaining the principles of progressive overload.

Building Core Strength with Non-Traditional Core Exercises

Progress to non-traditional core exercises, mainly anti-rotation exercises, to build core strength. These exercises challenge the core without placing undue stress on the abdominal muscles. Check out my blog post on exercises to do throughout pregnancy, as these are also great for your postpartum ab workout routine.

Incorporating Core Strengthening into All Exercises

Once you have the all-clear to return to your workout routine, you can continue incorporating 360-degree breathing and pelvic floor activations into every exercise. Doing so will continue building strength and bring back the mind-body connection of the deep core. For these exercises, you would inhale and relax the pelvic floor during the eccentric phase (lowering portion) and exhale and contract the pelvic floor during the concentric phase (lifting portion).

Avoiding Additional Core Exercises Initially

While diving back into traditional core exercises like sit-ups, crunches, and planks is tempting, postpartum women (or those looking to heal diastasis recti and incontinence) should avoid them until they've undergone a core recovery program. I have a comprehensive list of exercises to modify throughout pregnancy by trimester. The exercises to avoid in the 3rd trimester are the exact exercises one should avoid in the 4th trimester or until one has completed a core recovery program. To get the cheat sheet, CLICK HERE.

Take the Guesswork Out of It

safe and effective postpartum ab workout routine

If you want to take the guesswork out of your postpartum ab workout routine, consider my course, the Killer Core Comeback. This course takes a deep dive into the inner workings of the deep core with video tutorials on how to master 360-degree breathing and pelvic floor activations. It highlights how posture is a huge component in building core strength and walks you through an 8-week exercise program.

Course Details

  • In-Depth Core Understanding: Learn about the deep core muscles and their role in postpartum recovery.

  • Posture Focus: Discover the importance of posture in building core strength.

  • 8-Week Program: Follow a structured 8-week program to strengthen your core progressively.

  • Video Tutorials: Access detailed video tutorials that guide you through each exercise.

  • Long-Term Confidence: Gain the knowledge and skills to maintain core strength beyond the course duration.

For more details on what you'll get from the Killer Core Comeback course, CLICK HERE.


Progressive overload is a critical component of a successful postpartum ab workout routine. You can safely and effectively rebuild your core strength by understanding the body's transformation during pregnancy and childbirth, acknowledging the need for a gradual reintroduction to exercise, and implementing progressive overload principles.

Recap Key Points

  • The body undergoes significant changes during pregnancy and childbirth, requiring careful postpartum recovery.

  • The six-week postpartum clearance focuses on medical readiness, not physical fitness.

  • Improper postpartum workouts can lead to diastasis recti, incontinence, and other issues.

  • Progressive overload ensures safe and effective strength building.

  • Start with breathing exercises and pelvic floor activations, gradually progressing to more challenging exercises.


Remember, your postpartum journey is unique, and it's essential to approach your fitness routine with care and patience. If you want a guided approach to rebuilding your core strength, check out the Killer Core Comeback course for a comprehensive and effective program.


Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise routine, especially postpartum. This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Your healthcare provider can offer personalized recommendations based on your individual health needs.


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