Today, I want to talk about the Tupler Technique, which includes two abdominal exercises women should use during and after pregnancy to prevent and to treat a condition called “diastasis recti”, which is the pulling apart (or a “diastasis”) of the top abdomen muscles (which are the “recti” muscles, the ones that male models sport as a six-pack!) due to pregnancy strain.
About the Belly
The abdomen has four different muscle groups, but today we will be focusing on the transverse abdominal muscles, which is the deepest abdominal wall that wraps around our bodies like a corset. The transverse muscles are the muscle fibers that pull forward and backwards when we breathe, sneeze, cough, or strain for a bowel movement or delivering a baby. These side-to-side muscles are connected to the recti abdominal muscles that have a hole between them; if we exercise our transverse abdominals, then we will be pulling the recti muscles back and tightly together with each transverse contraction. So, doing these two Tupler Technique exercises will help squeeze our recti muscles back together, and will build muscle strength for pushing during birth.
There’s an easy test to see if you have diastasis in your recti muscles, and most women do! Lay on your back, with your knees bent. Put your finger in your bellybutton and lift your head; if you feel a hole there, then you have a diastasis. Not all women get a diastasis, however; but it is possible to have a diastasis for many years after birth.
Before teaching you the exercises, let’s discuss proper breathing. All women must learn how to breathe correctly to prevent a diastasis from getting larger. The incorrect way to breathe is to inhale while moving the abdomen in toward the spine and to exhale while moving the abdomen out away from the spine. This puts undue pressure on the weakened recti muscle and makes a diastasis larger.
The proper way to breathe is using abdominal breathing, also called “belly breathing” or “yoga breathing”. It is proper to breathe in through the nose while expanding the belly outwards, and to breathe out through the mouth while pulling the belly inwards. Breathing this way is very important for a variety of reasons, and we cover several other benefits to abdominal breathing during our childbirth classes.
One other thing of note before I teach you the exercises is that gravity affects our ability to work the abdomen muscles. If you are lying down partially or completely reclined on your back, it’s cheating because gravity is doing the work of manipulating your abdomen, not your recti muscles. If you are leaning forward, you will be working your muscles extra hard, which may not be desirable in the beginning. Therefore, practice these exercises when you are in an upright, sitting position, and tell the members of your birth team that you desire to give birth in an upright sitting position, also.
THE FIRST EXERCISE
The first exercise is called the “Elevator” exercise. Begin sitting cross-legged on the floor, keeping your back very still. We will be working our abdomen muscles forward and back, so imagine your abdomen wall as a sideways elevator, with your belly button stopping at floors one through five–floor one being relaxed or pushed away from your spine, and floor five being flexed so the belly button almost touches your spinal column. Counting aloud is key to this exercise, because it forces you to breathe. Begin with a belly breath, squeeze your belly button “elevator” toward the spine at the fifth floor, and hold that position for a count of 30. Then, close your eyes and visualize squeezing a little bit more even past the spine a bit more, and hold that squeeze for a count of 5. Then release slowly and follow with a cleansing belly breath. You did it! Now, work up to doing 25 repetitions each day, and then aim for 100 repetitions each day. You’re doing your body a favor and will help make pushing easier and make your postpartum body fit more quickly back into your skinny jeans!
THE SECOND EXERCISE
The second exercise is called the “Squeeze and Release” exercise. Sitting on the floor with criss-crossed legs, bring your transverse muscles to the “third floor” from the elevator exercise. Then, squeeze your muscles to pull your belly button from the third floor to the fifth floor, then release back to the third floor again. Begin by doing 25 repetitions three to five times each day, and work up to doing 100 repetitions three to five times each day. It should only take about two minutes to do 100 repetitions, and this exercise packs major strength training into such a simple movement. You’ll feel it a bit, and that’s a good thing!
The Belly [um, “Big”] Picture
You want to get so good at doing both of these exercises that you can hold the transverse muscles in at the fifth floor while standing and while doing any sort of work. If you can’t lift something or hold something while keeping your belly muscles at the fifth floor, then you don’t need to be doing it! You are at risk for creating a diastasis or making a diastasis even larger! The Tupler Technique uses both of these strengthening exercises together with proper breath training to prevent and undo damage caused by weak abdominal muscles. Good luck, you Mamas! <3
The information used for this blog post was found in an article by Julie Tupler, RN, BSN, (a certified personal trainer, childbirth educator, fitness instructor, and prenatal care consultant; she is also the founder of Maternal Fitness in New York, and the author of Maternal Fitness…Preparing for the Marathon of Labor, published by Simon and Schuster). The article was published in the Midwifery Today journal, edition number 33, Spring 1995. The article can be found on www.midwiferytoday.com.