I recently had a conversation during a Pilates class with a client who was 36 weeks pregnant at the time. She was quite upset as a friend of hers had just told her that if she ended up giving birth by Caesarian section then she would never be able to do sit-ups again. According to her friend her personal trainer at the gym had said, “Sit-ups are out now for the rest of your life”. My client was extremely anxious that she not need to have a C-section as she feared she would never get back into shape again.
There are several concerning things about this scenario. Firstly, despite the information being second hand, my client had almost taken this as gospel as in her eyes the PT, being the health professional, would definitely be right. We all remember playing Chinese whispers at school…..very rarely was second, third, fifteenth hand information the same. I wonder if the PT actually made this comment or if my client’s friend had just heard what she wanted to hear…..not everyone likes doing sit-ups apparently!!
Secondly, if in fact the PT did say this, then a blanket “no” to sit-ups (or anything for that matter) to everyone post C-section is incorrect advice. Every person should be assessed individually and a program tailored accordingly, as the spectrum for recovery post any kind of abdominal surgery, not just a C-section, varies widely. There are many factors to consider, including tissue healing times, pre-baby level of fitness/strength, lifestyle factors, general health and other complications.
Lastly, I’ve never had a baby, but I’m tipping that hearing my friend talk to me about C-sections and the things that can happen afterwards just a few weeks before I’m due would not be very comforting!! Bad friend alert!
So let’s get some facts about sit-ups. A better question may have been “Are sit-ups even good for anyone?”
Traditional sit-ups (curling your head up off the ground and launching your chest up towards your thighs) put incredible strain on the muscles at the front of your neck, potentially causing neck pain, tension and headaches. Lifting the lower part of your spine off the ground and lowering it back down can also lead to unnecessary strain on the lumbar spine, especially as fatigue sets in and any concept of technique gets thrown out the window.
I can think of at least 20 body weight exercises that I would do hands down over sit-ups to work on abdominal strength and tone, and that’s just exercises not using equipment! Add in weight machines, fit balls, Pilates reformers and other equipment and the list is virtually endless!
The moral of this story is simple….seek professional advice from your obstetrician and qualified physiotherapist following labour, c-section or any abdominal surgery before returning to ANY form of exercise. Everybody is different and recovery rates are not the same, so a thorough assessment is required first to ensure you remain injury free and get back into shape as quickly as possible. And lastly….be good friends, don’t scare your pregnant friends with horror stories just weeks out from giving birth!!