How To Get a Strong Core (pre-pregnancy)
Before I begin, let me just put out a couple disclaimers. 1) This is what worked for me. I hope it works for you. Sorry, there is no money-back guarantee. 2) I am Sheila's daughter. Genetics have something, but not everything, to do with it.
As I have mentioned before, going into the pregnancy fit certainly helped with the recovery process--both in how I feel and having my body bounce back. Two weeks after Simon's birth with 2 days of ill-advised walking on the treadmill and the rest of the time on bed rest, I am thankfully pain-free and 3 pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight. Sure, some of that is definitely atrophy, but you can take comfort in knowing that the body can bounce back if you stick with an exercise plan before and during the pregnancy. While some women have used the gestation time to get fit or test their limits (marathons, triathlons, etc.), I definitely would not and did not do this.
I haven't done sit-ups or any core-specific exercises in years. However, I think the residual effects of my training have strengthened my core. The following are exercises I find to have great paybacks.
Interval training in 3 disciplines: swim, bike, run. Stressing the cardiovascular system burns the fat. Get out of your comfort zone. However, don't do interval training every day. When I trained on my own, I trained faster than I raced (dumb!) and I was heavier and slower. The body needs time to recover. Having a coach definitely helped me stick to a plan.
Endurance exercises--again in swim, bike, run. Once a week, Dedicate over an hour for a long workout. Depending on what race I was training for, I have gone for 5+ hour rides. Unnecessary (and just psychotic) to do this kind of mileage just to get the fat off.
Pull-ups--Great overall workout. Best workout for strength.
Jump rope--Gets the heart rate up in a short amount of time.
Mtn biking/kayaking/ hiking, etc--anything that gets you moving is great. Enjoy yourself.
Yoga--I used to do it and really enjoyed it, but time became a factor. Once in a while, I pop in a Rodney Yee video or go downtown and take Jenn Heister's yoga class.
Weights-- During the racing season, this is not a priority because of time. Otherwise, I lift about 2x per week about 2 months of the year--arm weights 5-10 pounds; leg weights for squats and lunges--20 pounds.
Perform everything with a taut core. Basically, always be ready to be punched in the gut. Maybe it's a result of my attitude that I walk around expecting a punch. Whatever the case, I think this is comparable to 1,000 sit ups a day.
And the best exercise I have found for core strength is the Josh Cox workout video on Runners World. I don't do them nearly as often as I would like (3x a year!!), but I always want to, and think if I were trying to get my abs to be ripped, this is what I would do: Josh Cox video
Apologies for the self-indulgence and vainglory, but folks asked me about the workouts. Oh, the last thing--get rid of the fat-free crap in your fridge. You know what fat-free stuff does? It makes you fat. For more informed info on nutrition, I highly recommend seeing Lauren Antonucci at www.nutritionenergy.com.