Wanting to keep your abdominals strong during pregnancy is important, but how you do so is more important (for both you and your new little one). But before tackling which ab exercises you should (and shouldn't) be doing as your little bundle grows, it's important to start by understanding more about your deep core muscles.
Your deep core muscles play a key role in proper strengthening of your ab muscles. As pregnancy progresses, they can help you:
- Feel better during pregnancy
- Improve your posture
- Minimize aches and pains
- Shorten delivery time
- Speed up postpartum recovery
Strengthen Your Abs from the Inside Out
Your kegels shouldn't just involve your pelvic floor muscles. A 2002 study published in International Urogynecology Journal and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction found that when you activate your pelvic floor muscles (like you do with kegels), that you're also activating several supporting muscles in your deep core.
Your deep core muscles include:
- Pelvic floor muscles (think kegels)
- Transverse abdominals (think lower belly)
- Multifidous (low back)
- Diaphragm (muscle involved in breathing)
All of these muscles need to work together for optimal function of your core. This translates into your abdominal exercises during pregnancy. Think “gently hugging your baby while lengthening through the top of your head.”
Properly Engage Your Deep Core
When you engages your deep core properly, you should feel a very light core connection but still be able to breath deeply. Holding this light deep-core connection can help to strengthen your core daily.
Initiate every exercise you do with this deep-core activation to strengthen your abdominals during pregnancy. This can also help to minimize the severity of diastasis recti (abdominal separation) during pregnancy and improve healing after baby.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Inhale to relax your pelvic floor muscles while breathing out into your sides and back (relaxation is key to proper activation on your next exhale).
- Exhale to initiate "zipping up" your pelvic floor and lower belly. Lengthen through the top of your head. As Julie Wiebe, pelvic floor PT specialist says, “Blow before you go,” meaning start to exhale to lightly recruit your deep core muscles.
Other Ab Exercises That Are Generally Safe
Before beginning any exercise program (especially if you're pregnant), always consult with your physician. To find out more about the safety of exercise during pregnancy check out ACOG.org.
Listen to your body, focus on your deep core connection and modify exercises as your pregnancy progresses. Here are some exercises to start out with (given doctor approval, of course):
- Squats (engage your abs/pelvic floor muscles as described above)
- Cat Cow pose
- Single-leg kickbacks (on all fours)
- Glute bridge (1st trimester and 2nd and 3rd trimesters if you feel okay lying on your back)
- Standing rotational exercises (be sure to keep the weight low and rotate your hips with you)
- Standing or seated pelvic tilts
Ab Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy
During your pregnancy (especially the later months), avoid exercises that create too much intra-abdominal pressure, such as crunches, deadlifts, jogging, and even some yoga poses.
Putting too much stress on your abdominals during pregnancy can increase the severity of diastasis recti and abdominal hernias and make it challenging to properly activate your deep core muscles.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself About an Exercise
Everyone’s bodies are different. While some pregnant women can continue to do more challenging exercises during pregnancy, other’s may not. It’s important to listen to your body and pregnancy is not the time to push too extreme. Before doing a particular exercise, ask yourself:
- Can you activate your deep core during that exercise?
- Do you experience any leaking down there? (This is a sign that the exercise is putting too much stress on your pelvic floor.)
- Do you see any coning of your belly? (This is when your belly creates more of a cone or ridge shape down the middle as opposed to a nice, smooth, round belly. This is an indication of too much intra-abdominal pressure.)
- The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecology. Exercise During Pregnancy. ACOG.Org. May 2016.
- Cobb WS, Burns JM, Kercher KW, Matthews BD, Norton HJ, Heniford BT. Normal Intra-abdominal Pressure in Healthy Adults. Journal of Surgical Research. 2005 (129);. 231-235.
- O’Dell KK, Morse AN, Crawford SL, Howard A. Vaginal Pressure during lifting, floor exercises, jogging, and use of hydraulic exercise machines. Int Urogynecol J. 2007; 18: 1481-1489.
- P. Neumann, V. Gill. Pelvic Floor and Abdominal Muscle Interaction: EMG Activity and Intra-Abdominal Pressure. Int Urogynecol J Pelvic Floor Dysfunct. 2002;13(2):125-32.
- Wiebe, J. Intra Abdominal Pressure Pelvic Floor Health Friend or Foe. JulieWeibePT.com. Feb. 2015