Prenatal Core Exercises to Help Prevent Pregnancy Pooch

Prenatal core training can be a confusing thing to navigate around during pregnancy. Especially when you are unsure of what exercises are safe or how to modify them as your body changes.  However, maintaining abdominal strength and incorporating appropriate exercises into your prenatal fitness plan is very important.

Strong abdominal muscles in pregnancy help:
  1. Prevent back problems
  2. Reduce pelvic pain and pressure
  3. Make pushing during labor easier
  4. Likely improve recovery time postpartum.

In order to achieve this winning trifecta, you need a strong core. But what exactly is the core? Before diving into some exercises you should (and shouldn’t) be doing during pregnancy, it is important to begin by understanding a little more about the deep core muscles and the purpose they serve, especially during pregnancy. Hopefully this will provide you with a visual to help engage the muscles that act as a natural corset during pregnancy and after.

Core Muscles:  Deep abdominal muscles that act like a corset around your middle section and the small muscles around your back. “Core training” is strengthening the muscles that support and stabilize the spine.” 

I have found the best ways for clients to ensure they are activating their core muscles properly is to imagine drawing your belly button into your spine and holding it there while performing abdominal exercises. If you are unable to bring your belly button into your spine and hold it, then you are not working the core muscles properly.

The number one best thing you can do to ensure a strong core during pregnancy, is to strengthen your core before you get pregnant. Pregnancy is not an easy journey and providing the body with a strong foundation will help make the experience much more manageable.

Train your Core and Floor to help manage prenatal and postpartum side effects of pregnancy

Your deep core muscles are basically composed of two parts:
  1. Pelvic Floor Muscles=Strengthened by exercises like Kegals
  2. Transverse Abdominals=Imagine hugging your baby by bringing your belly button to spine

During pregnancy, it is especially important to strengthen both your pelvic floor and transverse abdominals (core muscles). Even though I stayed very active and exercised through my first pregnancy, I do not believe I gave the necessary time and attention to strengthening these muscles in my exercise routines which lead to several unpleasant experiences such as low back pain and urinary incontinence. Embarrassing but true! Stay tuned for more on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles to help with postpartum urinary incontinence.

Strengthening the Pelvic floor muscles helps:
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Improve Sex-Reason enough to work on these muscles, right?
Strengthening the Transverse abdominals helps:
  • provide back support for your growing belly
  • possibly minimize abdominal separation (diastasis Recti)
  • help push your baby out during delivery
  • help bring your ab muscles back together after pregnancy
So what happens to our “abs” during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, abdominal stretching and even separation occurs in order to make room for your growing bundle of joy. The two hemispheres of your rectus abdominal muscles, also known as the “6-pack muscles”, can pull apart from the midline of your body causing a condition called, “Diastasis Recti.” This condition causes a gap to form between the two sheets of muscles. Have you heard of this before? Neither had I!

What causes Diastasic Recti:

The separation of the two abdominal halves (as we will call them) commonly occurs due to pressure against the intra-abdominal wall. While most of this pressure comes from the growing baby pressing up against a women’s belly, there are other movements that should be avoided that cause added pressure. Any movement that causes your belly to, “cone” should be avoided at all costs as these movements add even more pressure to the intra-abdominal wall and possibly cause further separation.

Unfortunately, there is no definite way to prevent this condition during pregnancy. However, there are certain things that women can do continue strengthening their core and prevent further separation.

For extra support, I highly recommend the Belly Bandit Belly boost band. It helps to lift and support the growing belly. 

So now that you have a little background, lets dive into some exercises that should be avoided and some of my favorites during pregnancy.

 

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy:

Crunches: There is absolutely no benefit to doing crunches during pregnancy. These exercises do not target the deep core muscles needed in pregnancy and can cause ab separation to worsen. You definitely do not want that! Because crunches specifically target the “6-pack muscles” which are not the entire core, they will not provide necessary back strengthening and support needed in pregnancy. So just don’t do them.

I advise expecting moms not to perform any exercises, especially in the third trimester, that places too much intra-abdominal pressure on the abdominal wall. This includes exercises like planks and pushups. Putting too much stress on your core can increase the severity of diastasis recti and even abdominal hernias.

If you see a “cone” shape while preforming any exercises, this is an indication that there is too much pressure on the intra-abdominal wall and those exercises should be avoided. 

Prepping to Push!! Pregnancy Safe Core Exercises:

First thing is first. There is one exercise you can do almost all day, every day. I like to call it, “Hugging your baby.” This can be done by bringing your belly button to spine and imagine you are literally hugging your baby with your core muscles. Bringing awareness to our core by, “hugging our baby” will likely help maintain better posture and alleviate back pain.

Remember to “Hug your Baby” during all core work by drawing the belly button to spine. 

  • A few of my favorite prenatal core exercises:Start on all fours in a table top position with a flat back. Shoulders directly over wrists and hips over knees
  • Extend opposite arm and leg, engaging the core muscles (belly button to spine) to help keep your balance
  • Keeping core engaged, pull your elbow and your knee under your torso and then slowly extend again.
  • Repeat for 20-30 seconds or as many times possible while maintaining good form.
  • Repeat on opposite side
Pregnancy ab exercises
  • Begin on all fours in a table top position with a flat back. Shoulders directly over wrists and hips over knees
  • Inhale to arch your back, reaching your tailbone to the sky and chest forward (cow)
  • Exhale to round your spine with your head and tailbone reaching for the ground while the middle of the back reaches for the spine. (cat)
  • Remember to draw your belly button to spine and hug your baby during the “cat” phase.
  • Repeat for 20-30 seconds or as many times possible while maintaining good form.
  • Repeat on opposite side

A few of my favorite prenatal core exercises:

These can either be done standing against a wall (see this post) or free standing.

  • Place feet shoulder width apart and keep spine straight
  • Take a deep breath in and while you exhale, slowly draw your belly button to spine, hug your baby, and imagine drawing your pelvis slightly up toward your ribs
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds or as long as you can maintain proper form
  • Repeat 10 reps

  • Bridge 
    • Start on your back (only if you are able to get up and down comfortably)
      • TIP-Start on your side, then roll to your back. When standing up, do the opposite. Roll to your side and then stand up. This will help reduce stress on your rectus abdominals which is important in preventing Diastasis Recti.
    • Engage your pelvic floor (think kegals) and draw in your core (think belly button to spine)
    • Push through your heels and squeeze your bottom to push your hips off the ground
    • Hold 5-10 seconds
    • Relax and repeat 10 times
    • *squeezing a pillow or small ball between your knees while performing this exercise
  • Reverse Plank
    • With arms straight, extend legs while keeping the glutes squeezed and lifted
    • Push through the palms of your hands
    • Squeeze back of the upper arms. Press up and out of the shoulders. Do not allow shoulders to creep up toward your neck
    • Squeeze glutes and hug your baby by bringing belly button to spine
    • Reach through your toes
    • Hold for 15-20 Seconds
    • Repeat 10 times
Bonus Exercises:

Adding these two exercises will help strengthen your glutes and hips which is also important during pregnancyButt exercises for pregnancy

Clamshell: (with or without mini band)

  • This exercise aims to strengthen the hips, glutes and help stabilize pelvic muscles
  • Lie on side with knees slightly bent. Keep knees and ankles together
  • Rest head in palm or outstretched arm. Place the other hand on hip
  • Open and close knees, lifting top knee up until parallel with hip
  • Keep feet together throughout exercise
  • Control movement as if someone is applying pressure against the top knee while pressing up
  • Perform 10-15 repititions each side for 3 sets
  • Remember to keep core engaged

Glute Kickback: (with or without mini band)

  • Targets the glute muscles. Some core involved to help with stabilization
  • Begin on all fours in a table top position with a flat back. Shoulders directly over wrists and hips over knees
  • Exhale and lift right leg until your thigh is parallel to the ground and in line with your back
  • Contract the glute (butt muscles) throughout the movement
  • Hold at the top for one count, then slowly lower
  • Hold core tight by hugging your baby (belly button to spine)
  • Perform 10-15 repetitions each side for 3 sets

Be sure to checkout Struggles of A Fit Mom on Facebook or Instagram for exercise video clips and other fun updates

***As always, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider to discuss the most appropriate avenue of exercise for each individual persons and pregnancies.

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