Core strengthening during pregnancy is quite often an area of concern. We’ve heard about how a stronger core will help us throughout our pregnancy, but is it really safe to work the muscles of your midsection during this time of immense physical change?
The answer to this is, “Yes, absolutely!"
It’s actually beneficial to incorporate core strengthening exercises into your pregnancy fitness program. In fact, this is one of the most important ways of ensuring a healthy pregnancy, labour, delivery and recovery.
There are, however, certain moves we should avoid, including:
Deep closed twists, in which the abdominal area is compressed. We see this a lot in yoga poses and certain exercises recruiting the obliques, for example the supine bicycle twist. You'll want to avoid twisting your core too much during pregnancy, as your uterus is working hard to make optimal conditions for your growing baby and twisting motions can disturb this process.
Abdominal crunches, which involve deep flexion of the spine should also be avoided, especially after trimester one. This movement can cause abdominal separation (Diastasis Recti) as the uterus grows in size. Another negative of the abdominal crunch, like any exercise which involves lying on your back, is that the weight of the uterus can compress the vena cava blood vessels leading to your heart. This can cause lightheadedness and may also reduce oxygen supply to the fetus.
There are certain core exercises by which the safety can vary from person to person depending on one's ability to be able to activate smaller and usually forgotten stabilizing muscles ahead of the move.
A great example of what I'm referring to is the front plank. It's essential to engage the pelvic floor muscles and transverse abdominal muscles ahead of performing the plank. Failure to do so can put too much pressure on the abdominal wall and again, contribute to that dreaded Diastasis Recti. If you're unsure of how to engage these deep core muscles ahead of planking, then this move should be avoided.
We're all built differently, with different levels of experience- our training plans should reflect this!
Ok, so which core exercises should you be performing as a mama-to-be?
Below are 3 examples of exercises which will keep your core strong during each trimester of pregnancy and are generally quite safe to perform:
TRIMESTER 1: OBLIQUE SIDE PLANKS
Your obliques are often neglected, but these muscles are such important stabilizers throughout pregnancy and strengthening them will help you eventually push your baby out! What could be better than added strength on delivery day?
· Remember to breathe throughout the hold; aim for 30 seconds and try 3 rounds.
· Imagine a zipper running from your pelvic floor muscles to your ribs. Activate and squeeze your core tight as you zip up.
· If this move is too difficult, then drop your bottom leg to a bent knee position, as shown in the bottom photo.
TRIMESTER 2: SUPINE LEG EXTENSIONS
This exercise activates your transverse abdominal muscle, which is a key player in preventing Diastasis Recti.
· This exercise should be performed on your elbows especially after trimester 1 to prevent pressure on the vena cava vein.
· Try three sets of 10 slow reps and exhale deeply on each extension.
· Push your lower spine downward and pull your knees closer to your body to avoid lower back pain.
TRIMESTER 3: SITTING WALL SUPPORTED SQUAT
You may not think of this a great core strengthener but remember that your core includes your glutes, hips and lower back muscles too. Performing this move will not only help strengthen all the muscles of your core during pregnancy but will also help with your labour. This squatting position can be one of the easiest delivery positions and practice will help a speedy delivery!
· Try and hold the squat for 30 seconds at a time and breathe throughout.
· Aim to keep your knees at a 90-degree angle.
· Remember to engage your lower back muscles against the wall and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles to help activate your transverse abdominals too.
Ok strong mamas-to-be, happy core training!
If you would like further information on how to exercise safely during your pregnancy and postpartum period, please contact Pre and Postnatal exercise specialist Anna Kwan: firstname.lastname@example.org for both private and small group tuition. Thanks for reading!