I get asked about this a lot.
There’s the old advice of avoid doing sit-ups.
And what should you really be doing?
In short, sit ups work your external abdominal muscles, your 6 pack muscles. These do not really serve you during pregnancy as you want to allow your body to let your bump grow.
The key to core training during pregnancy is what we call the deep core. To be honest with you, this is the area we should focus on anyway but that’s a rant for another day!
Your deep core muscles are all part of a fully functioning pelvic floor, think of them as an internal corset that moves with the breath. These mostly cover your TVA (deep abdominal muscules), multifidus (think around the back), diaphragm and pelvic floor.
You want to work these throughout your pregnancy, through compound exercises and then moves that cover instability, anti-rotation, rotation, etc. The main one you need to be mindful of is flexion (as these work your rectus abdomini and we don’t need these to be rock solid in pregnancy).
As you go throughout your pregnancy, the “sheath” that holds your muscles together (linea alba) weakens as it gets stretched. Hence why 99.9% of women get diastasis recti when they go beyond 35 weeks (hello baby bump!).
I’ve been asked to give a what you should be doing in each trimester, so here we go. Although before I continue, everyone is different and I can’t express that enough, and every body has different pregnancies. It’s about finding what works for you.
A few exercises you can lose as soon as you’re pregnant:
- Jack Knives
- Sit Ups, Crunches etc
- Toe Reach Crunches
However, before I go into core for each trimester, I wanted to mention a few extra points:
- Make sure you’re not holding your breath during core workouts. Breathing is your friend and part of working your core and pelvic floor functioning.
- Upper body works your core as it’s what stabilises you (remember, keep those knees soft so it can do the work).
- Instability – I’m not talking about standing on a Bosu ball, but adding weight to one side only. By doing single sided moves, the core is worked to create balance. When doing single sided work to keep the form as if you’re working both sides, i.e don’t let one side of your body drop as it defeats the object.
A lot of you on Instagram have been asking me about core training based on trimester.
In truth, it depends (annoying isn’t it) as everyone grows at different rates, people have different starting points in terms of fitness etc.
In short, you want to be mindful of it not being too challenging. Signs of this are usually doming or coning (read more about it here). Plus, you also want to dial down the intensity as pregnancy goes on as you want that bump to be able to stretch!
Core Exercises in your First Trimester
If you’ve not included core stability exercises, now is the time to get started.
The idea with pregnancy is to work on the inside, ensuring that your core and pelvic floor all work together to support the bump (and in turn help the back), help recovery on the other side by ensuring these muscles are functioning well and to help lessen any pelvic floor issues/incontinence.
Overall you can loosely train the same as it’s likely that your bump isn’t prominent just yet (this can vary though, especially if it’s not your first pregnancy).
Aside from losing the exercises mentioned earlier, introduce more “deep core” work and follow the following (which can largely be done throughout pregnancy).
- Adding in sliders for moves like lunge variations, hamstring curls, plank reaches, 4 point prone leg extensions etc.
- Use a weight only on one side: i.e single arm floor press, single arm shoulder press, single sided squats, suitcase carries etc.
- Work with unilateral exercises for your lower body: bulgarian split squats, split squats, lunges, step ups etc.
- JUST USE A WEIGHT! Any exercise using a weight is working your core. Squats, rows and the rest. You name is, your core is working!
- Add in exercises that work the core muscles you can’t see: like birddogs, deadbugs (you might want to lose these after the first tri), pallof press, 4 point belly breathing etc.
Core Exercises in your Second Trimester
Regardless of whether you’re able to hold a full plank, personally, I find it’s best to regress your core exercises from your second trimester (either drop knees or elevate) as we don’t want rock solid 6 pack abs as they don’t aid a bump’s growth as much.
You want to maintain a good core but it’s about function over abs. Remember, think about working the inside out, working on variety of core exercises that benefit keeping key areas strong instead of defaulting planks (because let’s face it, they’re boring!).
Now’s the time you’ll probably start to do exercises that involve a plank positioning on your knees (if you haven’t already). Here you’ve either got your kneeling plank (straight line from your knees to your shoulders. or maybe some exercises may need a box position. You can also elevate the exercise by placing your hands/elbows/whatever on a box).
EXERCISE EXAMPLES: Plank Shoulder Taps, Plank Reaches, Renegade Rows, Commando Plank, Press Ups (you can elevate these too instead of dropping to your knees: pushing up off a bench or a wall), Side Planks (bottom leg or both legs bent),
A few other watch outs:
- Kettlebell Swings: These are fine throughout pregnancy PROVIDED YOUR BODY IS OKAY WITH THEM. There’s a lot of force going through the core so you may find in time you’ll want to drop the weight or stop them altogether. If it feels odd or you notice your core can no longer support them (doming). Stop!
- Front Squats (and other front loaded exercises): Again, these are fine but only provided you’re not overloading your core.
Core Exercises in your Third Trimester
As with all trimesters, the different from the beginning to the end is quite a lot, and with the third, as you near the end it’s quite a change!
If you’ve been working on your core (as outlined) up until now, you’re in a great position as you’ve got decent foundations.
As the baby grows, more internal pressure builds as your body has more to contain, so you may find you’re doming more easily.
It’s unsurprising, given your abdominal muscles are pretty stretched and your body doesn’t want your internal organs being squashed further by the baby!
This is also the trimester where you may feel your abs “split”, aka diastasis recti. This occurs in 99.9% of women who go beyond 35 weeks in pregnancy and it’s perfectly normal. The key here is to just ensure you’re managing it and make sure you’re not pushing your body too much (shown through exercises where you may see doming).
That means, moving kneeling plank positions to a box position or elevating exercises even more.
Also, pressing weights overhead require a lot of core strength so maybe lessen the load if you feel like you can’t withstand the pressure, or even experience incontinence.