Protect Your Core: Exercises for Pregnancy and Postpartum
All about that core.
I’ve been asked many times by clients, “is it ok to work my core in pregnancy?”
Absolutely, having a strong core and pelvic floor will make your pregnancy and postpartum recovery a bit easier.
Having a strong and engaged core before pregnancy can do wonders during pregnancy. It’s never too early to prepare your body for pregnancy.
What to avoid:
There are certain exercises you want to avoid so you don’t strain your muscles or increase risk for abdominal separation.
Avoid crunches, planks (after 20 weeks, it’s ok to do before then), or anything that works your ‘six pack’ muscles.
Here’s my rule of thumb:
If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Be gentle, listen to your body, and be very mindful of your ‘pedestrian’ movements (sitting, standing, squatting). The key, especially after 20 weeks of pregnancy, is to activate your transverse abdominis muscle (TVA, aka corset muscles) instead of your rectus abdominus (aka six pack muscles).
At 20 weeks the uterus is near your navel point. Your growing uterus increases abdominal pressure and forces your six pack muscles to separate to make room for baby. This puts more pressure on the linea alba, the tissue that runs down the middle of your abs and connects the right and left halves of your six pack muscles. Abdominal separation occurs when there is a wide gap between the two halves of your six pack at the linea alba.
If you engage your TVA (corset muscles) you’re more likely protect your rectus abdominus (six pack muscles) and linea alba by decreasing pressure on them when performing pedestrian movements or when working out.
At 20 weeks I recommend you start rolling to your side to sit up, even if you feel like you can still use your abs, don’t. Just roll.
Below are a few easy exercises to use in pregnancy and during your postpartum recovery.
5 Exercises for pregnancy or postpartum
1. Deep breathing.
Anywhere and everywhere. We take close to 23,000 breaths a day, but it’s often shallow, reflexive breathing. If you bring a bit of intention to your breath you can turn it into a gentle and effective workout.
Take a deep breath in, expanding your stomach as you inhale. Hold your breath and stiffen your abdominal muscles, exhale slowly pulling your belly in while engaging your pelvic floor (like you’re doing a kegel). In Kundalini this is known as holding root lock. You engage your core and pelvic floor by pulling your abdominal muscles in and sex organs up.
That’s it. The deep breathing activates your core and gently tones your belly. Plus, it naturally slows your heart rate down (an added benefit).
Get on all fours, wrists directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips. Take a deep breath in while engaging your TVA. Next, lift your right arm and left leg. Inhale as your bring your arm and leg back down. Do this 8-10 times, rotate sides.
3. Pelvic Tilt
When your diaphragm is stretched in this movement, your pelvic floor gets a workout, too.
Lie on back with knees bent and feet hip-width apart. While inhaling, slowly lift hips into bridge and extend arms overhead. While exhaling fully, let abdominal muscles go slack, then broaden ribs (you’ll feel diaphragm move and your core hollowing). Then lower hips to floor and bring arms back to sides. Repeat 10 times. If you’re 20 weeks pregnant or beyond you might want adjust and with a chair.
4. Knee hover.
Get on all fours, wrists directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips. (Your toes should be “tucked under.”) Inhale deeply, letting your belly drop and relax, then exhale fully through your mouth, feeling your TVA engage. Use your core to lift your knees an inch off the floor — nothing else in your body should shift. Inhale to gently return your knees to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
5. Wall sit.
Doing a wall sit not only engages your core, glutes and hamstrings, but helps with posture and positioning of baby in pelvis. While you’re sitting against a wall, breathe deeply to engage your TVA.