How to Train Your Core During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is an amazing time in a woman’s life! Our bodies change a lot and put in quite a bit in an effort to grow and prepare this tiny human being for entry into this world. We all want to do our best for our babies health, eating well and of course, exercising throughout pregnancy.
Being a Pilates teacher and a prenatal exercise specialist, I’ve read over and over again about the benefits of having a strong core, especially when you are pregnant. A strong core will help relieve aches and pains and create an easier postpartum recovery including diastasis recti recovery.
It's only natural to be a little nervous about working your core while you're pregnant. After all, there's a baby in that belly! While traditional ab moves are a no-no in the second and third trimesters, you can certainly give your midsection a workout while you're pregnant!
Below I have a 2nd Trimester Prenatal Pilates Core Workout for you!
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Disclaimer: Every pregnancy is different so always check with your doctor before starting any new physical activity. This article and video are not intended to replace professional medical advice.
In Pilates, we always aim to work from our centre/core, but what is that exactly?
When most people think of their core, they think of their abdominal muscles. In particular the superficial abdominal muscles like the "six pack" rectus abdominis and the obliques which wrap around our waist. While we are pregnant, it is the deeper core muscles that we want to focus on. These are the pelvic floor (at the bottom), Transversus Abdominis (wrapping around us like a corset) and the Respiratory Diaphragm (at the top). These muscles form a cylinder and work together to provide active support for the low back, mid back and pelvis. We cannot train for stamina, strength, stability or indeed LIFE, without these essential muscles coordinating and functioning well.
Ideally you want to enter pregnancy with a strong core and then work to maintain that strength throughout your pregnancy. However, you can still work on building core strength while pregnant to support you as your baby grows.
Choosing core exercises can be confusing when you are pregnant. Especially when you are unsure of what exercises are safe or how to modify them as your body changes. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this lately, but ultimately I am keeping in mind what I am now training for. Having a more comfortable pregnancy, a relatively easier childbirth, returning to function then fitness and most of all be a happy mother to my baby. Not to have visible abs while pregnant, if that's what you are after, I am not the trainer for you.
Core Exercises You Can Do During Pregnancy:
- Focus on your posture.
- Use diaphragm breathing.
- Learn how to activate pelvic floor correctly.
- Strengthen your transverse abdominis. (More on this below.)
- Lying down and getting up with correct posture to avoid straining your midline.
- Practice squatting with excellent form.
- Choose standing, kneeling or quadruped exercises that require you to stabilise your position.
Transversus Abdominis Engagement For a Strong Core During Pregnancy
Transversus abdominis is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and wraps around your abdomen between the lower ribs and top of the pelvis, functioning like a corset. When transversus abdominis contracts the waist narrows slightly and the lower abdomen flattens. During the pushing phase of labour, you ideally draw in the deep transversus abdominis muscle and relax the pelvic floor to help your uterus squeeze the baby out.
Strengthening the Transversus Abdominis in pregnancy helps:
- Provides support for your growing belly
- Can improve back and pelvic pain
- Make any pushing during labour easier
- Improves Diastasis Recti during and after pregnancy
- Improves overall recovery time postpartum.
You cannot strengthen a muscle your brain cannot activate. This exercise help you ‘find the muscle’ and activate it properly.
- Sit with your spine in a neutral posture, (gentle curve in your low back) while lengthening tall through the top of your head. Relax the muscles of your pelvic floor and abdomen. Take a few deep breaths.
- Imagine a line that connects the inside of your two pelvic bones (front of hips above the thigh muscles). Think about connecting, or drawing the muscle, along this line as if closing a pair of curtains. This is a SLOW, subtle engagement. Think of this as a gentle hug to your baby deep toward your spine.
- Slowly inhale and expand through the ribs. Imagining the lungs filling with air, the ribs spreading and sternum lifting.
- While you exhale through the mouth, imagine drawing the two pelvic bones together and feel a gentle lift of the lower abdomen.
- Repeat ten times or as long as you can maintain proper form.
If you palpate your belly just inside the left and right hip bones, this deep contraction should feel like a light, deep tension under your fingertips (often very hard to feel initially), not a contraction that pushes your fingers out (internal oblique). If you feel a muscle pushing your fingers out of your abdomen or spinal movement then you are not being successful in connecting to your TA or you are over-contracting.
Watch for the following substitution strategies:
- Posterior tilting of the pelvis (a tuck). No movement of your hips, pelvis or spine should occur as you gently connect to TrA.
- Bulging of the abdomen. The Transversus Abdominis draws inward like a corset.
- Depression of the rib cage. Usually the obliques or Rectus Abdominis contracting instead.
- Breath holding. Always contract the TA on an exhale.
If you learn to engage the pelvic floor correctly this will lead to the deep Transversus Abdominis switching on at the same time. Please also read: Prepping to Push - The Pelvic Floor in Pregnancy. A full post dedicated to looking after our pelvic floor muscles while pregnant to help prevent future issues such as incontinence when baby is in our arms.
Below is a safe and effective second trimester prenatal core workout. I plan to record a third trimester core workout when I am more in my third myself. If you have trouble playing the video below, here is the direct link to YouTube.
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THANK YOU so much for all the love and support.
If you are looking for more help with staying healthy, fit and toned during pregnancy while protecting your core to help prevent diastasis and pelvic floor issues postpartum, make sure to check out my online Prenatal Pilates Programme.
I have put my heart in soul into this programme in order to provide a library of safe effective workouts for expecting mums to have access to throughout their pregnancy.
I love working with women from all over the world – like yourself – to give you clear, applicable information, support you in truly creating core strength, fall in love with your strong and healthy body!