And how to make them safe for baby and you during pregnancy.
As your baby grows, your abdominal muscles weaken. You know what that means… It’s time to kiss those pre-pregnancy abs good-bye (temporarily) and be confident that, with some work, they will make an appearance again. Due to your weakening abdominal strength, doing abdominal exercises during pregnancy may be more challenging. But keeping up with your routine can actually be beneficial.
Some people will tell you that working your abs while expecting can be uncomfortable and unsafe to your baby. But pregnancy is different for everyone, and you may be apt to do a workout move that another mom is advised to avoid. Anecdotally, planks were okay until the end of my pregnancy, whereas laying directly on my back made it difficult to breathe during my third trimester. Fast-forward to six weeks postpartum, and deep twists got destabilizing.
If you need a little convincing to keep up with a prenatal abdominal workout routine, here are three reasons to keep working your core during pregnancy, along with tips to make your ab exercises safe for both you and baby.
1. You can alleviate or prevent back pain. Did you know that when a part of your body hurts, the source of pain is usually not at that specific location. Many pregnant women complain of back pain. As it turns out, back pain during pregnancy can be because of tighter hamstrings, the extra weight in the abdominal region pulling you forward and, yes, weaker abdominal muscles. What’s more, a strong core can actually alleviate back aches.
Since I was active before my pregnancy, my doctor told me I could maintain my exercise regimen as long as it felt okay. But during my second trimester, my lower back started to hurt after workouts. I noticed that as my core weakened, it was withstand most of the pressure from exercising. So if, like me, you experience back pain, why not strengthen your core to try and alleviate the pain?
What ab exercises you should do:
- Interval training, combining core work like planks with cardio interval: alternating from one movement to another changed where I felt the work, taking pressure off the back.
- Downward dog: rolling forward and back from downward dog to extended arm plank helped relieve bak ache.
- Swimming: this is an especially helpful and gentle exercise to work your abs and keep a strong core towards the end of your pregnancy.
2. You can get back to pre-pregnancy form quicker. Pregnancy is a time to embrace the changes in your body. But once you meet baby, you may find yourself eager to see your pre-pregnancy waistline again. Women who continue to safely work their abs throughout pregnancy seem to have an easier time to re-engage those muscles postpartum. But if you have to slow down on your abdominal routine, don’t despair. Muscles remember, and you will eventually be able to return to your previous physical and fitness skills.
Just remember that this takes time, and everyone is different. As they say, “it takes nine months to stretch, it takes nine months to bounce back to that pre-pregnancy body of yours.”
As your pregnancy progresses, deep twists, such as bicycles on your back, or anything that really constricts the abdomen area are not recommended. In addition, laying on your back can be dangerous as the vein that brings blood to the abdomen and towards baby may be constricted, causing a shortening of breath.
What ab exercises you should do:
- Forearm planks: these core exercises engage your outer obliques on a wedge. From a wedge position, place your hands behind your head.
- Heel slides: starting on your back, if you are later in pregnancy, make sure to prop yourself up on a pillow and stay up on your elbow. With your feet on the ground, you’ll contract your abdominals and kegels as you alternate sliding each leg straight to the ground.
3. You can avoid Diastasis Recti. Diastasis Recti is the splitting of the abdominal muscles and the thinning of the tissue connecting them -- a phenomenon that is common among new moms and that can result in a gaping hole in the abdominal area. There are varying degrees of how deep the split is, and a larger one can cause back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, and protruded inner abdominal muscles that can give you a postpartum pooch.
That’s when the type of abdominal exercise you do during pregnancy actually matters. A crunch, a deep twist and anything that requires to contract and lessen the space baby has in utero can cause the uterus to push those rectus muscles out, resulting in a deeper split. While this is not dangerous to the baby, it clearly is not what you want. The key to prevent a deeper diastasis is to engage the deeper abdominal muscles. Whatever exercise you decide to do, remember not to contract your abdominal muscles. Instead, imagine that you are pulling baby inward, towards your spine and away from the recti.
What exercises you should do:
- Forearm plank: for this, you don’t have to contract the abdominal region -- you simply need to elongate it. When in plank, think about pulling your baby up towards your spine.
- Knee lowering: on your back (or a wedge if further along in pregnancy), place your knees in a table top position and press your lower back into the ground. Then, lower either both legs or one leg at a time and return to table top.
- Knee extensions: in the same positioning as the knee lowering, extend one or both legs straight out away from your midline then return to table top.
- Side planks (preferably on forearm): place either your right or left forearm on ground. Stack one foot on top of the other or take one foot in front of the other. Lift your body body off the ground.
For all New York City mamas who want to work their core (and more) during and after pregnancy, check out our MamaFit or Buggy Barre classes this winter at The Fit Co or at Regenerative Fitness, on the Upper East Side. Use the promo code Wellrounded for a 15% discount. Offer valid until March 1, 2017. Check out schedule thefitco.nyc/schedule