5 Pregnancy-Safe Core Exercises to Add to Your Routine
Core work during pregnancy gets kind of a bad rep, mostly for good reason. Most doctors advise women to stop doing core work like crunches, sit-ups, leg raises, and planks sometime in the second trimester. As the baby grows, your belly has to grow with it. As the uterus get larger it puts pressure on the linea alba, the connective tissue that runs down the midline of your belly and connects the two sides of your rectus (six pack) muscle. This pressure causes the connective tissue to thin and spread and the rectus muscles spread along with it, this is known as diastasis recti and it’s a totally normal part of pregnancy. Kind of like when you move to a bigger house and you’re so excited to have some extra space, but then a few months later you realize your stuff grew to accommodate that extra space (moving analogy because we are DYING for extra space, haha). The belly has to grow to accommodate the baby, fluid, placenta, and organs. Most traditional core work puts extra pressure on the linea alba and can make a normal separation harder to heal. Fortunately, there are a ton of “core” exercises beyond the traditional crunch and plank.
Your core gets worked A LOT in everyday movements- bending, lifting, twisting, getting kids out of the car, mopping the floor, loading and unloading the dishwasher, carrying the groceries (the baby, the toddler, the four year old, the dog)… you name it. So to support these movements, the core is most effectively worked in movements that mimic everyday life because that’s where you need the support. In all technicality, the core is defined as shoulder girdle to hip girdle- leave off your extremities and there you have it. That’s a lot of muscle! The core plays a huge part in rotation and stabilization of the body. As the body changes in pregnancy, the core becomes a bit weaker and that can lead to issues like low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, or just feeling like your belly is going to pull you right over. Stabilization is my favorite way to train the core in pregnancy and early postpartum, because your body is a little more unstable during these times in life.
Check out these 5 “core” moves, add them to your routine and let me know how it goes!
1. Straight Arm Pulldown
Set up a band or cable on a high pulley. Stand tall with your knees unlocked and your rib cage stacked over your hips. Grab the band or bar with both hands and pull your shoulders back. Keeping your elbows straight, pull the bar or band down to your lap, slowly release to starting position. Keep the chest lifted, don’t round your shoulders as you pull. Note any doming or tenting of the belly, if this happens reduce load or tension of the band. Repeat for 10-12 reps.
2. Pallof Press
Set up a band or cable on a mid pulley. Stand side on to the band or cable and hold it with both hands right at the center of your chest. Stand with your knees unlocked, ribcage over the hips, and shoulders back. Exhale to press away from your body, inhale to bring it back to chest. Note: I often have clients who find exhaling throughout the entire movement feels better for their body. Repeat for 10-12 reps on each side. Note: This video shows a full-kneeling and standing version. Full kneeling can be a bit more challenging, but it really depends on what you have to work with- if you're at a gym with an adjustable pulley, try both! If you're at home and limited to where you can throw up a band, just go with what works!
3. Suitcase Carry
Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in one hand. Stack the ribcage over the hips and try not to lean towards or away from the weight. Tuck the shoulders back and lean forward a bit. Walk at a casual pace trying not to sway the hips too much. Walk for about 40 seconds then switch sides. Note: If you don't have any weights, load up a reusable grocery bag with some books and voila!
4. Glute Bridge with Band Pullover
Set up a band on a low pulley. Lie on your back facing away from the band with your knees bend and feet flat on the floor. Take the band in both hands. Exhaling, pull the band over your chest, on another exhale, squeeze the glutes and lift the hips up. Inhale to lower and return to starting position. Repeat for 10-12 reps.
5. Dead Bug or Heel Slide
**There are LOTS of variations of the dead bug depending on your body and your stage of pregnancy/postpartum. In mid pregnancy, the leg extension variation of the dead bug is a good option. Later in pregnancy (and early postpartum) as the demand on the core increases, the heel slide version is a better option.
Lie on your back with your arms straight over your chest and your knees right over hips (Or in glute bridge position for the heel slide variation). Pull the bottom of your rib cage to the floor, leaving a natural arch in the low back (gently bracing the core). Begin your exhale at the top of the movement, slowly straighten out one leg tapping the heel to the ground. On another exhale, return the knee over the hip and switch sides. For the heel slide variation, on exhale slide your heel out to extended leg, inhale to return. Repeat for 10 reps on each side.
These exercises are fantastic and can be done in late pregnancy and into postpartum as well. I use them for mommas of all stages to help them feel more confident in their core during every day movements. For more on core, floor, and pregnancy and postpartum exercise, follow Madison’s Mommas on Facebook or Instagram. Want to join a community of strong mommas? Check out the Strong Like a Mom program for workouts that fit into your mom-life and help you feel strong and confident in your pre-and post-baby body.