Core Exercise Guide for Pregnant Women
The core exercises you may be used to doing before you were pregnant may not be best for you now. However, there are prenatal core exercise routines that work to strengthen the muscles weakened from the pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, and all routines should include abdominal exercises.
Of course you should always check with your ob/gyn or doctor before starting any exercise program especially while pregnant. But what doctors have found, pregnant moms can gain the following benefits from strength training:
• Helps prevent excessive weight gain because you are burning calories not otherwise burned
• Reduces many of the discomforts experienced during the pregnancy and after delivery
• Improves state of mind which helps you better deal with the stressors of pregnancy.
• Helps build strength needed for lifting and carrying a baby.
Routines that focus on maintaining neutral spine stabilization build or rebuild the core better than ones that focus on just one muscle group or external support of the spine. Some exercises included in many pregnancy routines are:
• Standing heel rises
• Leg extensions
• Compound rows
• Upper and lower body cable-pull exercises
• And some ballet barre poses
Many of the above exercises can be done either standing or seated, with or without additional weight or resistance. To tone up faster, be sure to engage your abdominal core at the start of each exercise and try to hold it during the sequence of that exercise.
When pregnant, it is always better to select form over load or resistance level. As your baby grows, it will be harder to maintain the neutral spine position. When a choice has to be made, lower the weight or resistance in order to keep the form.
As a general rule, avoid cardio or exercises that flex your spine, for example crunches. Stick with strength exercises that try to maintain a neutral spine. As the baby grows and the weight pushes forward, it will throw off your stability, so having strong back muscles will be advantageous to offset the vertical imbalance.
Not only will having a strong core going into a pregnancy reduce the effects of abdominal separation (tearing apart the rectus abdominus vertically), but it will make pushing easier when it comes time to deliver.
The rules on exercising when pregnant have changed since your mother delivered you. Under medical supervision, there is no reason why you should not continue to exercise well into your third trimester. If nothing else, sit on a stability ball when working or watching TV. It will keep your abdominal muscles engaged and strong.
A Guide to Postnatal Core Workouts
If you just went through a pregnancy and delivered a baby, then you know your body, and especially your core, has taken a beating. Now you are looking for a workout routine that will help get your body back in shape.
Before we look at some exercises designed to build core strength, let’s first determine if your pregnancy did some damage to your core. The first thing to check for is diastasis recti or a tear in your abdominals. Start by laying on your back on the floor. Contract your abs as if you were getting ready to get hit in the stomach. While holding the contraction, feel for a soft spot or gap both above and below the navel. A gap of one to two fingers wide is normal and should close on its own. If your gap is three finger-width wide or more, contact your ob/gyn and that person may refer you to a physical therapist so they can start you on the right program to get it closed.
Pregnancy can also cause the ligaments in your pelvis to become lax resulting in a painful condition called symphysis pubis dysfunction or SPD for short. With these muscles out of shape, your pelvis is allowed to move in ways it was not intended to move thus causing pain. You should also consult your PT if you are experiencing pelvic pain; many women find relief by doing pelvic tilts, belly breathing and abdominal bracing. These are easy to do and if you did not have a C-section, you should be able to start doing these soon after delivery. With a C-section it may take longer before you can begin. In either case, consult with your doctor first before attempting to exercise.
Using a stability ball, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet propped on the ball. Contract your abdomen and tilt your pelvis back by pressing your lower back into the floor. Hold this position for five seconds then repeat.
You most likely were taught to breathe using your diaphragm, but in this exercise you are breathing using your belly. Breathe in allowing your belly to expand. Now breathe out while contracting your belly as much as you can. The key to making this work is to breathe as deep as you can and to contract as much as you can on the exhales.
Begin by lying on your back on the floor. Contract your entire abdomen as if you were getting ready to get hit in the stomach. While holding the contraction, raise one or both arms overhead or extend your legs while keeping your back flat against the floor.
Strive to complete two to three sets of each exercise holding each repetition for 1 to 30 seconds each. Work your way up to one to two minutes per exercise. Take it slow and listen to your body. If it starts to hurt quit.
Now we are going to move on to three other exercises that according to the American College of Sports Medicine that uses the abs and obliques the best:
Start by sitting on the floor with your knees bent. Tighten your abs and start to lean back. This should start to bring your feet off the floor. Stop when your shins are parallel with the floor. You can extend your arms out in front of you to help control balance. Hold for 30 seconds and then return to the starting position.
Dolphin plank on a ball
The Dolphin plank is a regular plank done with the addition of a stability ball supporting your forearms. Place your elbows on the ball. Extend your legs out behind you. Contract your abs and hips, straighten your back and hold for 30 seconds. Because this is a plank, your body should be in a straight line from your neck to your heels. If not, your butt is too high or too low.
Lie on your side with your elbow under your shoulder. Stack your feet so they are on top of each other. Contract your abs while lifting your hips off of the floor thus forming a straight line down the length of your body. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
As you continue to do these exercises, you’ll find that your core will get stronger and stronger. It takes time; don’t rush it!