Prenatal Fitness Series - # 1 The Plank
Prenatal Fitness Dos and Don'ts Series
In this series we're going to look at specific exercises and the pros and cons of doing them during pregnancy, so that you can decide for yourself if it's worth it.
There are thousands of blogs and articles telling you to "do these 3 exercises during pregnancy". I'm here to tell you that there are no good or bad exercises, HOW you do the exercise is more important that WHAT you do. I'm a big fan of individualization and the grey area in between. Most exercises have both pros and cons, potential risks and rewards, that you have to weigh up and decide what is right for you and your body. In this series, we will do just that.
# 1 - The Plank
Pros: - Strengthens shoulders - When the rectus abdominus (six pack muscles) are NOT stretched out and weakened, this can be a great strengthener for the whole core.
- Requires no equipment
Cons: - When the rectus abdominus (six pack muscles) ARE stretched out and weakened (i.e., when they are looping round a growing baby in your stomach), this exercise can put a lot of excess pressure on the abdominal wall, stretching the linea alba and worsening diastasis recti - All the pressure falls on the abdominal wall - If you can't fully control your core musculature, your back may arch and this can lead to back pain - If you are holding your breath at any point during the exercise, you will be putting unnecessary pressure on the pelvic floor
Conclusion There is nothing wrong with doing planks in the early stages of your pregnancy (although I think there are better things you could be doing!). However, once the belly starts to show, it's just putting an awful lot of pressure and weight on your weakened and stretched abdominal muscles. All front loaded exercises like these are not ideal in the later stages of pregnancy, and not a particularly effective exercise in any case.
Alternatives - Side plank - Glute bridge - Hip thrust
- Palloff press
However, I would like to add that "core" work, in particular the traditional ab exercises that we are used to, aren't particularly useful during this time. We would be much better off ensuring that we are mobile, and increasing or maintaining strength in the back and legs. Take the focus off the "core" and work on the glutes instead. They are much easier to build, will support your back and pelvic floor, and, of course, a pert bum looks great!
What about after birth? If you have DR, or if your belly "pops out" while you're in a plank, you shouldn't be doing this exercise. Stick to the alternatives until the DR closes or your belly stays flat while you do it (i.e. doesn't tent out). It's safe to do if you don't have an abdominal separation - but again, there may be more valuable exercises.
Final comments I love this picture, because it shows a trainer based in Leeds, UK, showcasing his prenatal training prowess. I have come across so many trainers that instruct women with totally inappropriate exercises for prenatal and postnatal women. They clearly haven't done the minimum online research, let alone completed a course in training this population.