Top 5 Pregnancy Core Exercises
Women are obsessed with doing "core" exercises, and I get asked almost daily what exercises you should do for your core during pregnancy.
My answer is: none
Especially not the traditional ab exercises that are super popular, like crunches and planks.
Best case scenario, they just aren't really very effective, as they don't mimic the true function of the core. They probably won't do any damage when you don't have a big ol' preggo belly, they just won't do anything like make your core stronger (and they definitely will not "shape your core", nor will they help you burn belly fat).
Worst-case scenario, they might actually be detrimental to your core health - especially when you have a big belly.
Imagine that your rectus abdominus (the six pack muscles) should run in a straight line from your ribcage to your pelvis. With a baby in there, they are stretched out over the contents of your tummy.
Millions of crunches could put a lot of strain on the tissues and make a diastasis or pelvic floor dysfunction more likely (in particular with the aggressive way some people do them)
So how do we want to train the core?
IF we train the core, we want to focus on exercises that mimic the true function of those muscles - where all the muscles of that core cylinder (diaphragm, pelvic floor and the abdominal and back muscles that wrap around) work in harmony. They contract as a unit, INWARDS to increase intra-abdominal pressure and stability.
The core isn't designed like a bicep or hamstring, so we shouldn't train it that way, by contracting the muscles repeatedly in a way that brings the two ends closer together (like in a crunch, side crunch or those stupid superman things).
It works as a pressure system, like a canister, and all the team members have to work together in harmony to create stability AND movement.
So here are my top 5 exercises that mimic that function
This is an excellent exercise that promotes balance. An external force is applied to the body (the cable or band), pulling your trunk towards rotation as you press out. You have to resist that force to keep your trunk in the same position. You have to use not only that core canister, but also stabilizing muscles in your hips and shoulders, and if you are standing, in your knees and ankles too.
This is an example of an anti-rotation exercise
You can do this standing, kneeling, or half-kneeling, with a cable or a band.
This exercise has a similar mechanism to the paloff press above.
The kettlebell (or weight) is pulling you towards side flexion, and you have to resist that external force, using, guess what? You guessed it, your core muscles. In particular, the obliques on the opposite side will be working hard
It might also pull you towards spinal flexion, into a kind of slumping position, but you resist that force to stand up straight.
This is a great exercise because it's so functional. We all have to carry things around, and this mimics that function.
ONE-ARM STANDING CABLE ROW
On the surface it doesn't look much like a core exercise, but there will be a strong core component as it is unilateral (one side). Your body works hard to stabilize you as the external force pulling you out of position is uneven.
It has the added benefit of strengthening your upper back and biceps, both of which are super important for mums-to-be.
You could also perform this with a band.
ONE-ARM STANDING CABLE CHEST PRESS
Very similar to the previous exercise, the standing cable row.
Again, this promotes anti-rotation through the core to stabilize you as you press forward.
And has the added benefit of working your chest, anterior shoulder and triceps.
The least sexy one, but by far the most important
Establishing proper breathing mechanics through pregnancy is essential for core heath and may help prevent diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction.
As you can see in this video, on the in-breath, the abdominal muscles expand. What you can't see is the diaphragm contracting, flattening and descending and the pelvic floor relaxing, stretching and descending to accommodate the downward movement of the diaphragm.
On the out-breath, the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles recoil to their original resting position, and the diaphragm relaxes and goes back up into the chest cavity, and re-assumes its dome-like shape.
This promotes good balance of all these muscles.
Once you have established good breathing mechanics, which usually doesn't take long, you can apply it when you are exercising, by exhaling on the effort.
And that's it!
But of course, keeping fit during pregnancy isn't JUST about the core. You want to maintain good strength throughout your entire body, as well as maintain (or even improve!) your cardiovascular fitness. Check out some of my other blog posts on pregnancy fitness.