Are Planks Safe During Pregnancy?
You've probably heard that they're "not safe".
You've probably ALSO heard that they are perfectly safe.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the internet, black-and-white guidelines, dichotomous thinking, total lack of nuance and contradicting opinions…
In this blog post, I'm going to ATTEMPT to discuss this topic as neutrally and objectively as I can, looking at it from a few different angles.
First of all, check out this video that I made on planks on Instagram:
You can also watch this YouTube video that illustrates the problem with planks and some alternatives
I want you to consider a few things:
1. WHAT ARE YOUR TUMMY MUSCLES DOING?
While you might be ABLE to do a plank, your tummy muscles might be bulging or sagging down - there's a lot of weight AND demand on them in a plank, and during pregnancy, they are already under significant strain already as they track their way over the belly.
This video shows you what bulging during pregnancy looks like:
And at the beginning of this video, you can see what the abdominal muscles might be doing in a plank
I'm not saying that bulging is "bad" either - it MIGHT be fine - BUT, current thinking is that it could be a sign of excessive load on the muscles. Current best practice is to avoid this kind of bulging.
Don't be scared of it, it probably doesn't matter if it happens here and there, but it might be a good idea to modify exercises that cause this.
To learn more about how to safeguard your abdominal muscles (and pelvic floor), join my Core Basics for Pregnancy course by filling in the form below
2. WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO PLANKS?
Do you feel it is an important exercise? If so, consider that it might not be right, or beneficial AT THIS TIME.
If you're concerned about "keeping your core strong", remember that there might be other exercises that are better suited to pregnancy.
That it's important to know how to RELAX the muscles as well as contract them. This video will teach you how to do that:
Or that simply moving the whole body might be enough "core training", especially when doing unilateral exercises.
Here’s an example of a second trimester core workout, with exercises that are challenging, but very different from the traditional ones that you may know.
3. PREGNANCY IS DYNAMIC
Your tummy looks very different week 8 to week 38.
So your exercise has to evolve with those changes.
Planks are fine in the first trimester - we're talking about when the belly starts to get big.
A first-trimester core workout might include planks, crunches and even sit ups!
If you’re in your first trimester, give this workout a go:
In my online programme, Strong Pregnancy, our first trimester workouts include crunches, planks and even situps!
4. MODIFY BEFORE YOU OMIT
You don’t have to stop doing planks entirely, you might want to try doing an Incline Plank - that is, elevating your arms. This reduces demand on the anterior abdominal wall, usually rendering it suitably challenging for most women in their second and third trimesters.
You might also play around with variations of this, like a shoulder tap or Slow Mountain Climber.
Incline Pushups are also fantastic, as they challenge your core as well as your chest, shoulders and triceps - lots of bang for your buck!
5. ARE THERE BETTER EXERCISES DURING THE SECOND AND THIRD TRIMESTERS?
There may be exercises that are better suited to the second and third trimesters when you have a belly and your abdominal muscles stretch over them, exercises like:
Standing pushes and pulls with a band or cable
Asymmetrical movements, both lower and upper body.
Even movements like a lateral shoulder raise (unilateral)
In general, movements that challenge the core canister as a whole through asymmetrical loading. The core has to contract as a system to stabilize you and prevent movement through the torso from distal loading.
6. DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE! While it may be very important to you to keep your core strong, you also need to be able to RELAX the muscles of the core - both the abdominal muscles AND the pelvic floor. The muscles need to be able to relax and stretch to accommodate the growing baby AND remain strong enough to support it. Simple breathing exercises like the ones below can help you do just that.
Sign up for my full Core Basics for Pregnancy course below.
SOME women may be able to do planks at 35 weeks with everything looking all tight and toned - I feel like my abdominal muscles look like a soggy hammock at week 21 - you have to be able to assess YOUR abdominal muscles and figure out what's best for you.
Wish it were more clear-cut than that? It (probably) isn't.
If you want month-by-month guidance on how to train your core during pregnancy, join my online programme, Strong Pregnancy - you’ll receive 4 varied core workouts EVERY MONTH that are suited to that particular phase of pregnancy. The programme also includes strength, mobility and conditioning workouts every month, and you’ll have support directly from me if you have any questions or problems.