A Complete Guide to Pregnancy Safe Core Exercises
Are you unsure if core training is safe to continue into pregnancy? It is and it is important. I have put together everything you need to know about pregnancy safe core exercises.
I recently announced my pregnancy and since it’s the 3rd one there wasn’t a big reveal to our friends and family. It kind went like this.
Except I was generally laying on the couch trying not to dry heave when I told people.
Quick question: WHY do I always forget this happens to me and I keep getting pregnant?
Let me ponder this while I use my belly as a shelf for my chips.
I went from exercising 4-5 times a week to MAYBE once a week those first 8 weeks or so.
It’s such a hard time to stay active, which I plan to talk more about in future blog posts because I need moms need to hear from trainers that YES it is ok to slow down or take a break to let your body adjust to all these hormones raging inside of your body.
In pregnancy the topic of core training comes up A LOT.
- Are there pregnancy-safe core exercises?
- Should you stop all core training in pregnancy? If so when?
- What should you modify things like sit ups and planks for?
- Can you just listen to your body and modify when you need to?
All great questions about core training during pregnancy and to be honest with you, there is a lot of really bad information out there.
HERE’S WHAT I WANT YOU TO KNOW about core training during pregnancy:
- Exercise in pregnancy should be meant to set you UP for a good recovery postpartum. Not set you back which can often happen when you try to do too much through your pregnancy.
- “Just listen to your body” is lazy advice from your trainer. ESPECIALLY with your first pregnancy. How do you know what to listen for? Maybe you won’t realize your body was trying to tell you something until after you’re injured.
- By focusing on your tendencies, body positioning and breath you can safely do SO MUCH through your pregnancy. For more on what I mean by that download my free e-book: How to Adjust Exercise in Pregnancy
- By pushing the intensity, listening to your ego, and trying to do too much/”keep up” with your workout class or peers you are putting yourself at risk for issues in postpartum like diastasi recti that doesn’t heal well on its own, incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and persistent low back issues. These are not the way to perform even the pregnancy safe core exercises.
- Focusing on training your glutes and the rest of your posterior chain is SUPER important. As your belly grows your pelvis naturally shifts anterior (forward leaning) this can create a sway in your low back that becomes uncomfortable over time. Strong glutes help keep you in a more neutral position and stabilize your entire body. Also strong glutes = strong pelvic floor. I round up my favorite glute exercises in this blog post.
When it comes to core SPECIFIC exercises, there are some great exercises that are safe in pregnancy and will help improve your core stability.
I’ve put together a few pregnancy safe core exercises that would be good additions to your exercise routine both in pregnancy and strengthening postpartum.
Beginning midway through your 2nd trimester I would encourage you to focus more on the carry variations and glute specific exercises.
1. PALLOFF PRESSES
How To Do It: Wrap a light to medium resistance band around a squat rack or other stable object at approx breast height. Step away from anchor point until the band has tension in it. Stance should be hip width, feet glued into ground, glutes firing, exhale as you press the weight from your sternum directly out in front of you. Inhale to return.
Avoid: Rotating towards the band, thrusting your rib cage up towards the sky, tucking your glutes underneath you, taking too wide of a stance.
Rep scheme: 8-12 reps per side. 3-5 sets.
Other Notes: This pregnancy safe core exercise can also be performed from both knees or the 1/2 kneeling position, this may be a more appropriate position for later in pregnancy, early postpartum, or if the movement simply feels really difficult for you.
2. RACKED & SUITCASE CARRIES
How To Do It: For both exercises you will need a medium to heavy kettlebell.
Racked Carry: With no weight bring your fist to your collar bone, notice you’ve created a triangle between your fist, elbow, and shoulder. The kettlebell will rest there. Pick up the kettlbell and rest it in your magic triangle. Your ribs should stay over your hips (check your breast trajectory, are they pointing forward or up. We want them straight ahead) Now walk without leaning to one side. Think heel toe, heel toe as you move.
Suitcase Carry: For this carry the kettlebell will be at your side similar to carrying a grocery bag or car seat. Hinge back and squat down with a neutral spine to pick up the kettlebell, hold it at your side. Walk forward the desired distance before switching hands.
Avoid: For both carries you will avoid leaning into one side and thrusting your ribs up. Focus on breasts forward and hips square. Also avoid shitty form when picking the kettlebell up.
Rep Scheme: 50 steps per side or 30 sec per side. 3 sets.
Notes: I like to check in on myself with this pregnancy safe core exercise often. Either by filming it, doing it in front of a mirror, or having a qualified coach observe. It’s very important that your ribs are staying pulled down and you aren’t leaning into one side.
3. BODYWEIGHT REVERSE LUNGE WITH FORWARD KNEE DRIVE
How To Do It: Feet hip width apart, hands on your hips. Step back to lunge as normal then exhale and drive your knee forward until your quad is parallel to the ground. Feel your abs firing right where your fingers will be resting. Maintain a straight spine from the crown of your head to your tailbone. Its ok to lean forward a bit on the lunge as long as your spine is neutral.
Avoid: Trying to go super fast, swaying from one side to another.
Rep Scheme: 8-12 per leg. 2-4 Sets.
Notes: I find it way easier to maintain stability in my pelvis during this pregnancy safe core exercise if I am barefoot. Shoes with thick soles tend to lift your heel and make it harder to plant your foot and not sway all over.
4. MODIFIED SIDE PLANK
How to Do It: From the side lying position come to your elbow or place your hand flat on the ground. Exhale and lift your hips. Shoulder stacked over the wrist, hips stacked on top of one another. You’ll feel your obliques and glutes firing.
There are a few variations for your legs in a side plank. At different points in pregnancy you may choose different options:
- Both Knees Bent
- One Knee Bent, One Leg Straight (Harder)
- Both Legs Straight (Hardest)
Avoid: Rolling one or both hips forward or backward. Letting hips sag or dip down. Lifting the hips super high. I want to see your body in one straight line.
Rep Scheme: 20-30 seconds per side. 2-3 sets.
Notes: I like to perform this pregnancy safe core exercise from a flat hand position (as pictured in the video) however if this doesn’t feel good for your wrist or you notice your form is compromised, take it from the elbow. It will still be challenging for your muscles.
5. HIP THRUST
How To Do It: I’ll tell you, this movement can feel a little awkward initially. Totally normal, every one of my clients struggles a bit learning it, but after they (quickly) master it, they LOVE how great of a glute exercise this is (more on that in a second).
Position your upper back and elbow on a bench, plant both feet on the ground. Exhale, drive through your heels to bridge up. You’ll really squeeze your glutes to lift your hips towards ceiling until fully extended WITHOUT hyperextending your spine. Hold at the top for a second, return butt to the floor. Repeat. Make sure to move your upper body with your lower body.
Avoid: Overextending your spine at the top. Cue yourself to keep your ribcage down.
Rep Scheme: 12-15 Reps. Repeat for 2-4 sets.
Notes: This is a super versatile pregnancy safe core exercise. Once you master it body weighted you can add resistance by including a small band above your knees, placing a dumbbell on your hip crease, or trying 1 leg at a time.
You might be wondering why I’m including a glute exercise as part of your core training.
As I mentioned above, In pregnancy it’s really important to have a strong posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, low back muscles). As your belly grows, your pelvis naturally shifts anterior (forward leaning) this can create a sway in your low back that becomes uncomfortable over time. Strong glutes help keep you in a more neutral position and stabilize your entire body. Also strong glutes = strong pelvic floor.
HONORABLE MENTION: SQUAT VARIATIONS
Like the hip thrust, squats are going to target your glutes which is super important in pregnancy in postpartum. Lots of great variations of the squat you can try.
Mini Band Squat
Try adding a few of these pregnancy safe core exercises into your fitness routine and keep me posted on Instagram or the comments how it’s going! If you’re looking to modify things like sit ups, toes to bar, leg lifts or other core exercises in your fitness class, any of these would be a good bet for you.
Don’t forget to breathe.
Want more information on adjusting exercise in pregnancy?
Download the free guide Brianna Battles and I put together to walk you through how to adjust your workouts in each trimester of pregnancy.
Need more pregnancy specific workouts? Included are more pregnancy safe core exercises!
I’ve got them! 4 workouts a week designed for the exact week of pregnancy you’re in.
Good luck mama!