Pregnancy and abdominals is easily the topic our clients ask us about the most. This area has changed a lot in the ten years Oh Baby! Fitness has been open- a decade ago women thought ALL ab work during pregnancy was “bad.” Thankfully the tide has turned a bit and pregnant women generally understand now that they probably should be doing ab work during pregnancy. That said, they often don’t know what they should do (and what to avoid). The good news is, it’s not rocket science! Here are the five basic rules of pregnancy abdominal work:
1- Transverse ab work is the most important
The best thing you can do for your core muscles (and to keep your back protected during pregnancy!) is engage your transverse abdominals or your “inner abdominals”. We use the phrase “hold the baby high and tight” or “hug your baby with your abs”— but however you describe it, the sensation is of pulling your baby up and in. There’s a trend in ALL exercise right now (not just pre/postnatal) to train the transverse abdominals, which is great as it means many of our clients already know this muscle. If you do no other ab work during pregnancy, at least do this.
2- Some modified rectus ab work is good
Once you’ve found your transverse abdominals, feel free to do some modified rectus abdominal work. These are the exercises that most people default to when they think of abs- crunches, etc. Working your rectus abs during pregnancy is good, but not as important as the transverse work. Here’s an example of a great prenatal rectus ab exercise.
3- Avoid oblique exercises
Generally speaking, during pregnancy you want to avoid oblique exercises. These are twisting exercises (like bicycle sit-ups/crunches). It’s especially important to avoid weighted, repeated oblique exercises, as it’s been found they make diastasis recti (abdominal separation) worse.
4- Be aware of diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and know how to check for it
Speaking of, you want to know what diastasis recti is! Here’s a great introduction. Beyond following the guidelines listed above, there’s not much you can do to control how far your abs split during pregnancy, but you definitely want to be aware of it so you can rehab your split postpartum.
5- Your pelvic floor is part of healthy core box
Finally, it’s important to think of your core as more than just your abs- it’s also your pelvic floor too! Squats and kegels are a key part of a healthy core, and just as important as ab work.
One last note: Finding a pregnancy exercise class or a trainer who specializes in pre/postnatal exercise is a great way to know you are doing not only safe ab work, but effective ab work too! Abs are a huge part of pushing out a baby, so it’s important to keep them strong during pregnancy.