5 Core Exercises You Can Do While Pregnant
Exercising during pregnancy contributes to improved health outcomes for you and your baby and is recommended during most healthy pregnancies. All pregnant individuals without contraindications should be physically active throughout pregnancy, according to the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity throughout Pregnancy. The recommended minimum level of activity includes 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, including both cardio and strength exercises.
Why is it important to strengthen my core during pregnancy?
While strengthening all major muscle groups is recommended, core strength is particularly important during pregnancy. Benefits of having a strong core during pregnancy include prevention of low back and pelvic girdle pain, improved balance, strengthening the muscles involved in labour and delivery, injury prevention, and a faster return to baseline fitness levels postpartum. Having a strong core during pregnancy will also help support you in your daily tasks when baby arrives, such as carrying your baby, carrying a heavy car seat, and repeatedly lifting your baby in and out of the crib.
How do I safely strengthen my core while pregnant?
You should consider the following when performing ab strengthening exercises while pregnant:
- Check to make sure it’s safe for you to exercise. The Get Active Questionnaire for Pregnancy is a great place to start. You should always check with your primary care provider prior to participating in an exercise routine.
- Listen to your body and only do what feels right for you. If an exercise doesn’t feel good for your body, modify your workouts accordingly.
- Be mindful of any potential Red Flag Symptoms that can occur when exercising during pregnancy. If you experience any of these symptoms, avoid or modify the exercise and seek an assessment from a health care professional.
- Aim to minimize abdominal doming/coning, which may be a sign that the load through your core system is too much for your body to manage.
- If able, work with a qualified exercise professional who can help you with safe and effective pregnancy workouts.
What are the best core exercises to do during pregnancy?
Here are 5 core exercises that are beneficial to perform during pregnancy.
The core connection breath is a foundational exercise that will teach you how to properly activate your core and connect to your pelvic floor muscles. Note: if you feel unwell lying on your back, you should change positions to seated or side-lying.
How to: Position yourself comfortably lying on your back. Breathe in, allowing your belly to fill with air and your rib cage to expand. At the same time, relax your pelvic floor muscles. Next, exhale and engage your pelvic floor and deep core muscles as you allow your belly to come back down. If connecting with your pelvic floor muscles is new and/or challenging, you can learn how to effectively perform this exercise here.
Bird-dogs are a great core exercise to do during pregnancy. The positioning on all-fours helps to decrease some of the pressure management that is required from your core system, ultimately helping to reduce the incidence of abdominal doming/coning. Make sure you are properly connecting to your core muscles to get the most out of this exercise.
How to: Begin on all fours, with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Breathe in and fill your belly with air, while at the same time letting your pelvic floor muscles relax. Next, exhale and engage your pelvic floor and deep core muscles, and then lift the opposite hand and knee off the ground to hover. From here, extend this same arm and leg straight out at the same time, continuing to engage your core muscles. Lower back down, and then repeat this exercise again. Try for 10-12 repetitions on each side.
This exercise is a great modification for a traditional plank. In the hover plank, there is less pressure exerted through your abdomen, which can be helpful for maintaining core control during prenatal exercise.
How to: Begin on all fours, with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Tuck your toes under. Breathe in and fill your belly with air, while at the same time letting your pelvic floor muscles relax. Then, exhale and engage your pelvic floor and deep core muscles, and lift both knees slightly off the ground to hover. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds and then lower back down. Repeat this for 3-5 repetitions.
Hip bridges traditionally work the glute muscles, but they can also be a great core-strengthening exercise. Note: if you feel unwell lying on your back, you should stop performing this exercise and change positions to sitting up or side-lying.
How to: Start by lying on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, about a hip distance apart. Breathe in through your nose, while letting your belly fill with air, your rib cage expand, and your pelvic floor muscles relax. As you exhale, engage your pelvic floor and deep core muscles, and raise your hips off the ground until your knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. Hold for a few seconds, maintaining engagement of your core and glute muscles, and then lower back down. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
This exercise involves a light-medium weight (~ 3-8 pounds is good!) and is very effective for strengthening your core during pregnancy. Note: feel free to modify to perform this exercise seated or kneeling, instead of standing.
How to: Begin in a standing position with your arms straight down in front of you and your hands holding each end of a light-medium weight. Inhale and let your belly fill with air, your rib cage expand, and your pelvic floor muscles relax. As you exhale, engage your pelvic floor and deep core muscles, and at the same time raise the weight up to shoulder height. Hold briefly at shoulder height for 1-2 seconds, and then lower back down. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
Try these pregnancy core strengthening exercises and let us know how they feel for you! Remember to make sure you have been cleared to exercise by your primary care provider prior to participating in an exercise program.
Note: This post is for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice or treatment from your healthcare provider. Always follow the advice of your primary care provider when making decisions about your health and well-being.
Pre/Postnatal Trainer and Occupational Therapist
Jenni is the founder of Jenni Diamond Health, an online platform that provides evidence-based exercise programs for new and expecting moms. Jenni’s programs help moms exercise safely during pregnancy and gain strength, confidence, and energy postpartum.