Training the Core During Pregnancy
We are advised to train the core in pregnancy, yet some of the most common core exercises are not recommended. Crunches and sit ups are a big no no, planks are only allowed in the first trimester, and lying on our backs after 16 weeks is to be avoided. It’s no surprise that you may be left wondering what other exercises are left. In this blog, I aim to provide a little bit of clarity over what we are talking about when we say ‘the core’, why it is important to train, and how this is possible.
‘The core’ - what do we mean?
When we typically think of the core, abs and the six pack muscles usually spring to mind. This is not wrong, the rectus abdominis are a part of the core, but just that - a part. If we want to look at the core in its entirety we need to consider all the muscles that support and stabilise our trunk, which includes the glutes, hip flexors, pelvic floor, back muscles, and diaphragm, as well as the abdominals which include the rectus abdominis, but more importantly the transverse abdominis (TVA). Focusing on the external six pack muscles alone, whether pregnant or not, is not working the core to its highest potential. A strong core will support the spine, strengthen the back, reduce the risk of injury and back pain.
Why is it important to train the core in pregnancy?
During pregnancy, an increasing demand is placed upon our bodies. The growing baby will change our centre of gravity, leading to muscle imbalances and alter our posture. If we do not have a strong core or foundation, these changes could lead to discomfort, aches and pains. Training your core during pregnancy, therefore, is more important than ever, as we want to do what we can to support these changes.
The rectus abdominis will become stretched, weakened, and ultimately separate as pregnancy progresses. These muscles, however, are very much superficial, and the focus should be on the much deeper muscles of the core, those being the TVA, the muscles of the back, pelvic floor and diaphragm. While exercises such as planks are not completely wrong during pregnancy, it is just a matter of controlling the intra abdominal pressure, and ensuring that the deep core muscles are strong enough to support the stress we place upon it with the additional load it is carrying. Performing a full plank in your third trimester, for example, could lead to problems, such as a larger separation of the abdominal wall and coning. This is because the outer abdominal muscles are already under so much strain, it can be difficult to to engage the deep core to this level, and so manage intra abdominal pressure.
As the diaphragm is one of the most important muscles when it comes to training the core, breathing is essential. It may sound simple, but this is about making sure you are breathing right into your diaphragm, letting your belly expand. As you exhale, the focus should be on lifting the pelvic floor, almost hugging the baby with your tummy muscles - this is your TVA activating. A plank can then be regressed with this example, either kneeling, if the belly isn’t too big, or in an elevated position, but all the time focusing on that breathing and hugging the baby tight.
How do we train the pregnant core?
There is no need to isolate core training during pregnancy. Instead, I would recommend incorporating core training into all your exercises. For example, a cable row can be performed as a core exercise - as you pull the cable towards you, take a deep exhale, lift the pelvic floor and feel the tummy and back muscles tighten. It takes a bit more concentration, but you will get so much more out of your workout!
Some of my favourite core exercises are listed on below, and can all be found on my Instagram feed:
That’s all from me for now - although a whistlestop tour of the core, its benefits and how to activate and strengthen during pregnancy, hopefully this is a useful starting point, and a reminder that core training goes way beyond sit ups!