Working out during pregnancy, particularly the core, has always been a topic plagued by confusion and debate. For the old guard, pregnancy is deemed a time to slow down and stop, but there is a new way of thinking that’s based on scientific research. Keeping fit and active, both safely and considerately, during all three trimesters is now actively encouraged and has been shown to have many benefits, including preventing pregnancy-pain-related issues such as back and pelvic pain, helping posture, avoiding abdominal separation and even leading to a shorter labor. And, while not all exercise is suitable, there is a right way to work out, with some small but crucial adjustments…
Be mindful of the hormone relaxin
“Having a strong core can help with the demands of both pregnancy and labor,” says Paola Di Lanzo, pre- and post-natal fitness expert and founder of Paola’s Body Barre. “You’re sometimes carrying up to 30 pounds in your belly, so being strong in the front, side and back of your body is crucial,” she explains. But it’s also important to remember that, when you’re pregnant, your body starts to produce a hormone called relaxin, which, as the name suggests, relaxes and softens the ligaments and muscles in the body, creating issues with balance. “And this can increase the risk of injury if the correct alignment and exercises are not adhered to,” explains Di Lanzo. “Exercise during pregnancy should not be a time to get über-fit, run marathons or lift the heaviest weights, but to prepare the body for birth. You can still maintain your fitness, but in a modified way for each trimester.”
Working out the core can help avoid abdominal separation
Abdominal separation is, understandably, something many pregnant women worry about. It’s caused when, as the uterus grows to accommodate your growing baby, the abdominals follow suit. The pressure on your rectus abdominis muscles (our six-pack muscles, which lie above the deeper abs) can cause them to separate, also known as diastasis recti (more commonly known as separation of the abs). However, contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to happen. “Working those deeper layers of the abdominals that are located above the womb and under the baby and act as a corset, supporting the pelvis and spine, coupled with the pelvic floor, will keep the abdominals strong and connected. Modified planks and exercises that work the waist muscles are safe in every trimester, along with standing side crunches, and exercises in the box position can be continued throughout pregnancy, too,” advises Di Lanzo.
Not all abdominal exercises are safe
While abdominal workouts designed for pregnancy are going to differ based on each individual, there are a few exercises that Di Lanzo advises against during pregnancy. Abdominal crunches or anything in a flexed-spine position should be avoided. Even getting out of bed or from any lying position needs to be carefully adjusted. Turning to the side and lifting sideways using our obliques (waist) muscles is best. Full planks are also to be avoided, as the pressure on the six-pack muscles is too great and can cause doming (when you start seeing a ridge down the midline) and a risk of further separation. And remember: overloading your weights and pushing yourself too hard during pregnancy will mean a longer and more difficult recovery after the birth.
The one exercise that is safe
“Get into a box position – kneeling on all fours – and place a cushion or Pilates ball between your knees. Take a deep breath in through the nose and, on an out-breath through the mouth, start to draw the navel towards the spine and hug, or ‘wrap’, the baby in while simultaneously drawing the whole pelvic floor up. Do this 15 to 20 times. Not only does your breath assist the deep contraction of your transverse abdominis, it also allows you to contract the six-pack and oblique muscles in a safe way. The squeeze of the ball helps the deep contraction, while using the thigh muscles to help stabilise.”
And remember to activate the pelvic floor with every movement
The general rule is that, on every out-breath, usually when it’s the most difficult phase of an exercise – for example, pushing yourself up out of a squat – that is your cue to “center” yourself, meaning “hugging” the baby in, navel towards the spine, drawing the ribs in and drawing the pelvic floor up. “I always prescribe Kegels to be done in between classes or PT sessions, along with telling the client to practice breath-work and constantly engage those deep core muscle when going about their normal daily routines. By doing this regularly, it will help regain pelvic-floor strength and rehabilitate the abdominals post-birth far more quickly.”
Always consult a professional before attempting exercise modifications in pregnancy
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