If you are pregnant, you want to make sure that you stay healthy and strong. One of the best ways to do that is by doing core exercises. These exercises will help keep your body strong and toned, which is important during pregnancy. Core exercises are also a great way to prepare your body for labor and delivery. Here are some simple core exercises that you can do during pregnancy.
But first off, why should you listen to me? You’re smart for asking!
Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 Besides some severe pelvic separation of my own during pregnancy, I am well-versed in what pregnant woman should or should NOT do — especially later in pregnancy. SO, let’s get started on this one!
Are ab exercises safe during early pregnancy?
Ab exercises are safe during early pregnancy, but it is important to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise routine. Abdominal exercises can be a great way to stay fit throughout pregnancy, but it is important to listen to your body and not overdo it.
Exercise during pregnancy is generally safe, but it is best to start slowly and build up gradually, especially if you are not used to exercising regularly.
It is generally recommended to avoid high-impact exercise in the first trimester, but moderate-intensity exercise is fine throughout pregnancy. In the second trimester, you can start doing more intense abdominal exercises if you feel comfortable and your healthcare provider approves.
However, if it was exercise that you were doing before pregnancy, you are generally OK to keep doing it (especially in early pregnancy). Now, some exercises you do while laying ON your stomach will rule out once your baby bump grows, but you’ll notice what is no longer working for you.
If you’re new to these types of exercises make SURE to take it slow and talk with your healthcare provider about what to watch for.
What happens to your abs during pregnancy?
As your abdominal muscles stretch and grow to accommodate your growing baby, you may notice that your once toned abs look different. It may be the increased weight or just how baby is pushing out on those toned muscles. This is perfectly normal and happens to many women during pregnancy. In fact, your abdominal muscles will continue to stretch throughout pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters.
To help build a strong core, be sure to do ab workouts specifically designed for pregnant women. These workouts will help tone your muscles and may even help prevent some common pregnancy pains, like lower back pain.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Think of your abdominal muscles as two tiles. As baby pushes out, sometimes those tiles stay together, and sometimes they separate and baby pokes through.
I am seeing a lot of people/workouts that say they can prevent this, and although I think it’s important to continue working your core during pregnancy, it is not possible to completely prevent it.
There are things like how your abs are formed, how baby is positioned, and how your pregnant belly extends that make it impossible to stop on some pregnant people. So, your goal should be to keep your abs as healthy as you can. Not preventing it.
I have a whole post on diastasis recti pain in pregnancy.
And yes – pregnancy is complicated. MUCH more complicated than they make it out on social media or in thumbnails on Youtube. So, make sure you get prepared with an expert in a great high-quality prenatal class like The Online Prenatal Class for Couples.
Is it safe to do ab workouts while pregnant?
It is safe to do ab workouts while pregnant as long as you listen to your body and don’t overdo it. Start slowly and build up gradually throughout your entire pregnancy. A strong core is important for supporting your back and pelvis during pregnancy and delivery.
Some exercises are not safe as you progress in your pregnancy — such as those where you start laying on your belly, so definitely talk with your provider about what is safe for you.
What exercises should I avoid during pregnancy?
There are certain exercises that you should avoid during pregnancy, such as crunches and ab exercises. These exercises can put unnecessary strain on your body and may cause harm to your baby.
The main one that people seem to have an issue with is anything that can be jarring. Things like jumping, bouncing etc.
Push-ups or planks aren’t awesome as you progress in your pregnancy, as you’re letting your belly hang, which can put a lot of strain on your ligaments.
Try not to lay directly on your back. Placing a pillow under a hip to tilt you a bit is a better way to do that.
And of course, you will need extra hydration during pregnancy, especially if it is hot or you’re sweating a lot. It’s a great time to try an electrolyte drink (which are normally not necessary).
When do I need to start modifying ab exercises during pregnancy?
As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to start modifying your ab exercises. During the second trimester, your core muscles become more relaxed and your center of gravity shifts, so it’s important to focus on exercises that support your back and help you maintain good posture. There are many exercises for pregnancy that you can do to stay fit and healthy, so talk to your doctor or midwife about what’s right for you.
10 Best Core Exercises for Pregnancy
1. Pelvic tilts
This exercise is great for strengthening your lower back and abdominal muscles. To do this exercise, stand with your feet hip-width apart and place your hands on your hips. Slowly tilt your pelvis forward, then backward. Repeat 10 times.
This video shows how to do it — the video isn’t for pregnant women, so if you’re into your 3rd trimester try to have a pillow under one hip so you’re not laying flat on your back. This is a GREAT ab stregthener, and can easily be done on the floor while you watch TV.
Kegel exercises are important for pregnant women because they help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles support the uterus and help with childbirth. To do a Kegel, simply squeeze the muscles that you would use to stop the flow of urine. Hold for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times.
Another good way to think of it, is picking a blueberry up with your vagina. I know it sounds weird, but sometimes it’s hard to visualize what this means. This video is also helpful.
While this has been the “gold standard” for pelvic floor exercises, they’re finding that it isn’t as helpful as they once thought.
3. Wall squats
Wall squats are a great way to strengthen your legs and core. To do this exercise, stand with your back against a wall and your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower yourself into a squat position, then hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times. This video shows you how it’s done.
Squats are great to do in pregnancy, and many prenatal fitness classes encourage you to squat very low as that can also help your pelvic muscles. Something I’ve found (because I have a hard time squatting low) is to also use my couch to kind of help me get there — slide off of it a bit and put most of my weight in my legs (but some is still on the couch).
Bridges are a great way to work your glutes and core. To do this exercise, lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent. Raise your hips off the ground, then hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
I like how this video also addressed both getting to the floor and standing up as well as being on your back for a short period of time — plus showing you how to do a bridge.
Lunges are a great way to work your legs and core. To do this exercise, stand with your feet hip-width apart and take a large step forward with your right foot. Lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat with the left leg.
You may find it surprising how difficult it is to balance during pregnancy (harder than it was before) — so using a couch, or a chair next to you can help steady you. This video can show you more about it.
Planks are a great way to work your entire core. However, as you progress in your pregnancy, your belly may be too big to do these safely. As I said above, this can put strain and pressure on the ligaments that you just don’t need.
To do this exercise, lie on your stomach (or on all 4’s) with your forearms flat on the ground. Raise your body so that only your forearms and toes are touching the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat.
I like how this video starts on your forearms (going from your hands may be hard if you have any carpal tunnel). She also tells you some things to note or think about as you progress in your pregnancy.
7. Hamstring curls
Hamstring curls are a great way to work your hamstrings and core. To do this exercise, lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent. Raise one leg off the ground and curl it towards your glutes (so kick back towards your bottom). Alternate between legs.j
I like how this video had another way to do it (just use a pillow under one hip to tilt that uterus if it’s growing big).
8. Seated Russian twists
Seated Russian twists are a great way to work your obliques and core. To do this exercise, sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on your hips and twist your torso to the right, then to the left. Repeat 10 times.
This video shows how to do them, although I would recommend not using any weights — but rather more of a twisting from side to side motion. I would recommend feet remain on the floor.
9. Standing calf raises
Standing calf raises are a great way to work your calves and core. Plus, it can help with any Charlie horses you’re getting at night, and can feel great if you have any lower leg swelling.
To do this exercise, stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise up onto your toes. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat. This video shows how to do it.
10. Pelvic Relaxation
I know this doesn’t sound like an exercise — but just as important as it is to learn to do Kegals and tighten that pelvic floor. It is just as important to learn to relax it — because that will be VERY important as baby is coming out. This video has some great info on this.
I also talk about relaxing everything “downtown” in my natural pain management techniques bonus video in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples — because it is SO important!
BONUS: Abdominal & Pelvic Stretches During Pregnancy
Cat-Cow stretches These stretches are great for relieving back pain and preparing your body for childbirth. To do this stretch, start on your hands and knees. As you inhale, arch your back and look up at the ceiling. As you exhale, round your back and tuck your chin to your chest. Repeat 10 times. These can feel SO great in pregnancy, and can also help baby’s positioning as you head towards your due date. This video has a ton of great information on it.
Pelvic floor stretches These stretches help to relax and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. To do this stretch, sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Place your hands on your knees and slowly lean forward, tilting your pelvis backward. Hold for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times. This can also feel great for your lower back.
How to Get In These Exercises?
I have linked to a lot of videos on there, but there are a few channels that have GREAT routines that I think you’ll really enjoy:
- Pregnancy & Postpartum TV
- NourishMoveLove has some good ones too!
- I also liked some from GlowBody PT
You really have to find one that you enjoy and keep doing them.
Why Kind of Benefits are there From Core Exercises in Pregnancy?
1. Improve posture and prevent back pain — if your back hurts, work doing these will help so much!
2. Ease constipation — moving your body can help ease one of the most common pregnancy symptom (which is even worse if you’re taking iron)
3. Reduce the risk of developing varicose veins — it just helps all that fluid move around your body (but you can’t always prevent these, similar to diastasis recti)
4. Improve circulation — got swelling in your legs? Work out, it will help circulate that fluid through your body!
5. Boost energy levels — it doesn’t always make sense, but often working out will help you feel more energy all day long (and perhaps even sleep better)
6. Promote a healthy pregnancy weight gain
7. Improve sleep — working out during the day can make you more tired at bedtime, easy to fall and stay asleep!
8. Increase strength and endurance — If you workout through your whole pregnancy you’re doing it with added weight and pressure on your body. You’ll be even more fit than when you started!
9. Reduce stress levels — Get some feel-good endorphins from your workout!
10. Prepare the body for childbirth — many of these both help to strengthen your pelvic floor and help you learn to relax it when you push.
11. Speed up postpartum recovery — your body is just in a healthier state. If you’ve spent all 9 months sedentary, it won’t help you when you go to recover.
What happens to your abs after pregnancy?
As your abdominal muscles (abs) stretch and grow during pregnancy, you may be wondering what will happen to your abs after you have your baby. While it is possible to get your pre-pregnancy body back with a healthy diet and regular workout routine, you may want to avoid certain ab exercises and workouts during pregnancy.
Your core gets weaker during pregnancy as the abdominal muscles stretch and the connective tissue relaxes. This can lead to back pain and other issues. To help avoid this, focus on strengthening your core with gentle exercises like Pilates or yoga. Avoid crunch-type exercises during pregnancy, as they can put too much pressure on your abdomen.
Be sure to talk with your provider to know when it is safe to resume working out for you.
Hopefully this article has convinced you that performing core exercises during pregnancy has SO many benefits, you’ll give it a try. I love using at-home YouTube workouts because I can get it in just when I need to and I don’t waste time going to the gym. I feel like we are so lucky to have so many quality teachers on youtube that can help us workout safely.
And, now is the time to take a prenatal class. The Online Prenatal Class for Couples is one where you can even do your core exercises WHILE you watch the class. Come join me in there today!
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice. She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
As an evidence-based prenatal educator Hilary has delivered thousands of babies and has educated hundreds of thousands of parents from a diverse patient population to help them have a confident birth.