Pregnancy Safe Core Exercises

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Pregnancy safe core exercises are essential to maintaining a healthy pregnancy and preparing your body for labor. A strong core will help you avoid common pregnancy complaints such as back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, and diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles).

In this blog post, we will discuss what exercises to avoid during pregnancy, as well as how to modify your favorite exercises to make them safe for you and your baby. Let’s get started!

prenatal core workout

Why You Should Be Doing Pregnancy Safe Core Exercises During Pregnancy

It is essential to keep your core muscles strong and healthy during pregnancy. Your core includes all the muscles in your pelvis and abdomen, and these muscles work together to support your spine, hips, and pelvic floor.

A strong core can help you avoid or better manage common pregnancy complaints such as:

  • Pain (back pain, neck pain, round ligament pain, etc.)
  • Incontinence
  • Diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles)
  • Low energy and nausea

In addition, a strong core will help you during labor and delivery by giving you the necessary strength (and endurance) to push your baby out. Overall, a good core exercise program is essential for a healthy fit pregnancy.

This post will detail 7 of the best pregnancy safe core exercises, but are you looking for more prenatal workouts? Nothing compares to the detail and care that came into play when crafting The Perfect Pregnancy Fitness Plan (the program I used for my last pregnancy).

You learn exactly how to exercise each trimester and there are workouts for all 40 weeks, specifically addressing strengthening the parts of your body that are changing at that time. Absolutely revolutionary!

7 Pregnancy Safe Core Exercises

Each of these exercises is great for pregnancy, in general. If you’re not sure, be sure to speak with a pelvic floor physical therapist or your OB. If they’re new, try one exercise at a time with a goal of 10 to 15 repetitions for 2 to 3 sets a few times per week.

Note: If you ever notice the onset of pain, feel a general discomfort, or see your belly making a dome shape down the middle, it’s best to modify or stop the exercise altogether to avoid unnecessary core muscle damage.

1. Pelvic Tilts

A pelvic tilt is an essential basic for any well-rounded core exercise program. The best way to get started is by focusing on your ability to activate your lower abs while breathing and gently moving your pelvis (aka- pelvic tilt).

  • Find a comfortable seated position on a chair or yoga ball.
  • Start by slowly exhaling and tilting your pelvis posteriorly (tucking your tailbone under).
  • You should feel your lower abs engage.
  • Slowly return to a neutral position and repeat- now moving your pelvis anteriorly (letting your belly “drop”).

Overall, his move is all about being able to activate and utilize your abs with control.

2. Bird Dog

This is a great exercise to improve your balance and work those deep stabilizing muscles in your low back and hips.

  • Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  • Slowly reach one arm forward while simultaneously extending the opposite leg backward.
  • Keep your abs engaged ( as practiced in exercise #1 above) and avoid arching or rounding your back.

If this exercise is too much, you can try reaching with just your arm or leg. You can also try a simple cat-cow stretch while in this position instead too.

3. Side Planks

prenatal or postpartum side plank core exercise

Planks are a great full-body move that can help keep you feeling strong, even with that growing belly. For most women, modifying a plank will be the most comfortable, especially as their pregnancy progresses.

  • To do a modified side plank, start by placing your hands on the ground with your elbows under your shoulders.
  • Place your knees on the ground as well. (To make it harder you can put your feet on the ground instead like in the photo.)
  • Rotate your entire body to the side while lifting one arm off the ground. Keep Your body in a straight line. Stack your knees one on top of the other.
  • Engage your abs and hold this position for 30-60 seconds.
  • Remember to breathe!
  • If this is still too challenging, you can try your plank at a more elevated angle, such as the edge of a bed or the wall.

4. Marching

Marching, standing or seated on a chair or ball, is a great dynamic (and functional) core-strengthening move.

  • Start by sitting on a ball or chair (or standing) with your feet flat on the ground and abs engaged.
  • Slowly lift one knee at a time, keeping your abs gently tightened while you move slowly and with control.
  • To make this more challenging, you can hold a lightweight in your hand while marching or try lifting both knees at the same time.

5. Bridge

The bridge is a great way to target your glutes and hamstrings while also working your core.

  • Lie flat on your back with feet flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart, knees and hips bent
  • Lift your hips off the ground until your thighs and torso are in line with each other, creating a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. (Don’t lift your hips this high if it’s uncomfortable)
  • Keep your abs and glutes tight, and hold this position for 2-3 seconds before lowering back down to the starting position.
  • Make sure not to arch or round your back as you lift your hips off the ground.

6. Clam Shells

Clamshells are a great way to work on those deep stabilizing muscles in your low back and hips.

  • Start by lying on your right side with both legs bent (hips and knees both at around 90 degrees if comfortable)
  • Keep your feet together and hips stacked on top of each other
  • Lift your top leg, keeping your feet together, and open up your legs like a clam shell (as if you’re opening and closing a clamshell)
  • Don’t let your hips rotate or tilt as you move- keep them stacked on top of each other.
  • Repeat 10-15 times before switching to the other side
  • If you experience pain or can’t keep good form (too much wobbling), modify your range of motion to be smaller

7. Kegels

Kegels are great for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which can help with things like incontinence, pain during sex (dyspareunia), and more. Plus, strong pelvic floor muscles will help you prepare for labor like a boss!

  • Start by finding your pelvic floor muscles- these are the muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine.
  • Once you’ve found them, tighten these muscles and hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Relax and repeat up to 10 times for 2 to 3 sets.
  • Initiate Kegels in a lying down or seated position initiated, then you can progress to more dynamic movements or standing positions that will require more control

8. Bonus: Functional Movement

While exercises are great for targeting specific muscles in your core, one of the best (and easiest) ways to keep your core strength is with functional movement. What does this mean? Incorporate moves that you do every day anyway. These might include:

  • Squatting
  • Lunges
  • Marching
  • Stairs
  • Reaching
  • Carrying objects (groceries, small children, etc.)

You can make these movements more challenging by adding in some weight (like a baby or toddler!), using an unstable surface, or increasing your range of motion- if it’s safe for your stage of pregnancy and fitness level. Just make sure that you’re using good form and not straining yourself.

If you’re feeling unsure of where to start, you might consider talking to a women’s health physical therapist that specializes in pregnancy and postpartum care.

What Core Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy

While there are plenty of great core exercises you can do during pregnancy, there are also some that you’ll want to avoid. These might include:

  • Sit-Ups and Crunches: These are generally not recommended during pregnancy as they can put too much strain on your abdominal muscles and connective tissue. Additionally, they can also worsen diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles).
  • Twisting Exercises: These should also be avoided during pregnancy as they can put too much strain on your low back and abdominal muscles.
  • Heavy lifting: Some research correlates lifting heavy weight to preterm delivery and miscarriage. For most women, it’s best to play it safe and avoid heavy lifting. What the exact limit is will depend on each individual.
  • Anything that puts you at a high risk of falling:  Many pregnant women experience changes in their balance due to changes in weight distribution, which can put them at risk for falls and serious injury. Avoid any exercises or activities (i.e. ice skating, skiing, etc.) where you might be at risk for falling.
  • Lying on your back for a prolonged period of time: This is because the weight of your baby can put pressure on a major vein (the vena cava) and decrease blood flow to your heart.

Wrapping Up Pregnancy Safe Core Exercises for Every Stage of Motherhood

In conclusion,  core exercises are important for pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond! They can help improve your strength, reduce back pain, prepare your body for labor, and more. Be sure to choose safe exercises that are appropriate for your stage of pregnancy and fitness level, and always listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!

Not sure where to go with safe core workouts, let alone other prenatal workouts beyond this post? The Perfect Pregnancy Fitness Plan has a full 40-week workout plan designed by week to address your changing body and strengthen the weak places before they become painful throughout your gestation. And you learn all about keeping your core and floor strong and protected from day 1!

What are your favorite core exercises? Let us know in the comments below!

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jaydee from mom blog life

This has been a wonderful guest post from JayDee Vykoukal.

JayDee is a virtual physical therapist, mom, and owner of When she’s not helping moms live their best life, she is off exploring the world with her two girls. 

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