It’s perfectly safe to exercise your stomach muscles during pregnancy if you apply the correct modifications. The benefits of having a strong core during pregnancy include increased support for your pelvic organs and a greater sense of control during labour. It can also alleviate the pressure your growing belly puts on your back and support proper posture to ease lower back pain during and after birth.
Wellness expert Lisa Raleigh recommends these ab exercises during the first trimester:
“If you exercise regularly, you will probably still be able to perform all your regular ab exercises at this stage,” says Lisa. Take advantage of this time by setting a solid foundation – developing great posture, working on a neutral spine position with your ribs down, and getting your pelvis in proper alignment without pushing your hips forward.
Sets and reps for each exercise:
- Beginner: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
- Intermediate: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Advanced: 3 sets of 16-20 reps
- The elbow plank recruits more of your core muscles to do the work than a traditional plank.
- Clasp your hands together, resting on your forearms and stacking your shoulders above your elbows. Keep your body in a straight line from neck to heels.
- Hold this position for as long as you can for each set.
Knee-tuck with sliders
This is a great lower-ab and core workout.
- Place a paper plate or slider under each foot.
- Start in a traditional plank position with your shoulders stacked above your hands, your body held in a straight line from neck to heels and your feet hip-width apart. Push up through your shoulders so your body doesn’t hang between them.
- Keeping your belly button pulled in tight towards your spine, draw both knees in towards your chest. Pause for a moment, then push them back out to the starting position. Be careful not to arch your back as you push back.
This strengthens your abs while minimising pressure on your lower back.
- Lie flat on your back with your hands extended towards the ceiling. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and raise your calves until they are parallel to the floor. Tilt your pelvis so you close the gap between your back and the floor.
- Slowly lower your right arm and left leg down to the floor simultaneously until your lower back almost arches off the ground. Pause for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
What you need to know about muscle separation
“As your belly grows during your pregnancy, your abdominal muscles naturally stretch and expand. Your ‘six-pack’ muscles, or rectus abdominis, can begin to pull apart down the middle. This is known as diastasis recti,” explains Lisa.
Before 12 weeks into your pregnancy, you can check for separation by lying on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. Tuck one arm behind your head and keep the other at your side, lift your head and upper shoulders off the floor – if you can see or feel a gap bigger than two finger-widths between your left and right sides, you probably have diastasis recti. Check with your doctor to be sure.
This is generally no cause for concern and will heal by itself after birth. Research suggests that exercise may help improve the condition, but putting unnecessary strain on your abdominal muscles can worsen it – so take care and adjust as needed.
If you do notice a gap, avoid crunches and side-abdominal exercises, as well as front-loaded exercises where your belly can hang down to the floor such as the plank or push-ups.
- Photography: Hema Patel
- Model: Candice Blignaut
- Hair and make-up: Maria de Vos from One League, Using Evo products
- Clothing: Lorna Jane
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