Obviously, your midsection undergoes some major changes when you’re pregnant.
This may raise some questions about core workouts, namely: which exercises are okay to do and which should be avoided.
So, we asked prenatal fitness experts our most pressing questions about ab workouts during pregnancy like can we do crunches while pregnant? Check out Aaptiv’s maternity program in app now!
Read on to find out and learn more about core workouts during pregnancy, in general.
Is it safe to do crunches while pregnant?
Basically, no. “Never do traditional sit-ups or crunches while pregnant,” advises Catherine Cram, M.S., exercise physiologist, owner of Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Consulting in Verona, Wisconsin, and co-author of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy.
“These are not the greatest exercises for the abdominal wall. Avoid them during post-pregnancy too.”
During the performance of crunches and sit-ups, the abdominal wall feels too much outward pressure.
Because these moves take a lot of strength to perform, people tend to improperly contract other muscle groups, which can cause pushing on the low spine, in addition to other problems.
This improper performance can actually result in a weakness within the core and diastasis recti—a separation of the abdominal muscles down the midline.
Leg raises also fall into the category of exercises that can harm the abdominal wall during pregnancy, adds Birgitta Lauren of Expecting Fitness. Stay away from anything that causes the belly to tent or dome outward.
What abs exercises can I do while pregnant?
Core strength may assist a woman during labor and will certainly help her as a new mom when she’s lifting both her baby and all the necessary baby gear that comes with caring for an infant.
Instead of doing crunches while pregnant, focus on moves that work the transverse abdominis (TVA). This muscle that wraps around the abdomen is located behind the rectus abdominis.
Cram explains that exercises for the transverse abdominis draw the belly in, without putting pressure on the midline.
Here are some examples:
“I advise [that] all pregnant women plank every day,” says Lauren.
“It truly helps with mom’s posture, as it holds the belly in and up better, making pregnancy easier. I would dare say [that it] prevents early delivery, in many cases.”
Exercise Ball Exercises.
Most upper body workouts can be done while seated on an exercise ball to challenge your obliques as they stabilize. Here are some effective exercise ball exercises for pregnant women.
Hand and Knees Exercises.
Moves that require you to raise your arms and/or legs while positioned on all fours can work the transverse abdominis, as well. A perfect example of this move is the common yoga pose bird dog.
To perform this move, start on your hands and knees with your palms directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
Put your weight on your left knee and left hand as you slowly lift your right leg and straighten it behind you, keeping it in line with your flat back.
Lift your right arm and extend it forward in line with your back. Reach with your fingers, careful to maintain a straight line through your body from fingertips to toes.
Flex your right foot so your toes are pointed toward the ground and hold for five deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
“There [are] a lot of isometric things women can do, such as sitting on a ball or chair and drawing the belly inward for ten seconds before breathing out; it’s good strengthening for the abdominal wall,” says Cram.
Is it okay to lie on my back during core exercises?
Maybe, but there are a few things to consider:
Consider how far along you are and your comfort.
“No pregnant mom should be lying still on her back after about 20 weeks—or 15 weeks, [if pregnant] with twins. Or, [simply] at whatever time a pregnant woman starts feeling uncomfortable [while] lying still on her back,” says Lauren.
Take frequent breaks.
Many experts don’t recommend lying on your back (aka in the supine position) for too long because it can compress the vena cava, a major blood vessel that circulates blood to the baby.
However, Cram says that short periods of lying supine are okay and that a pregnant woman would typically begin to feel lightheaded before the baby would be at risk.
Take breaks to lie on your side and just pay attention to how you feel.
Try modifying or skipping them completely.
“One of my modifications for supine exercises is placing a bolster or pillow under her hips, resulting in space between her back and the floor, allowing for proper blood flow,” says Lauren.
“But, exercises on her back without being able to do crunches or leg races are so limited, so mostly I would say, ‘Don’t bother!'”
What should I do if I have an abdominal separation?
Beyond avoiding crunches, sit-ups, and leg raises, there may not be much [that] you can do to avoid getting a diastasis recti during pregnancy. “It happens for a lot of women, no matter what,” says Cram.
After you’re cleared by your doctor for postpartum exercise, you can concentrate on repairing the separation.
“A diastasis cannot really heal while pregnant, but can be healed naturally postpartum, with very specific exercises,” explains Lauren.
These may include moves that isolate abdominal muscles while deeply exhaling. A physical therapist or postpartum fitness specialist like the ones in app can help you master the proper exercises.
“Working ahead of time to prevent loss of core strength is important for a pregnant woman’s ability to function well,” says Cram. So, keep up the core exercises, but remember to avoid those crunches.