What do you think? Should you work your abdominals in pregnancy? Or are they a no-go area? And if so, what exercises are appropriate.
When I polled people about this recently I had a varied response but most tended towards yes you should, but gently.
My answer is… it depends.
It depends what you think of as the abdominal muscles. For most people, it’s the ones you can see – the six pack muscles. The guidelines for these muscles (the rectus abdominis) is there should be no direct work on them after you reach the 12 weeks mark.
So that’s a no to these abdominals in pregnancy. No crunches, sit ups, hanging knee lifts, or lying on your back with both legs lifted etc.
But the abdominals actually comprise of four sets of muscles and as a unit are essential in pregnancy as they support the spine, keeping it moving well, helping to maintain a good posture and minimising back pain.
The innermost set of muscles is the transverse abdominis. This is just one part of your core along with the pelvic floor, the back muscles and the diaphragm. So proper breathing, tied in with pelvic floor work, is also an essential part of core work – it’s never about the abdominals in isolation.
The best way to work the core in pregnancy – and postnatal and beyond – is with whole body, functional exercises. The core should be stabilising the spine as you move your body. So look at your posture when exercising. Look at how you’re breathing (and if you’re breathing!) Also look at how the exercise will serve you. What’s the point of it? Is a plank useful? Or are there exercises that work your core in a functional way that also prepares you for your day-to-day activities?
For example, the exercise below uses a single heavy weight on one side to challenge the core to keep the spine stable by not leaning one way or the other. Ideally ribs and hips should stay in alignment as you walk. You should be breathing normally throughout the exercise.
It’s also great practice for when carrying a car seat or heavy shopping bags!