Tag Archives: abdominal exercises

abdominals in pregnancy

Should you work your abdominals in pregnancy?

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!

Farmers carry in pregnancy

Crunches are a waste of time

I’m always being asked about exercises to flatten the abs so I should explain why I don’t do crunches in my classes.
One of the main things to bear in mind is the saying that abs are made in the kitchen – it’s more about nutrition than anything else.  You cannot choose an exercise to reduce fat in a certain area and according to Men’s Health Magazine it would take over 22,000 crunches to burn 1lb of fat.  And for us women, the stomach is where we mostly accumulate fat.  So watching what you eat is going to be the main way to get your desired result.
Back to those crunches…  Most people know you have to stop doing them when you’re pregnant.  But it’s one of the first exercises women think of returning to once they’ve had their baby in a bid to get rid of the mummy tummy.  In fact they’re a huge no-no as the pressure they create in the abdomen will push out on the stomach muscles and may prevent any diastasis from healing.
But it’s not just pre and post natal women that need to avoid this exercise.  And here’s why:
1.  They don’t work –  most people’s stomachs push up as they do the exercise, training the muscle to be domed, not flat.
2.  They put pressure on the spine – the spine is loaded more than is healthy and the discs are compressed. This could lead to back problems and will exacerbate any existing back pain.
3.  They reinforce an unhealthy posture – due to our daily habits most of us have rounded shoulders, a chin that pokes forward and tucked under pelvises.  When you do a crunch you mimic these same movements.  In fact, one sure fire way to achieve a flatter stomach is to improve your posture.
4.  They put a huge amount of pressure on your pelvic floor – I saw a graphic video showing this and wanted to post it.  But either it’s been removed or my parental filters are too strong!  Either way, every crunch forces pressure down on the pelvic floor.  With 50% of all women who’ve given birth going on to prolapse and 1 in 3 women have urinary incontinence, I think it’s worth protecting our pelvic floors!   So what’s the best thing for a flatter stomach?

  • improve your posture – Pilates is ideal for this.  Also sit less and walk more
  • nutrition – eat real food, and try to avoid sugar and alcohol particularly
  • functional whole body exercises – I’m a great fan of all fours work and squats and lunges and include them in all my classes!