You can do a sit-up pregnant. NO! You can’t! It’s dangerous!…You can do a plank. NO! Stop! You’ll hurt the baby! There is so much confusion and misinformation out there regarding safe pregnancy core exercises. So, I’m setting the record straight with key information and a suggested ab workout for pregnancy.
When it comes to ab exercises for pregnancy, society is still kind of stuck in the dark ages—not unlike we were a few years ago when it came to running while pregnant. I had people yell not-so-nice things to me when they saw me running pregnant with my first.
Now, we are learning that running while pregnant is safe and can be good for both mom and baby.
And like running while pregnant, doing ab exercises while pregnant may be possible or not possible for some expecting mothers. There is no need to feel guilt or shame because your pregnancy won’t let you be as active as you would like to be. No pregnancy is the same.
Related: 5 Benefits of Running While Pregnant
So, before I get into the meat of this article, I want to be very clear that you should do what feels best for you and makes the most sense. A fit pregnancy does not equal an easy birth. Like with running, there are so many variables when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Focus on what you can do and staying safe.
Ok, now to the article…I connected with renowned pelvic health physical therapist, Dr. Carrie Pagliano, to get real on:
- What pregnancy ab exercises you can do
- What core exercises you shouldn’t do while pregnant
- When to stop doing ab exercises while pregnant, and suggest
- A pregnancy core workout for expecting mother runners (with a big caveat).
So, let’s get started!
Can you do abs exercise while pregnant?
Yes, you can do abs exercises while pregnant. Your body will tell you what ab exercises you can and can’t do. As your belly grows, traditional moves like sit-ups and planks will become difficult and that’s when you can move to different variations. (By the way, get a great list from my friend Lisa over at Mile By Mile on what NOT to do while pregnant).
How can I keep my abs strong during pregnancy?
You can keep your abs strong during pregnancy to a point.
Pagliano explains that the abs are being tasked to work across a longer distance as the belly grows, in the context of a changing base of support (belly’s getting bigger to the front) and a pelvis that’s trying to loosen up and prep for vaginal delivery. This leads to the weakening of the core.
“I can’t think of a single woman postpartum that immediately feels strong, no matter how much they did in pregnancy. Why? The muscles have to re-find their place and job, and they’re not able to tension against a very full belly,” she explains.
Does exercising during pregnancy lead to an easy recovery?
Exercising while pregnant can lead to an easier recovery. However, so much can happen during childbirth that it’s impossible to predict someone’s postpartum recovery.
Therefore, a fit pregnancy does not automatically equal a fit postpartum and easy recovery, and vice versa.
“We need to stop this erroneous stereotype. It leads to women feeling like they’re failing motherhood before they even start,” says Pagliano of women who can’t exercise as much as they would like during pregnancy.
Instead, focus on what you can do—even if that means resting for the health of you and your baby.
Can core exercises during pregnancy protect against diastasis recti?
You CANNOT prevent diastasis recti by doing core exercises. All women have abdominal separation in pregnancy says Pagliano.
Genetics, collagen, and delivery may play a role but more research needs to be done to explain why some women have issues with continued separation and linea alba tensioning and others don’t.
When should you stop doing ab workouts when pregnant?
Core exercises that cause the following should be avoided:
- Pain or discomfort
- Coning and doming of the abdomen
Some exercises to avoid while pregnant include:
- Box jumps
- Rope climbs
- Supermans on your stomach
What ab exercises are safe for pregnancy?
Pagliano encourages women to continue to strengthen their core as they feel comfortable. Safe ab exercises during pregnancy bring awareness of the ab/brain connection as well as breath such as:
- Kneeling plank
- Bear plank
- Side plank
- Boat pose
- Pelvic Tilts
- Bird dog
- Quadruped core exercises
- Reclined exercises (with a small ball for support)
Are there different considerations for pregnancy core exercises depending on the trimester you are in?
Ab workouts are safe for the first trimester, second and third. But most women stop doing ab exercises in the second trimester due to the size of their belly or fear that they are harming the baby or themselves.
Your body will tell you when you shouldn’t do an ab exercise while pregnant. If you have leakage, pressure, pain, discharge, nausea, and fatigue—then don’t do those core exercises. This is not the time to push past pain.
Can I do sit-ups while pregnant?
You can do sit-ups while pregnant to a point. As your pregnancy progresses, doing sit-ups and ab exercises on your back becomes uncomfortable.
Think of it this way, says Pagliano. We sit up to get out of bed. But then eventually that turns into a log roll due to the size of our bellies.
Can I do planks while pregnant?
Yes, you can do planks while pregnant. But again, eventually, that will become uncomfortable as your belly grows. So, do modified planks like wall planks, kneeling planks, bear planks, and side planks on your knees.
These plank variations help improve ease and manage pressure.
Can I do squats while pregnant?
Yes, you can do squats while pregnant. Because think of it this way, you squat to get to the toilet. You squat to pick toys off the floor. Squatting is a part of normal life.
However, using weights with squats may cause pressure which you want to avoid. If you feel pressure while squatting with dumbbells, stick to air squats.
Related: Free Postpartum Running Plan
Can you do burpees while pregnant?
You can do burpees while pregnant until the belly starts getting in the way.
Can you do HIIT while pregnant?
You will likely need to scale your HIIT workouts while pregnant to accommodate your growing belly.
If you feel leakage, pressure, pain, dizziness, instability, or discomfort during exercise, stop doing it and modify.
What are the best core exercises to do while pregnant?
The best core exercises to do while pregnant are the ones you will actually do, says Pagliano. Pregnancy is not the time to try anything new.
Instead, aim for exercises that help you connect your abs to your breath including yoga and Pilates.
How to breathe during ab exercises?
When doing these moves, aim to connect to your growing deep abs with your breath. Exhale before beginning each move and inhale as you contract, belly button to spine. Repeat. Be sure to breathe from your belly and not your chest.
Pagliano suggests pretending like you’re blowing through a small juice box straw WITHOUT your belly pushing out. As your belly grows, it takes longer to create tension across the growing belly so exhaling for a second or two to give the abs time to engage and create tension ensures you’re getting activation here.
Related: How to Breathe While You Run
Pregnancy Ab Workout
Below is your ab workout for pregnancy which strengthens and engages your transverse abdominis and pelvic floor. This pregnancy core routine comes with one big caveat: this pregnancy core workout may be the right thing for you, or it may not.
Do what works best for you, your pregnancy, and your comfort level. What are “safe pregnancy core exercises” for one woman may feel unsafe to you. Do not compare yourself and do not feel shame. You do you.
The goal of this routine is not to feel the burn but rather teach your abs how to work and be strong in their new location. As such, the slower the better. The more emphasis on breath the better.
Bird Dog with 15 knee taps on each side
- Kneel on all fours with a neutral spine.
- Connect your opposite elbow to your opposite knee while rounding your back. That’s one tap.
- Keep your hips parallel to the floor. Lengthen your neck and slightly tuck your chin so that you are looking at the floor.
- Do 15. Repeat on other side.
Pelvic Tilt for 30 seconds
- Kneel with a neutral spine and legs hip-distance apart.
- Pull your belly button to your spine. Engage your glutes and hips.
- Then tilt your pelvis up so that you are slightly rounding your lower back. Feel your lower core engage.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 5 times.
Bridge March for 30 on each side
- Lay on your back with your knees up. Keep feet away from your butt.
- Brace your abs and push your pelvis to the sky so that your back forms a straight angle to the floor.
- Lift up one leg and hold for 2 seconds. Try to keep your pelvic parallel to the floor. No dipping.
- Put foot down and lift the other.
- Make harder by adding a band. Make easier by doing a simple bridge for 30 seconds.
- Repeat for a total of 60 reps.
- (This exercise may put too much tension on your hip flexors. Do not do this if you feel tension).
- Sit on your bottom on the floor. Recline so that you are on your sits bones.
- Add a soft bouncy ball behind your low back for added support.
- With bent legs, engage your back, core, and inner thighs.
- Lift up your legs so that you are in a reclined position.
- Hold your arms out straight in front of you.
- Straighten legs to make it more difficult.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds or 5 breaths.
- Repeat 3 times.
Side Plank on Knees
- Lay on your side with one or both knees tucked and calves behind you.
- Lift up your side, resting your weight on your forearm, so that you form a straight angle to the floor.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times on each side.
- Get on all fours with a neutral spine.
- Arch your back towards the sky, pelvis tucked, and your head down and toes tucked. Keep your shoulders pressed away from your ears.
- Hold for a couple of seconds.
- Reverse position so that your back is arched to the ground, your head up, and tops of your toes resting on the floor.
- Hold for a couple of seconds.
- Repeat 15 times.
If you want running guidance while pregnant, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan