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How can I safely work my core muscles while I'm pregnant?

Before attempting any exercise during pregnancy follow the advice of your physician. Here is a low impact exercise I’m actively using with my client during her pregnancy. This exercise is performed using a foam roller while standing. This is a Multi-Planar Step exercise to fire your core muscles along with other stabilizers, challenge your balance, and increase circulation. Grab the foam roller at both ends, extending it outward in front of your chest.

 

If you are right handed start the movements to your left first, this allows you to start firing your weaker side before the stronger side to kind of even out the playing field. Begin by taking a step in front of you. At the same time rotating your upper body first in the direction of your extended foot. Angling the outer end of the extended roller towards the ceiling while squeezing your pelvic floor muscles. Hold this position for 2 to 4 seconds slowly returning to the starting position. Repeat these movements to your left and right sides, and then at a 45-degree step-turn moving towards your outer back side, leaving your opposite foot in place. After becoming comfortable with these three rotations. Perform the same step movements rotating to your inside while angling the roller towards the ceiling. Remember these are steps not lunges.
Before you try any exercises during pregnancy, you should consult your OB/GYN.  Your core essentially consists of every part of your body except your head, legs and arms.  A few of the prenatal core exercises I like to have my clients perform consist of seated chest presses, stagger-stance cable chest presses, alternating standing cable rows, cable lat pulls seated on a stability ball, reaches on the ball as long as you are at a slight incline and until it becomes uncomfortable or difficult to sit on the ball safely.  Kegel exercises and pelvic tilts are very important exercises as well.  Kegel exercises will help your control as the pressure on your bladder increases, and the pelvic tilts are wonderful for strenghtening you lower back muscles as well as releasing the stress on your lower back.
Joanne Duncan-Carnesciali, CPT,NASM Elite Trainer
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Before I respond to your question, it's important that you know what exactly is the
core.

In a nutshell, the core includes all the muscles located in the front, back and sides of your body that keep your spine stable as well as the muscles involved in movement that run from the top of your spine down to the top of your lower legs.

 As you can see from this description core training would involve movement beyond training the muscles between your sternum and your pelvis.

Other considerations to be kept in mind is that during pregnancy, a woman secretes a hormone called relaxin which relaxes the joints in preparation for child birth.

As a consequence, caution has to be taken when performing exercise.   So, core training with the correct dosage is an effective way to protect your joints and become stronger as you await the birth of your child.

As an NASM credentialed professional, I have found using their evidence-based approach to training utilizing the Optimum Performance Trainng methodology, modified for the prenatal population, to be very effective.

NASM certified professionals are encouraged to utilize movements that focus on joint stabilization and endurance and strength endurance during the first trimester of pregnancy and movements that involve joint stabilization and endurance during the second and third trimesters.

As you are probably well aware, exercises in the face up or face down position after your 12th week of pregnancy should be avoided.

Hence, the core training you would perform would involve safely executed movements, for the most part in a standing or seated position, in any direction (forward, backward, laterally or rotating).

Here are some suggestions:

Stability Ball Squats
Lunges
Standing or seated rows
Standing or seated chest press
Seated Lat pull down
Single leg dumbbell scaption
Standing leg extensions
Standing or seated abduction of the leg (that means moving your leg away from the center of your body
Standing or seated adduction of the leg (that means moving your leg towards the center of your body)

You will find, here on Sharecare, many fitness professionals, knowledgeable in the Optimum Performance Training Methodology who can help you maintain your fitness levels during your pregnancy.

All the best!

As long as you are cleared by your obstetrician, the core muscles can be safely worked by incorporating a stability ball with other exercises. The stability ball (also called a birthing ball by labor assistants) can be a pregnant woman’s best friend. Personally, I do not know if I could survive exercising during my pregnancy without a stability ball. By sitting on the stability ball while performing other exercises engages the core muscles. For example, you can perform exercises with free weights, like overhead press or bicep curls, while sitting on the ball. Pelvic tilts performed either on the ball, standing against a wall or on all fours will help strengthen the lower back and relieve some pain associated with pregnancy. Pelvic tilts can be performed lying on your back only prior to 20 weeks gestation. Another advantage of using the stability ball with exercises, especially later in pregnancy, is that it eliminates hard external pressure of a chair or other surface.

What type of exercises you can perform for your core is dependent upon which trimester you are currently in. In the first trimester, focus on core stabilization exercises like prone iso abs (planks) tube walking, and standing cable hip extensions. Once you have entered the second and third trimesters it is not advised you lay down completely flat on your stomach or back as it can cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure. Once into the second trimester it is recommended to focus on movements that help stabilize the pelvis and hips like tube walking and standing cable hip extensions. Do not perform and spinal flexion or spinal twisting exercises and do not lie flat on your back during the second or third trimester. 
Strong core muscles keep you more comfortable during your pregnancy (carry the baby with greater ease and have less back pain) and help you get your shape back sooner after delivery. They also help with pushing during labor. However, I personally think that very tight and conditioned pelvic floor muscles can make labor last a little longer (my opinion only). But the quicker recovery and decreased pelvic floor "issues" afterward more than make up for any increased labor time. Try this ab exercise-Seesaw Abs- While sitting on the ground with your legs bent 90 degrees and your feet on the floor, place your hands behind your thighs for support. Gently lean back to activate your abdominal muscles. Use your obliques and lower abs to gently pull your belly button in. Hold back for five counts: do this five times. For advanced: Instead of using your arms for support, extend your arms straight out to your sides.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.