Fitness Essentials for Pregnancy: Part 3
So far we’ve talked about diastasis recti, understanding how to use your breath to your benefit, resistance training, and exercise intensity. If you missed them, check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
5) I saved the next two sections for the last discussion topics because it’s the one I see the most association
with so often on social media- “yes, you can have abs after baby” or “10 ab exercise while pregnant” often leading to workouts with lots of crunch-type movements. And, while these movements might be fine for life outside of pregnancy during pregnancy however, a strong crunching position will pull at the Linea Alba (see Part 1) and create an added stretching force to that of the growing belly which can cause or further aggravate diastasis recti.
So then, without crunches how do you work your core? First, let’s discuss what the core actually is.
Depending on who you talk to the core is composed of anywhere between 12-29 muscles throughout the trunk. I like to think of the core as two primary systems- the deep stabilizing core which is four muscles/muscle groups and the more superficial movement musculature throughout the trunk and thigh. The deep core is composed of the diaphragm, the transverse abdominis (the deepest of the abdominal muscles), the pelvic floor (a group of muscles at the floor of the pelvis) and multifidus (spinal muscles)- I call these the 4 deep core. The superficial musculature includes the other abdominal muscles, the glutes and muscles of the hip, thigh and lumbar spine. In order for the core to function properly it is paramount to understand how to activate and use the deep core musculature prior to engaging the superficial movement musculature.
To start, we need to know how to find the pelvic floor, a group of muscles running from pubic bone to tailbone that acts as a hammock supporting the organs throughout your pelvis. Here is a great article and a great video by Julie Wiebe (a Physical Therapist specializing in women’s health) that takes you through the steps to find your pelvic floor.
Secondly, we have to learn how to engage the pelvic floor. Like in Julie’s video I like to practice sitting up or, standing. Start with a neutral position, shifting the ribcage over the top of the pelvis to allow the diaphragm and pelvic floor to be able to respond to each other and interact properly. Using the deep breathing exercises we learned in Part 1, simultaneously lift the muscles around the vagina up towards the abdomen as you try to close off the anus. Then, think about the muscles just inside the hip bones- try to draw those together as if you’re trying to make the hip bones kiss. If you are properly engaging all the muscles you will feel the deep abdominal muscles (the transverse abdominis) become animated or, activated.
Lastly, we put this into practice while practicing each and every core exercise. If we notice we are unable to engage the deep core and simultaneously perform the exercise we are attempting this might be the cue that a) the exercise is too hard right now, or b) we need to practice a bit more of core engagement prior to continuing with that specific movement.
6) What are some examples of core exercises that are safe or relatively safe during pregnancy? First let’s remember Part 1 and what is happening with the abdominal muscles throughout pregnancy- they are becoming stretched and unable to fire optimally so, isolating them (even after pregnancy, but we’ll talk about that later) is not beneficial. With this in mind we can consider good core exercises those that enable you to engage the 4 deep core, while keeping the spine in a neutral position (ribs over or in line with the pelvis). Side planks, front planks, pushups, activities on all 4s, dead bugs, bird dogs, Pallof presses, ball roll outs are all viable options as, are many more- of course being mindful to check for diastasis recti and avoiding front loading exercises if needed. Additionally, adding exercises to strengthen the posterior musculature will aid in strengthening the core by acting as a support and offsetting the weight gain on the front side of the body. Movements like glute bridges, squats, reverse lunges, band rows and pull downs will help achieve this balance.
Next week, in our last installment I'll be giving three free workouts for the first, second, and third trimesters with alternatives and ideas how to progress and regress several of the exercises. Hopefully these will inspire your workouts as you move through your prenatal journey!