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*Always check with your doctor to make sure it is ok for you to exercise. Being active during pregnancy is very important but may not be best for some women who may have a high risk pregnancy or other health concerns.
Strengthening the abdominals during pregnancy is often overlooked since many people don’t know what is and isn’t safe! Actually strengthening your abdominals during pregnancy is SUUPPERRR important and completely safe when performed correctly. Did you know your Transverse Abdominals are the primary muscle used during the pushing phase of labor?! So yes, you NEED to strengthen your abdominals during pregnancy and I’m going to show you how! 🙂
OK, so.. its important to know when performing abdominal exercises what muscles you are trying to engage. What we are trying to target is called the transverse abdominals. This muscle is located behind “the six pack muscle” known as your rectus abdominals. The transverse abdominals or TA acts as a support belt for your spine. When your TA is strong, not only are you becoming a more effective pusher during birth but, you’re less likely to suffer from back pain associated with pregnancy and lower your risk of having diastasis recti! But this muscle can be hard to engage, this being why the TA is sometimes referred to as “the lazy muscle”. If you learn how to engage the TA, you can safely and effectively strengthen your abdominals!
Alright lets dive into how to activate your TA. The first thing we want to focus on is breathing. Simple right? Actually for some this is the hardest part. Many people take very shallow breathes through the chest. To learn to activate the TA you need to learn to belly breathe. The best way to try this is on a mat on your back with your hands squeezing right above your hips on the sides of your stomach. You want your fingers to be together so as you breath, your fingers should separate. Note that being on your back for short periods of time (30 seconds-2 minutes) during pregnancy is perfectly safe if you do not have any pregnancy related complications and it feels OK. If your legs start to feel funny or numb, get up slowly and rest a few minutes. You can do the same things listed standing. Now lets breath! Inhale deeply filling up your belly with air, your fingers should slightly separate as you inhale and your belly should visibly rise.
As you exhale, push out the air in your belly and tighten your TA. It should feel like you’re pulling your belly button in towards your spine and your abs tight like someone was about to punch you in the belly. You know that feeling that you tense and tighten? Thats the feeling you want, not sucking in. Once you have figured this out, you have learned to belly breath and engage your TA!
Here are a few great exercises to get you on your way to strengthening your abdominals! Make sure to focus mainly on exercises that target your rectus abdominals and TA (on the front of your belly) instead of obliques (on the sides of your belly). Oblique exercises can actually increase the risk of diastasis recti and worsen already existing diastasis recti.
This exercise is simple yet very effective and safe during pregnancy! Start by going through the breathing sequence you just learned, on your hands and knees. Inhale and fill your belly with air, exhale and tighten your TA as you curve your back and tuck your head. Then inhale again as you let your belly drop and back sway, fill that belly up with air! Try this exercise for 10-15 reps for 3-4 sets.
A plank is great for your abdominals, not to mention many other muscles such as your shoulders and quads! Here we are doing a high plank. This plank is a little less challenging than a low plank on your elbows. If this is still a little too challenging, try an elevated high plank! Find a surface that won’t move such as a chair pushed up against the wall. This incline makes the plank easier but still effective! 🙂 In a plank your hands should be underneath your shoulders, feet together, and abdominals engaged. Make sure your butt is not sagging but also not too high in the air! Try holding the plank as long as you can until you break form. Do this 3-4 times!
In and Out Boat
The in and out boat is a great and challenging exercise for the abdominals. This exercise can be regressed by just holding the boat position and even grabbing the back of your thighs if needed. To perform this exercise, sit on your butt, knees bent, back straight and arms straight pointing forward, parallel with the floor. Your back should be slightly reclined but make sure your back stays straight, don’t slouch or round your back! That is the boat position, now to do in and out boat let your back recline even more towards the floor and at the same time let your legs straighten, then come back to the normal boat position. Keep going back and forth between those for about 10-15 reps 3-4 times.
Now, this is an advanced exercise I thought I would just throw in there. Again, to modify, just hold the boat (in) position. You can tell if this exercise is too difficult for you if you can’t hold your form, or if your belly starts to “tent”. This happens if your abdominals aren’t properly engaged. Your belly will form a “tent” so it will look like a point in the middle.
Whether you have been exercising for years or just starting out, these exercises are great for all women who want to stay active and strengthen your abdominals during pregnancy. These exercises are just a few of many that can be beneficial during pregnancy!
You might also be interested in 15 Minute Pregnancy Workout