Over the years teaching prenatal an postpartum fitness classes I have found that most women do not know exactly what their core is. So I want to chat about why you must be doing your core exercises when pregnant and also after pregnancy.
If you think that strengthening your core is doing endless ab crunches then I hope this post provides you with the right information to ensure you are only including safe and effective core workouts into your weekly fitness plan.
When we refer to your core muscles we are referring to your pelvic floor and your deep abdominal muscles. Is that all? Well, it is your midsection which includes all your muscles in that area including the front, back and sides. The core includes the traverse abdominis (TVA), erector spinae, obliques and your lower lats.
Ready for a quick core workout now? Try my workout video above. It's only 7 minutes but is a great start to helping you build a strong core. I hope this gives you an idea of some better exercises to strengthen your core other than just the old traditional crunches.
The quick answer to this is yes. But it is also much more than just your stomach. Contrary to popular belief, your core doesn't just include the abdominal muscles. It also consists of muscles in your back and pelvis.
No matter you are doing; you use your core to accomplish everyday activities such as getting out of bed, lifting baby, carrying the shopping bags or just walking!
It also affects your balance, posture, and stability. So as you can see it is clear why I have called my postpartum recovery program 'Core Rehab for Mamas.'
Without tone through these muscles and correct activation, there can be unnecessary pressure which can have a negative impact on your body, particularly your back and your pelvic floor function.
Your core muscles work as stabilizers for your entire body. So when you hear the term 'Core training' it is simply about doing specific exercises to develop and strengthen these stabilizer muscles.
If any of these core muscles are weakened, it could result in lower back pain or a protruding waistline.
So it is important to do your core exercises in order to keep your core muscles strong as they maintain your posture.
It now seems that just about every gym, studio or health club has core exercise classes. And this is a good thing because in years past group classes just focused on doing endless ab crunches. Now, instructors are more educated on including core exercises that focus on their client's entire midsection.
Yes, I know you may be thinking that it is a bit odd to strengthen your core during pregnancy when your belly is expanding and your abs are separating. Well having a strong core when you are pregnant will only help you enjoy a speedier postpartum recovery.
Building a strong core supports your shifting pelvis as baby gets bigger, and can help alleviate pressure on your back.
First, if your health care professional has restricted your exercise during pregnancy, then you need to follow their recommendations.
Modified core or abdominal exercises are safe in early pregnancy. Research has found no link between moderate to even vigorous exercise and early pregnancy loss.
Towards the end of your first trimester of pregnancy, you may notice a ridge that runs from the bottom of the breast bone down the middle of the belly. This is what is called diastasis recti.
Diastasis refers to the gap between the left and right sides of your abdominal muscles. This gap can sometimes widen by a few centimetres as your baby grows and puts tension on the area.
Traditional planks are not my favorite exercise for various reasons which I have already discussed in an in-depth post. You can read that post here - Planks when Pregnant >
There is a better 'modified' plank exercise you can do if you would like to still do this type of exercise. I show you this in my program.
I grew up doing the old traditional sit-ups and double leg lifts which were commonplace when you were on a sports team. Thankfully now, we have learned to avoid these exercises. And when pregnant you must avoid them as they put more pressure and pull on the abdomen.
Here are some obvious ones, but I want you to avoid moves that involve contortions or bending over backward.
And this leads me to clarify exercising on your back when pregnant. After your first trimester, you'll want to avoid doing any exercises while lying face-up on your back. You can do bridges in an 'inversion' position.
And please avoid avoid crunches, sit-ups and other exercises where your abs bulge especially if you discover you have diastasis recti with a gap of more than three fingers-width.
Because these exercises put extra strain on your abdominus rectus.
As a mama with a newborn baby, you find yourself trying to heal your diastasis recti (abdominal separation) while you endlessly pick-up baby from all sorts of positions.
If your core is not strong you will be more susceptible to injury which is the last thing you need as you go about your daily chores looking after baby. Not to mention it impacts on your overall recovery.
Ah, did I say you may find yourself sitting with baby a lot? You must keep your body strong despite the amount of sitting you do each day. Keeping your torso strong is important because it is your body's center of power.
If your core is weak, then you will not be able to participate in every day activities, sports or workouts without worrying about injury.
If, like most women, you have a separation in your ab muscles, it can take a month or more after delivery for this opening to close.
So you need to start (once doctor approved) with a postpartum exercise program that focuses on healing and recovery. This is what my Core Rehab Studio for Mamas is for.
Then once your ab separation has healed, then you can consider a more intense workout plan such as my Stronger Mama Challenge.
Essentially any exercise that involves the use of your abdominal and back muscles in coordinated fashion counts as a core exercise. But when pregnant, or recovering post pregnancy; there are many core exercises you must avoid as they will only cause you further pain and injury.
You need pregnancy-specific core exercises to stabilize and strengthen your core. After-all, you are carrying a baby as you watch your belly grow week-by-week.
One exercise I want you to avoid is planking. Yes, I know some trainers get pregnant women to do this but from teaching prenatal exercise classes for over ten years I know first hand just how bad an exercise this is.
The Transverse Abdominis (TVA) is the deepest layer of the abdominal wall and as acts as a girdle supporting your spine and pelvis. To activate this muscles avoid 'sucking in'. Instead think of a gentle drawing back of the belly button whilst you image the hip bones drawing towards each other.
As you move past your postpartum recovery and look towards losing baby weight you may want to works towards getting more defined abdominal muscles. And this is where your core exercises are important. But you must also do some cardio workouts to help burn abdominal fat which go along with core exercises which strengthen and tone the underlying muscles.
Today's society has impacted the ability for people to use their body effectively all day. Instead we sit for prolonged periods of time and walk less.
We sit in cars, at desks, on sofas rather than sitting on the ground or squatting. That is why a modern mother's core needs extra attention. It is important to integrate the basic core exercises into dynamic movement using the whole body.
You need a strong core when pregnant and also during your postpartum recovery. It is essential you know which exercises you should do and which ones you must avoid. Please only participate in classes or workouts that have been designed by a prenatal or postpartum exercise specialist.