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5 Myths About Core Workouts During Pregnancy, Debunked

Think you can’t do any ab workouts when you’re expecting? Think again. Get the lowdown from a prenatal fitness expert from obé Fitness on what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to core exercises during pregnancy.
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By Kseniya Sovenko, obé Fitness Editorial Team
Updated November 8, 2021
Video: Featuring Sam G. from obé Fitness.
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So, you’re feeling good enough to exercise during pregnancy and want to reap the benefits for both you and baby. But as a mom-to-be, there’s one area of your body you’ve probably been avoiding during workouts: Your core.

If you’re wondering whether you should work your core throughout your pregnancy, you’re not alone. There are a lot of misconceptions about what’s safe and what’s not for you and baby—and you’re right to proceed with caution! But rest assured, there is a way for you to get pregnancy-friendly ab workouts in, with a little guidance. Here, we tapped a prenatal fitness expert from obé Fitness to debunk five common myths (and share the truths!) about prenatal core workouts.

Myth #1: Ab Workouts During Pregnancy Are a Definite No-No

Truth: With clearance from your doctor, “you actually can—and should—continue to support your core strength throughout your pregnancy,” says Melody Zoller, CPT, obé’s training + programming manager who is PROnatal pre/postnatal certified.

While you’ll want to be mindful of exercises that cause excessive abdominal pressure (think: crunches, twists, full planks), you can still engage your core with safe-but-effective modifications. As a rule of thumb, avoid rotating as well as forward, side-to-side and back bending, Zoller explains.

Prenatal fitness classes with a trained instructor will take the guesswork out, but if you’re making DIY modifications in your own workouts, be sure to trade traditional core exercises for anti-movement alternatives. This means you’re resisting movement in your core rather than creating it. Some examples: Swap out sit-ups and crunches for goblet squats or deadlifts; backbends like cobra or upward facing dog for dead bug pose; and twisting bicycles for bird-dogs. When in doubt, default to a glute bridge (yes, they do work your entire core!).

Myth #2: The Main Reason to Work Your Core Is to Look Good After Birth

Truth: Maintaining your core strength during this time isn’t about getting six-pack abs. Most importantly, incorporating core exercises into your prenatal fitness routine will support your body throughout your pregnancy, delivery and beyond.

Prenatal core workouts help strengthen pelvic floor muscles, alleviate lower back pregnancy pains, improve your posture, prepare you for labor, aid in postpartum recovery and prepare you for the demands of motherhood.

“You’ll need to be strong to be able to carry baby around, pick up a car seat, carry a diaper bag or put baby in and out of the crib,” says Zoller. “The more you can strengthen the supporting muscles, the better.”

Myth #3: You Can’t Keep Up Your Pre-Pregnancy Abs Routine

Truth: It depends where you are! In your first trimester, as long as your doctor approves and you’re feeling good, you can continue doing your pre-pregnancy core routine—with the exception of full sit-ups and double leg lifts. Just be on the lookout for signs of abdominal separation, known as diastasis recti.

“You might feel a little bit less than 100 percent, a little fatigued or a little off your game, so actual workout performance might not feel the same,” Zoller explains. “But in terms of what is physically safe to do during your first trimester, keep doing what you’re doing.” (If you weren’t doing any exercise before your pregnancy, make sure to consult with your doctor before trying something new.)

Here’s the catch: When you enter your second semester (or have a noticeable baby bump), you’ll want to introduce more modifications and avoid supine (lying down) positions, but you can keep working out consistently. For your third trimester, stick strictly to prenatal-approved or modified exercises, and stop anything that causes any kind of discomfort or pain.

Myth #4: Planks Aren’t Safe with Baby Bumps

Truth: You can still safely take on planks while pregnant, so long as you incorporate your prenatal modifications! In fact, by targeting your back and abs, planks are the ultimate two-for-one core move.

Zoller suggests trying hands-elevated planks, kneeling planks and kneeling side planks as great alternatives to standard planks as well as other crunching and twisting moves. “As long as your belly isn’t ‘coning’ or you don’t experience abdominal separation greater than three fingers wide, you should be clear to practice these variations,” she explains.

In general, make sure to focus on quality of form over duration! A few reps of a 10-second modified plank with proper alignment will do you more good than a 30-second plank you’re compromising your form to hold.

Myth #5: Never Lift Heavy Weights to Work Your Core

Truth: Don’t neglect those weights! There’s no better time to focus on building strength than when you’re pregnant, especially if strength classes were part of your normal pre-pregnancy routine. “I think pregnant women get scared to continue lifting heavy weights, but that is actually what’s going to most prepare you to successfully make it through both your pregnancy and postpartum journey,” Zoller says.

Light to moderate dumbbells, kettlebells and even resistance bands are great tools to strengthen your muscles and support the weight of your growing baby, both pre- and post-labor. Zoller recommends trying weighted carries, deadlifts, goblet squats and front-racked lunges to boost your core strength, as these are some of the safest functional moves for pregnant women.

About the expert:

Melody Zoller, CPT, is a fitness instructor, mom and former musical theater actress based in New York City. She is the Training + Programming manager at obé Fitness, where she teaches power, HIIT, cardio boxing, and bounce classes. She’s a personal trainer and group fitness instructor certified by NASM and ACE, and also holds a PRONatal Pre/Postnatal certification.

About obé Fitness: obé Fitness is a premium fitness lifestyle destination that brings daily live classes, endless on-demand workouts and world-class instructors to your fingertips—anywhere, anytime, any screen. obé keeps members moving with 15+ class types and curated training programs, as well as only-at-obé moments such as celebrity guests and themed classes. Start your free trial at obefitness.com.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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