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Nehal Aggarwal
Aaptiv Editor

Your Guide to Safe Pregnancy Ab Workouts

Can you do ab workouts while pregnant? Yep! You just have to be smart about it. Here's what’s safe and what’s not, plus some great pregnancy ab workouts to do at home.

Your core makes up some of the most important muscles in your body—and no, we’re not referring to “six-pack abs.” We’re talking about all the muscles that make up your midsection, including the rectus and transversus abdominis (front wall of the abdomen), quadratus lumborum (lower back muscles), spinal erectors and the obliques—and those are just the major muscle groups! Not only do these core muscles affect everyday habits such as posture and gait, but they also impact everyday activities, from how difficult it is to carry a bag of groceries to how much lower back pain your experience from a sedentary job. The core plays such a big role in day-to-day life that it’s no surprise it’s also key to helping a woman’s body get ready for pregnancy—which is why a pregnancy ab workout can be a great addition a mom-to-be’s exercise regimen.

Thought you needed to skip ab workouts while pregnant? Think again. Here, two trainers from Aaptiv, a fitness app that delivers trainer-led and music-powered audio workouts, explain the importance of a strong core and offer their picks for safe ab exercises for pregnancy.

The Importance of Ab Workouts While Pregnant

Generally speaking, it’s okay—and even encouraged—to do ab workouts while pregnant. Keep in mind, though, that every pregnancy is different, and what works and doesn’t work for each individual woman will also vary. According to NASM perinatal and PROnatal certified Aaptiv trainer Amanda Butler, in the early weeks of pregnancy, most women often don’t even know they’re pregnant yet. She says it’s usually okay to keep up your regular routine, as long as you’re being safe, but she encourages all women to have open and honest conversations with their doctor about their workouts once they learn they’re pregnant. “It’s very dependent on the person, and each pregnancy looks a little different,” she says. “But, generally speaking, in those first 12 weeks, technically you can still do everything.”

FRCMS and 500+ RYT certified Aaptiv trainer Nicole Sciacca agrees, and explains that having a strong core can help with the demands of pregnancy. It helps combats the arching of the lower back (and the consequential pain) that often occurs from carrying the baby’s weight. “You’re carrying sometimes 30 pounds in your front belly. Being able to be strong front, side and back of your body is really crucial,” she says.

Along with the demands of pregnancy, building a strong core while pregnant can also help with the physical demands of labor. When it comes to childbirth, it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but a strong core can only help with the process and the recovery. “Once you have the baby, your body will repair itself more quickly, and a strong core will help,” Butler says. “Each situation is going to look a little different, depending on what happens during labor, but you definitely won’t regret having a strong body.”

What Happens to Your Abs During Pregnancy

Throughout pregnancy, your body makes adjustments to accommodate your growing baby, so it’s natural for your abdominal muscles to separate to a certain degree. Butler suggests thinking of the linea alba, the fibrous tissue that holds your abdomen together and creates the center line of your six pack, as Silly Putty. “As your belly grows, everything stretches and pulls, and like Silly Putty, when you pull it, the linea alba gets kind of thin,” she explains.

It’s important to build a strong core overall because the “six-pack” often shifts to house your organs, uterus, baby, placenta and any water retention. But be careful not to overdo things when it comes to ab workouts while pregnant. “If you don’t recognize exactly what your body is going through to create this human inside of your body, then you can push through things, and the body will allow it to happen—but there will be repercussions,” Sciacca warns. Part of listening to your body involves knowing when to stop, especially as pushing yourself too far can lead to diastasis recti. “It’s a very common finding among pregnant women,” Sciacca says. “The linea alba literally splits apart and your organs start to push through the wall of your abdomen. That’s diastasis recti.”

Ab Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy

While the best pregnancy ab workouts are going to differ based on each individual, there are a few exercises that both Butler and Sciacca advise against doing during pregnancy. “You want to avoid any kind of crunching or twisting in the torso,” Butler says. “That promotes the splitting in the abs, and afterward it can lead to hernias.” Which means doing sit-ups while pregnant is not a good idea—and neither is doing crunches or Russsian twists. “Even getting out of bed, you need to train yourself to roll onto your side and then use your arms to press yourself up,” she adds.

Instead, focus on creating space in the belly for baby. “I always tell my yoga students never to crunch, close or twist into the belly,” Sciacca says. “They should always keep that area straight.”

Above all, both trainers emphasize the importance of listening to and honoring your body. “Be really gracious with yourself,” Sciacca encourages. “Your body is working so hard to create this human being. Give yourself grace while you’re in the state that you’re in, and enjoy it!”

Safe Pregnancy Ab Workouts

Below, Butler and Sciacca describe a few of their favorite ab exercises for pregnancy, including how to do them and what stage of pregnancy they’re good for.

Photo: Amy Blackwell

Supported Side Angle

A supported side angle can be a great way to stretch and strengthen the obliques on the side of the abdomen. Sciacca says this pregnancy ab workout can be done during all trimesters—and even daily—as long as you have the energy and feel well supported during the exercise. “Determine how you’re feeling,” she says. “Monitor day to day how you’re experiencing changes in your body. My motto is less is more while pregnant.”

How to do it:

  1. Make a Warrior II shape with your legs
  2. Put an exercise ball underneath your pelvis
  3. Bring your right forearm to your right, bent front leg
  4. Hold your belly with your right hand and cradle it so it feels supported
  5. Bring your left arm up towards the ceiling (if it’s comfortable) and hold for five breaths
  6. Repeat the exercise on the other side
Photo: Amy Blackwell

Core Breathing

Butler believes learning how to use your breath with every exercise and movement is a great tool that will help you throughout your pregnancy and during labor. “Really focus on the diaphragm expanding and involve your pelvic floor,” she says. “Your breath and your pelvic floor muscles are what you’ll need during labor.” You can do this exercise two to three times a week throughout your pregnancy, as long as you feel comfortable doing it.

How to do it:

  1. Sit down on the edge of a chair
  2. Inhale through your nose and let your diaphragm and belly fill with air
  3. Exhale through pursed lips; as you exhale, pull your belly in as to hug baby in toward you
  4. Place your hands on the sides of your belly to feel this happening
  5. Repeat for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, depending on your fitness and comfort level
Photo: Amy Blackwell

Seated Spinal Circles

Think of your upper body as a spoon in a pot during this exercise. Sciacca cautions against moving quickly, since that could lead to crunching your belly. Instead, she says to focus on creating space. As long as this ab workout doesn’t spark any discomfort or pain, you can do it during all trimesters, on the daily if you choose.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on an exercise ball with your hands at the tops of your thighs above the knees
  2. Make really slow circles with your pelvis and spine
  3. Do this five times in one direction, then another five in the other direction
Photo: Amy Blackwell

Kneeling Side Plank Lifts

This is one of Butler’s favorite pregnancy ab workouts, especially because it’s low-impact. You can complete the exercise two to three times a week during all trimesters, as long as you feel comfortable.

How to do it:

  1. Lie down on your side with your forearm against the floor; you should be propped up as if you were about to go into a forearm side plank, with your shoulder directly over your supporting elbow
  2. Your knees should be bent and your feet should be behind you and in line with your hips
  3. Inhale in this position
  4. Exhale as you push your hips up and forward to create a straight line from shoulder to hip to knee; think about wrapping your abdominal muscles in toward you, as if you were wearing a girdle
  5. Inhale as you lower; repeat for 30 seconds, depending on your fitness and comfort level
  6. Repeat for 30 seconds on the other side
Photo: Amy Blackwell

Cat/Cows

While doing this pregnancy ab workout, it’s imperative that you listen to your body. “Don’t push your body too far, and be mindful of your front abdominal wall,” Sciacca says. “If you feel a ripping or pulling sensation, stop immediately.” As long as there isn’t too much pressure across the front line of your belly and you still feel comfortable in your body, you can do this exercise during all trimesters, daily if you have the energy.

How to do it:

  1. Come down onto all fours
  2. Inhale and slowly arch your back and lift your head up so you’re looking at the ceiling; this is cow
  3. From here, exhale and slowly round your spine—without crunching your belly—and bring your head down so you’re looking at the floor in front of you; this is cat
  4. Repeat this motion five to 10 times, as long as you feel comfortable
Photo: Amy Blackwell

Modified Plank

As long as you’re comfortable doing them, planks are awesome ab exercises for pregnancy, as they build and maintain core strength. Butler gives two variations of the traditional plank: a modified plank on the knees and an incline plank, both of which are safe to do for all trimesters as long as you feel comfortable. You can do this pregnancy ab workout two to three times a week.

How to do a plank on your knees:

  1. Hold a plank on your elbows and forearms
  2. Rest your knees on the mat
  3. Stay lifted through your torso and breathe
  4. Hold for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, depending on your fitness and comfort level

How to do an incline plank:

  1. Place your hands on a stable, sturdy surface (like the edge of a couch)
  2. Hold yourself in a high plank position, with your legs extended back behind you
  3. Squeeze your glutes and breathe
  4. Hold for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, depending on your fitness and comfort level
Photo: Amy Blackwell

Bird Dogs

According to both Butler and Sciacca, bird dogs are a great way to work on stability and increase core strength during pregnancy. You can do this pregnancy core exercise two to three times a week in any trimester, as long as it’s still comfortable for you.

How to do it:

  1. Come down onto all fours, with your shoulders stacked over wrists and your hips over your knees
  2. Take a big inhale through your nose
  3. As you exhale, extend your right arm out in front of you as you extend your left leg back behind you, keeping a neutral spine
  4. Hold for one count, and then return to the starting position
  5. Repeat on the other side
  6. You can do this exercise for about 30 to 60 seconds, depending on your fitness and comfort level
Photo: Amy Blackwell

Farmer’s Carry

This is one of Butler’s favorite ab exercises for pregnancy, since it’s a great way to train for everyday life as a mom. “There are so many things in a new mom’s life that pull you into a sideways bend, whether you’re picking up the baby, the car seat or the diaper bag,” she says. “It’s important to train your body to resist the pull and protect your core muscles.” This pregnancy ab workout is best for the first and second trimesters, as long as you feel comfortable doing it—just make sure the weight you pick isn’t too heavy (it should be under 25 pounds.) If your fitness and comfort levels allow, you can do this move two to three times a week.

How to do it:

  1. Pick up a heavy object in one hand (like a dumbbell, kettlebell or a heavy bag) and carry it as you walk around
  2. The key here is to resist being pulled sideways by the weight; this is what will target your deep core muscles
  3. Continue the exercise for 30 to 60 seconds

Aaptiv provides the guidance, motivation and tools everyone needs to achieve their personal health goals—all in one app. Aaptiv members get unlimited access to structured training programs, thousands of expert-led workout classes, a supportive community and a daily custom health plan created by Aaptiv Coach. With 30 new classes added each week, there’s a workout for every interest and fitness level. Work out when, how and where you want by downloading Aaptiv here.

Published June 2019

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