During pregnancy, the way you connect to and control your core engagement is what matters most.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s crucially important for women to continue to focus on their core when exercising during pregnancy. In fact, avoiding core engagement and strengthening exercises can lead to more issues later in pregnancy and postpartum.
As a society, we like to tell pregnant women all the things they are not allowed to do while they have a “baby on board.” For nine months or more, sushi, alcohol, coffee, and sleeping on your back are just a few of the things considered dangerous - even taboo. Advice is often delivered in terms of absolutes - never do this - instead of addressing the massive grey area that exists for all of these topics.
All too often, specialists prefer not to discuss the nuances of this advice for fear of confusing women. Beyond the fact that the “women are easily confused” mindset is sexist, insulting and blatantly wrong - it has created a massive gap in real, science-based information, and that gap is where fear has grown.
This grey area is where the topic of doing core or abdominal work during pregnancy exists. Instead of information about how to safely strengthen your core, many providers have chosen to just discourage all abdominal workouts with scary admonitions about causing Diastasis Recti or hurting the baby. And mama - that is simply not true.
When done correctly, core exercises during pregnancy can be game-changing. Strengthening your abs during pregnancy can help you to stabilize your pelvis, avoid back pain, and safely perform everyday maneuvers like getting out of bed or off the couch, climbing out of the car, walking up stairs, or picking up/playing with another child as your belly grows. By preventing these issues during pregnancy, you’ll make your postpartum recovery faster.
How to do safely engage your core during pregnancy
Here’s a beautiful example of how to control your deep core while doing a side plank with some banded knee drives.
This mama is utilizing one of The Bloom Method’s foundational exercises - the active core breath - in order to control her intraabdominal pressure and maintain her core engagement against the tension of performing this exercise.
In order to perform core exercises safely during pregnancy, you need to master this kind of deep core connection (this is something we teach inside Studio Bloom) in order to recruit your core in an optimal way while building the endurance and capability of your core muscles. Both the active core beath and the belly pumping technique can be applied for optimal results.
The better you understand how your core should be reacting to an exercise, the better you can prevent injuries like Diastasis Recti, address issues postpartum, and return to exercise stronger than before.
Exercise is more than simply moving. It’s about the connection to your breath, your form, and oftentimes your entire approach to (and relationship with) fitness.
Here are five tips for working your core during pregnancy.
1. Mind that bump
As your bump grows, so does the pressure within your abdomen. For this reason, it’s smart to make changes to your core routine (but not to stop altogether!) starting at around 20 weeks. Making simple shifts can be easy and help to protect and prevent damage to your core and connective tissue.
When working your core make sure you:
Lift and engage your pelvic floor milliseconds BEFORE the transverse abdominis (TVA).
Maintain core recruitment while you load the spine or build resistance against the core unit.
Notice WHERE you feel the engagement. The obliques have a tendency to over recruit during and post-pregnancy so make sure they aren’t working overtime and you maintain activation through your midline
2. Posture, Posture, Posture
Keep your ribs down (no flare), shoulders relaxed, gaze forward and FEEL for accessory muscles (glutes, inner thighs, hip flexors, etc) trying to play a role.
3. Make sure you are actually breathing
As much as we love and encourage good core engagement, breathing is equally important. Make sure that each inhale (lengthening of the core unit) is a TRUE release. When you breathe, it should be slow and controlled, lengthening down into the pelvic floor muscles.
If the exercise calls for active core breath, make sure you’re actually breathing! All too often when exertion is required, we subconsciously hold our breath. Breathing needs to be a conscious effort, especially when working the core during pregnancy. If you’re at all uncertain about your technique, you can learn the fundamentals of how to apply active core breath inside Studio Bloom, and then apply it to different kinds of workouts.
4. Focus on maintaining optimal pressure
Training the core towards the end of pregnancy isn’t about achieving that core burn or exhausting the muscles, it’s about maintaining optimal pressure. To help manage your IAP with a baby just about ready to come earthside, tap into the muscle memory that surrounds your larger torso circumference. By staying connected in a functional way to the core muscles you can continue to exercise and perform everyday tasks without fear of injury, and have an easier time pushing during birth.
5. Let the belly pump be your guide.
When you’re not loading the spine, use your belly pump and let your breath be your guide. Lengthen on the inhale and create an intentional activation on the exhale. Move slowly, never pushing or dumping the abdomen outward, and never sucking in the belly. The core is the primary mover so if you feel leg movements coming from the quads or hip flexors, reassess and tap deeper into your core recruitment.
Want to see an example? Bloom Founder Brooke Cates demonstrates how to train your core while 39.5 weeks pregnant with her son Leven:
This circuit is safe for pregnant mamas, DR, Prolapse, Incontinence, and even our Postpartum mamas reconnecting to their core unit.
Want to give it a try? Here’s a full-body workout with an emphasis on the core for pregnant mamas.
There are a lot of ways you can move during pregnancy. We want to make sure you’re following workouts that truly keep you in the clear of unnecessary injury mixed with an equal burn. So grab a set of ankle weights - our personal favorites are by Bala - and let’s sweat it out.
Perform 3 rounds of the above workout spending one and a half minutes on each exercise and making sure to bring the belly pump along for the ride.
Alternating Reverse Lunge + Weighted Knee Drive
Squat + Alternating Leg Extensions
Side Plank + Leg Circles
Alternating Spinal Balance
The more you connect to your breath and let your belly pump flow through each movement, the deeper this circuit will connect you to your core and pelvic floor!
The bottom line
Avoiding core engagement and strengthening exercises during pregnancy can lead to more issues as your belly grows, and after giving birth, as you heal postpartum. Deep core training is vital in aiding the stability of your pelvis and spine. As your baby and belly grow, the correct recruitment of your core and continued strengthening allow you to maintain optimal control with everything you do as a mama, from functional everyday tasks, to giving birth, to healing afterward.