Ab Workouts and Keeping Fit in Pregnancy
If you’re a newly expectant mum and you love keeping fit and active, it can be hard not to worry that you’re going to lose out on your beloved exercise routine. Your body is of course about to go through a lot of changes, but that doesn’t mean your fitness and exercise regime needs to be completely abandoned.
In fact, keeping active throughout your pregnancy is important and beneficial to both you and your baby – it’s just a matter of learning how to adjust your regular exercises into a more pregnancy-friendly routine.
Pregnancy workouts can help strengthen your muscles and increase your energy, preparing your body for the changes it’s about to go through and enabling you to enjoy this beautiful, magical process.
It is important to learn the safety guidelines around working out during your pregnancy, and you should always check with your doctor before starting out on any new exercise routine whilst expecting. However, many of the common ailments associated with pregnancy – back aches, swollen ankles, trouble sleeping, bloating and constipation – can actually be alleviated with the right exercises, rather than confining you to the bed or sofa for 9 months.
And of course, we all know that regular exercise boosts our endorphins and improves our overall mood and stress levels. Pregnancy can be stressful enough, so you don’t want to lose your happy and energising me-time by skipping out on exercise. The right routine can help you be prepared for a smoother birth, quicker postpartum recovery and can provide endless health benefits for your baby.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important aspects of core ab exercises my clients love, and how to adapt them for safe practice during pregnancy.
Ab Workouts During Pregnancy – Are They Safe?
Being pregnant is a magical and exciting time, and it is a wonder to see your body adapting and changing as it creates a whole new person. But of course, it can be worrying for any newly expectant mum to see her body go through such changes – and it’s important to understand how you can strengthen your body during this time, in ways that won’t go against the natural shifts and processes of your pregnancy.
Many women ask me if it’s safe to continue with their ab exercises during pregnancy – of course, it’s one of the areas that’s going to change the most, which can be very daunting for mums-to-be, and people want to know how best to prepare for it and help ensure a smoother recovery afterwards.
The ab muscles stretch and shift significantly during pregnancy to adjust to your baby’s growth and development. This means that extra care should be taken to keep your muscles strong and healthy, but also not fight against the natural changes they are about to go through.
As always, we suggest consulting with your doctor before embarking on your pregnancy exercise routine – how often you should be working out, the level of intensity and the exercises themselves. But it’s certainly possible – even advisable – to keep a regular ab workout schedule while pregnant.
Maintaining and strengthening your abs during your pregnancy can help protect you against back pain, something many women can suffer in those later months of pregnancy. It also stands you in good stead for the birthing process, preparing your body for a faster and smoother labour, delivery and recovery overall.
Ab Workouts in the First Trimester
The first trimester is a time to think about the sorts of exercises to prepare your body for the changes that are to come. Muscle strengthening exercises are particularly relevant, though of course check first with your doctor that it’s safe for you to begin.
Ab workouts during the first trimester should be kept straightforward, avoiding too much overstretching and twisting. It’s good to focus on your entire body core, rather than just the abs specifically. This will help your body and stomach muscles prepare for the extra strain and weight that will come as the baby grows.
Here are some of the best exercises to include in your routine during this time:
- Standing squats: keeping your back straight and upright, bend your knees to lower yourself towards the ground. Slowly rise up again, all while keeping your back as straight as possible.
- Leg raises: lie flat on your back and lift your legs up into the air, one at a time. You can also try bringing both knees up to your chest and holding them there.
- Wall raises: lean upright against the wall and bring your knee up to your chest. Hold for a few moments and slowly bring it down again, before repeating with the other leg.
- Side raise: lie on your side and lift your hips up into the air, pressing your feet into the ground and trying to keep your body straight. Hold for a few seconds, before lowering yourself back down. Switch to the other side and repeat.
- Plank exercises: place your hands/forearms on the mat, and keeping your feet on the ground, hold your body in a raised, straight position. Try to hold this for 30-60 seconds.
- Bridge exercises: lie on your back, and push your hips and lower back upwards off the floor mat.
Ab Changes During Pregnancy
Of course, your stomach and abdominal area sees some of the most significant changes to your body during pregnancy. But for some women this is even more pronounced and can often be quite alarming, thanks to a condition known as diastasis recti. This is when your ab muscles separate from each other as your body expands, leaving a gap in between your muscles.
Diastasis recti happens to about half of all pregnant women, and can be noticed by a prominent line standing out from your breastbone to the middle of the stomach. It is normally noticed by around the 12th week – it’s nothing to worry about, and normally heals on its own after birth, but it can be uncomfortable and a bit alarming.
If you notice signs of diastasis recti around this time, keep an eye on the size of the gap – if it’s more than three fingers wide, try to avoid exercises such as crunches or sit-ups, or anything that will put extra strain on the ab area.
Lying on Your Back During Pregnancy
Another thing to be aware of during pregnancy is whether it’s safe to keep lying on your back or not. During the first trimester, it is generally fine to continue your lying-down workouts, but it’s something to be careful with as your pregnancy develops. If you start to feel dizzy or notice your baby’s heart rate changing, change your position to lying on your side.
In your second and third trimester, it’s not advised to lie flat on your back as the weight of your bump can put pressure on the inferior vena cava, the large vein that takes blood to your heart. As your pregnancy progresses, consult with your doctor as to when you should make this shift in your workouts – as it’s different for each woman’s pregnancy journey.
Muscles to Focus on During Pregnancy
Though it’s important to know which areas to avoid putting too much strain on during your pregnancy, there are also areas that can benefit from strengthening exercises throughout.
During all three trimesters, the muscles you should be focusing on are the transverse abdominals. These are your deep abdominal muscles, and the stronger they are, the better support you’ll have for your growing bump, helping to avoid lower back pain and speed up your postpartum recovery time.
The muscles that bear the brunt of your body’s pregnancy journey are your abs and core. When you hear this, you might be thinking that this is mostly your “six-pack” area – but actually, it encompasses more than that! The ab and core muscles include your upper and lower abs, glutes, obliques (along the sides of your middle) and the muscles around your spine and pelvis. These are all the areas that shift and change during pregnancy to support you as your womb expands and extra strength is needed.
Breathing exercises also play a big role here – diaphragmatic breathing focuses on your stomach and helps to strengthen your deepest core muscles. This will help you maintain good posture during your pregnancy, prevent back pain and strengthen your pelvic floor.
Resuming Ab Workouts After Birth
Returning to the gym or personal training after pregnancy is a deeply personal decision for each woman and should only take place when you feel totally ready and have cleared it with your doctor.
Following a vaginal birth, it really depends on the individual – some might feel ready after a few days, but for most women it takes quite a few weeks or months to be back to training, both physically and mentally.
If you’ve had a C-section, you’ll need to wait a few weeks for the incision to heal before you can start to think about heading back to the gym, and you’ll need the go-ahead from your doctor. Either way, it’s important that you don’t feel pressured either way – just go at your own pace and what feels right. You will naturally have an overhang around your tummy, with loose skin; which is normal, natural and should be embraced in the first few months.
If you’ve experienced diastasis recti during your pregnancy, you’ll need to wait a month or two before resuming ab workouts – particularly avoiding knee-to-chest exercises, full sit-ups or double leg lifts. Working with a qualified pregnancy fitness personal trainer is always the best option for a safe and fast recovery. But there are a few gentle exercises you can do in the meantime:
- Lying Pelvic Tilts: Lie on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. As you breathe out, pull the sides of the muscles of your midriff together with your fingers. While doing this, pull your stomach button in toward your spine.
- Standing Pelvic tilts: Stand upright and place your hands on your hips. Gently sway your pelvis backwards and forwards, while pulling your stomach in and keeping your posture as straight as possible.
Pregnancy is an exciting, beautiful time – and though it can be difficult to get used to the changes happening in your body, there’s plenty we can do to keep you healthy, happy and strong throughout the whole journey.
Staying fit and healthy during pregnancy needn’t be a worry – done right, it can help enhance the whole experience, strengthening your body and preparing it for the changes that are to come.