Core Muscle Exercises in pregnancy
A very common question among pregnant women is 'How do I keep my core muscles strong during pregnancy?'
Firstly – what is The Core?
To a Women's Health and Continence Physiotherapist like myself, 'The Core' is a term to describe the supporting muscles deep inside the trunk, the Pelvic Floor (PF) Muscles and the Transverse Abdominis (TA) Muscle.
Despite popular belief, your six pack muscle (more correctly termed the Rectus Abdominis or RA) is not technically your core. Neither are the two layers of obliques underneath this. Think about the core of an apple - is it simply everything between the top and the bottom of the apple? No - it's the inner, deeper part. It's the same with our abdomen.
The outer muscles are 'power' muscles, and help to move your trunk. While very important, they do not have as much of a supportive function as the PF and TA. In fact, while the PF and TA muscles have an upward, inward motion when contracting correctly, the RA and obliques can create a downward force in the abdomen if used incorrectly and can contribute to common gynecological issues.
The upward and inward action of the Core, and having optimal support in these muscles, is very important for you in pregnancy and beyond. Having a well-functioning PF, which is assisted by the TA, prevents the pelvic organs from descending (known as pelvic organ prolapse), prevents your bladder and bowel from leaking (called incontinence) and helps to support the lower part of your spine and the pelvis. Having Core muscles that are able to be correctly contracted, and just as importantly relaxed, will help you to get through your pregnancy with no pain or dysfunction in the pelvic area.
How do I exercise the Core in pregnancy?
Exercising the six pack muscle while it is stretched and separated in the midline during pregnancy is not recommended. However, this doesn't mean that you cannot use the abdominal muscles at all, it just means that you need to learn how to focus your exercises on the deeper abdominal muscles and the PF.
How do I know if I'm doing Core exercises incorrectly in pregnancy?
Pelvic floor muscle exercises are done by squeezing and lifting this sling of muscles inwards and upwards, as if stopping wee or wind, or lifting a tampon inside you, and TA exercises are done by gently drawing the lower tummy in like doing up a low button on a pair of jeans.
There is no one size fits all training program for the PF and TA muscles, and many women are inadvertently contracting the core in the wrong way if they only learn from a brochure. it is essential for this to be individually assessed and an individualized program to be put in place. However, once you have established that you are correctly activating these muscles, it would be ideal to implement some exercises involving the PF and TA muscles into a regular workout.
Some examples of modified pilates exercises that target the Core during pregnancy:
These exercises should be correctly taught in person, but as an example, you could try swapping sit ups, planks and pull ups for more pregnancy-friendly core exercise options:
- Sitting ball leg lifts
- Four-point kneeling opposite arm and leg lifts
- Modified side plank exercises
- Standing straight arm theraband pulls
Have a go of the exercise routine shown in this clip - Engage PF and TA, extend single leg, lower it, relax. If you can feel the core muscles contract and relax each time, try 5 or so of each on each leg, and have a go at the progressions shown, with or without theraband:
- Push one arm forward as you lift/extend the opposite leg
- Push arm forward and twist to look over the opposite shoulder as you lift/extend the opposite leg
- Add in extending the back arm straight behind you.
This and other pregnancy-friendly core muscle exercise options can be found on the FitRight social media accounts by searching for #frweekendworkouts. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook at the below links for regular exercise and education tips for pregnancy and beyond:
How do I learn more about Core muscle exercise in pregnancy?
The best way to implement Core muscle training into your pregnancy exercise regime is under the direct guidance of a specialist physiotherapist. FitRight Bump&Me exercise classes provide pilates and low level resistance training for all stages of pregnancy - click here for more information about these safe, rebatable courses.
If you would like to learn more about safe exercise during and after pregnancy, and have a pelvic floor muscle assessment with a specialist physiotherapist, come and join us for one of our upcoming PregEd workshops.