As we discussed in Prenatal Core Training: Start Here, proper core training can be the key to fewer pregnancy pains, an easier delivery, faster recovery, and even an improved growth environment for your baby. However, the keyword here is “proper.” This post discusses some of the best core exercises (during and after pregnancy). These are movements that target the deep core muscles — the most critical muscles to focus on during this time.
The Most Important Moves to Master FIRST
Before performing any of the exercises below, it’s important to read Prenatal Core Training: Start Here and Training the “Floor of Your Core.” These posts discuss the critical Core Canister muscles, and the role they play during pregnancy. They also explain the most fundamental moves to master FIRST: 360º Breathing and Pelvic Floor Activations. We’ve recapped these below as a refresher.
1. 360º Breathing: This movement forms the foundation for every movement you do from here on out. Master it first, then begin incorporating it into ALL your movements during your workout (including all the exercises below), and throughout your day as well. WATCH VIDEO.
2. Pelvic Floor Activations: Once you’ve mastered 360º Breathing, move onto these important pelvic floor exercises. The great part about them is they can be done almost anywhere throughout your day. It’s also a good idea to incorporate them at the beginning of your workout, or during breaks. WATCH VIDEO.
Once you’ve mastered the fundamental moves above, here are some other great movements to add into your routine.
3. 360º 2-Step Exhales: This takes the traditional 360º Breathing and places more emphasis on the exhale to really increase the TVA engagement. This can also be a helpful technique for women with diastasis recti or very weak deep core muscles. WATCH VIDEO.
4. 360º Breathing in Quadruped: As preparation for the movements below, practice your 360º Breathing in the quadruped (all 4s hands and knees position). This downward facing position forces you to work against gravity, so it increases the challenge from a seated position.
5. Quadruped Hip Extension: Once you’re able to perform 360º Breathing in quadruped, then try extending one leg behind you and bringing it back in on the exhale — being careful to keep your spine neutral and not let your lower back arch when you extend your leg. Pay close attention to the breathing in this video. The entire movement is done on the exhale. WATCH VIDEO.
- To increase the challenge, you can hold the leg out in extension for a few breath cycles. This requires you to hold the strong core engagement while you continue to breathe lightly.
6. Bird Dog: Once you’ve mastered #5 above, you can add difficulty by extending the opposite arm in front of you as well (making sure your spine stays neutral). Again, pay attention to the breathing. This all happens on the exhale to ensure proper core engagement. WATCH VIDEO.
- To increase the challenge, you can hold the arm and leg out in extension for a few breath cycles. Again, this requires you to be able to maintain the core engagement in this extended position while you continue to breathe.
7. Diagonal Bird Dog: From the Bird Dog position, extend arm and leg out on diagonal — all on the same exhale — without losing the core engagement, or letting your lower back arch. WATCH VIDEO.
- To increase the challenge, you can do a few repetitions alternating between Bird Dog and Diagonal Bird Dog. So, inhale to start then exhale and extend out to Diagonal Bird Dog, inhale and come back to straight Bird Dog, exhale extend out to diagonal, inhale come back to straight, exhale extend to diagonal, etc. This is quite challenging to perform while maintaining proper core engagement, so start with just 2 breath cycles and work your way up.
8. Kneeling Side Plank Lifts: Begin on your side with your shoulder directly over your supporting elbow, your knees bent, and your feet in line with your hips. Inhale before you begin, then perform a strong exhale as you push your hips up and forward — creating a straight line from shoulder-hip-knee and feeling a deep wrapping in your abdominal muscles (like closing a girdle). Inhale as you lower, and repeat. WATCH VIDEO.
- To increase the challenge, you can hold the plank position for a few breath cycles, making sure to maintain core engagement the entire time. Always watch for “bulging” in the abdomen. This is a sign the movement is too challenging and needs to be regressed.
9. Carries: Last but certainly NOT least! Carries are one of our favorite core exercises because they not only target the deep core muscles, but also train you for real life as a new mom. This movement involves picking up a heavy object in one hand (like a dumb bell, kettlebell, or heavy bag) and carrying it as you walk — resisting being pulled sideways by its weight. This is what targets your deep core muscles. That heavy object wants to pull you into a sideways bend (a no-no during pregnancy), but you have to utilize your deep core muscles to resist that pull and maintain neutral alignment. This movement is great training for everyday life because so many things in a new mom’s life (baby, car seat, diaper bag) attempt to pull you into this sideways bend, and it’s important to train your body to resist these to protect your core muscles. WATCH VIDEO.
- To increase the challenge, try holding the object racked (at your chest) or extending your arm overhead. You can also hold this object while performing moves like squats or lunges. Simply holding a weight in one hand turns your lower body exercise into a GREAT core exercise too!