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Core Exercises to Avoid When Pregnant

As we discussed in Core Training: Start Here, proper core training can be the key to preventing pregnancy pains, facilitating an easier labor, expediting your postpartum recovery, and even creating a healthier fetal growth environment for your little one.  However, doing the wrong things could actually increase your risk of experiencing pains or injuries like Diastasis Recti or Pelvic Floor Dysfunction.  Learn the movements you’ll want to avoid or regress during the later stages of pregnancy and early postpartum period.

What to Avoid (or Regress)

The movements below are likely to create too much intra-abdominal pressure if performed with a larger belly during pregnancy or weak deep core muscles postpartum, which could lead to core injuries like diastasis recti or pelvic floor dysfunction, so it’s best to avoid them during these times:

1. Spinal Flexion: Movements that cause rounding of the spine (like the obvious sit-ups and crunches).

This also includes seated ab work like the image below.  Many times modifications are given for this movement to hold the legs (like this woman is doing) or place a soft ball below the lower back for support, but this is still spinal flexion, as the tailbone is tucked under, and still places too much pressure on the outer abdominal wall, and therefore should be avoided.

Spinal flexion also includes slouching, like below…

…and things like bending over improperly by rounding at your spine instead of hinging at your hips and maintaining a neutral spine on the way down.

2. Spinal extension: Movements in the opposite direction from above also create excess pressure, like back-bends or even full upward dog positions in yoga.

Photo courtesy of Yoga Journal


3. Lateral Spinal Flexion: Sideways bending of the spine like these oblique bends

Photo courtesy of Skimble


4. Rotation with flexion or extension (twisting): OK this one deserves some clarification because not all rotation movements are bad.  Rotation is a fundamental movement pattern, and as humans, our bodies need to rotate.  So, let’s clarify what rotation is good, and what should be avoided.  Rotation with hips and shoulders in line (where the whole trunk moves as a unit) is GOOD.  Rotation with disassociation of hips and shoulders (think bicycles or the closed twisting pose shown in the video image below) should be AVOIDED.  Watch the video below, which explains this concept a bit more and provides some sample good and bad movements.

5. Full Planks: If performed properly (with neutral alignment and proper core activation), planks can be fine before you develop an obvious belly, and once deep core strength has been restored postpartum.  However, once a woman develops a belly, this downward facing position can create too much intra-abdominal pressure.  Therefore, when the belly is medium size (perhaps second trimester), begin to regress planks by either placing the knees on the ground like this…

Or, better yet, performing them on an incline to add in some glute activation.

Once you develop an obvious belly, it’s typically best to avoid plank-like movements altogether.  Always watch the belly for signs of “bulging” (last point) as a key indicator of whether the movement is appropriate or not.  During the postpartum period, once sufficient deep core strength is built, you can gradually work your way toward incline planks (or those on knees) and eventually full planks again.

6. Full Side Planks: Even though these do not involve direct downward facing pressure on the belly, they are still advanced core movements that create excess intra-abdominal pressure, and will therefore likely need to be regressed.  See this effective alternative below: the side lift and lower plank:

7. Advanced Back-Lying Core Exercises: Even though movements like hollow body holds (shown below), leg lifts, dead bugs (etc) do not involve spinal flexion, they do create excess intra-abdominal pressure and are therefore too much to do with a large belly (or weak deep core muscles postpartum).  Another reason to avoid these movements during pregnancy is because it’s best to avoid exercises lying flat on your back when your belly is larger to reduce the risk of restricted blood flow to the fetus.

Photo courtesy of Skimble

8. Any movement that causes “bulging” or leakage:  
If you ever perform a movement and notice a torpedo-like protrusion down the center of your abdomen (like the image below), this is a sign of diastasis recti, and a key signal the movement is not appropriate.  In the image below, the bulging you see is the woman’s abdominal contents protruding through her separation.  Similarly, if you perform a movement and you experience accidental urine leakage, this is also a sign the movement is not appropriate, as it’s indicative of a compromised pelvic floor (the “floor of your core”).

Now that you understand what NOT to do, be sure you understand what you should be doing. If you are pregnant, read Core Training: Start Here.  If you are postpartum check out our Postpartum Core Recovery.

Still unsure you’re doing the right things? Try working with one of our expert personal trainers.