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Pre & Postnatal Core Exercises to Avoid

As we discussed in The #1 Most Effective Core Exercise, proper core training can be the key to preventing pregnancy pains, facilitating an easier labor, and expediting your postpartum recovery.  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.

Similar Guidance for Pre & Postnatal

Before we get into what to avoid, it’s important to note that the guidance we provide applies to both pregnancy (when you have a larger belly) and early postpartum (when your core is still healing). This is because the objectives for both stages are the same — avoid creating excess intra-abdominal pressure. 

To explain what this means, take a look at the diagram below. All your abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis) connect at the midline of your body. They are connected by a tissue called the linea alba. The linea alba has a consistency like “silly putty.” It’s strong, but flexible.

If consistent and excessive outward pressure is placed on that tissue (like from a growing belly during pregnancy), then it eventually thins and stretches so much that its consistency becomes more like cellophane, and it can no longer act as effectively as a connective tissue. When this happens, the outermost muscle layer – your rectus abdominis (or “6-pack muscle”) – begins to drift apart, as shown in the image on the right below.  This condition is known as Diastasis Recti (DR).  A certain amount of DR is natural during pregnancy due to the growing belly, but we want to avoid those movements that add even MORE pressure (beyond that caused by your growing belly), as that could worsen DR and make it more problematic in the postpartum period.

After pregnancy, it’s also very important to avoid excess intra-abdominal pressure because the linea alba is working to heal itself. Just like skin or bone, your linea alba can heal itself, but it must be put in a lax position (free from excess stress), which happens when your body is in neutral alignment. So, just like in pregnancy, we must avoid creating excess intra-abdominal pressure that would further stress this tissue and hinder its ability to heal itself.

So, that’s our objective: Avoid creating excess intra-abdominal pressure. Now, how do we do that? Let’s get into what to avoid.

Moves to Avoid (or Regress)

If you prefer to consume this content via video, watch the video below which explains the key moves to avoid and why.

Let’s summarize what you just heard to avoid.

1. Spinal Flexion: Movements that cause rounding of the spine (like the obvious sit-ups and crunches), along with the image below of the woman sitting with her hands under her knees in a spinal flexed position.

2. Spinal extension: Movements in the opposite direction pulling the spine into extension, like back-bends or the full upward dog position in yoga shown below.

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 disassociation of hips and shoulders: Recall from the video, rotation with hips and shoulders aligned is GOOD. What we want to avoid is rotation with disassociation of hips and shoulders (or twisting). This is what places added stress on the linea alba.

5. Regress Full and Side 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 you develop 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 performing them on an incline and side planks on your knees, as shown below.

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 a great deal of 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


A Tell-Tale Sign a Move is Not Appropriate for You

At this point, your head might be spinning with several other questionable moves you’re not sure are safe or not. The answers to what is definitively safe or not safe will vary by individual (their belly size, conditions, degree of core awareness and strength, etc). That’s why at the end of the video, we provided you a tool you can always use to determine if an exercise is inappropriate for YOUR body. 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. If you see it, don’t panic. Just stop the movement, and regress.

Learn The Most Effective Core Exercises

Now that you’ve learned what to avoid, what about what to focus on?  We offer Pre & Postnatal Self-Guided Training Programs to help you build your core strength in the most effective way during pregnancy (to mitigate issues with Diastasis Recti) and effectively rebuild your core in the postpartum period. Want more personalized support? Consider working with one of our PROnatal Personal Trainers — all of whom specialize in pre/postnatal core training and Diastasis Recti.

Finally, if you are a fitness professional interested in working pre or postnatal clients in a personal training setting, or wanting guidance for pre & postnatal clients who attend your group fitness classes, explore our pre/postnatal professional education.