It might seem quite obvious that when you have a growing pregnant belly, there must surely be core exercises that should be avoided. In this piece, however, we want to help you understand why at a deeper level so that you can easily determine what types of movements should be avoided as you progress through pregnancy (instead of attempting to memorize a list of DOs and DON’Ts).
Let’s first take a look at what happens to your core during pregnancy, and then we will discuss what this means for your core work.
What Happens to Your Core During Pregnancy
Take a look at the diagram below of the abdominal muscles below. The left image shows a non-pregnant individual. Here, you can see there is a tissue that runs down the midline of the body connecting the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis muscle. This tissue is called the linea alba. During pregnancy, consistent and excessive intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) from the growing belly stretches the linea alba (as you see in the image on the right), which thins and weakens it. When this happens, the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis (“6-pack”) muscle begin to drift further apart, like you see in the image on the right.
This “wider than usual” separation between the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis muscle is known as Diastasis Recti (or “DR”). Diastasis refers to separation. Recti refers to the rectus abdominis muscle. It is important to note that some degree of DR is a normal and necessary part of pregnancy. Your body was designed to do this.
That said, it is important to avoid activities and behaviors that further elevate intra-abdominal pressure, or place even greater pressure on the linea alba tissue, as this could exacerbate DR and make it become more problematic in the postpartum period. Below are a few examples of types of movements that should be regressed, or avoided, as pregnancy progresses.
How to Determine if a Core Exercise Should be Avoided
While there are some general guidelines by trimester, there is a lot of variability by individual based on differences in belly size, core strength, and other factors. One tool to use to determine if a core exercise is appropriate for YOU is to look for a torpedo-like protrusion in your belly during any movement that engages the abdominal muscles, as is shown in the images below.
The presence of coning during a movement simply means that the intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) created by that movement exceeded the capacity of your core muscles. It does not mean you will never be able to do the movement again. It simply means that it’s not appropriate for your body at this time. Therefore, if you see it, simply stop that movement and regress until you no longer see the coning.
Get Detailed Guidance by Trimester
For detailed guidance on what core exercises — and other activities, behaviors, and movements — should be regressed or avoided at various stages of pregnancy, grab our Movements to Avoid by Trimester Guide below.
In this guide, you’ll learn what moves to avoid or regress at each stage of pregnancy — with evidence-based information as to why — to help you mitigate injury and recover faster. You’ll also find a summary chart so you have all the information at your fingertips.
Looking for Core-Safe Workouts During Pregnancy?
For safe and effective prenatal workouts that prepare your body for the stresses of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period — and position you for a faster recovery, explore our prenatal training programs and services.
Or, if you are a health and fitness professional interested in learning more about coaching pre & postnatal clients, explore our pre/postnatal professional education.