I didn't know I was pregnant with my daughter until I was about 7 weeks along. I had been recovering from a concussion, prior to the revelation, which meant my workout regiment included: not doing anything, resting, or very, very low-impact exercise. Needless to say, "fit" was not where I was. Discovering I was pregnant pushed me to change. I wanted to get back in shape and I didn't want to stop there. I wanted to play volleyball through my entire pregnancy.
Let me preface this by saying I was in the best shape of my life leading up to the concussion. I had returned from tryouts to play professionally in Europe (which I participated in despite a sprained ankle, story of my life). Even though 2 months had gone by and I was extremely limited, I was still in relatively good shape. I was very aware of what my limits were, when and how to push myself, and the warning signs that would come from my body to keep my growing baby safe.
That being said, the key to working out during and after pregnancy is to listen to your body. If you are coming from a place where you don't run on a regular basis, I would not suggest beginning your exercise routine by trying to run more than 10+ miles a week while you are pregnant. Start slow and build up. However, if you already have an exercise routine, simply check with your doctor to make sure it's safe for the duration of your pregnancy.
Below is a list of abs that are safe to do for every trimester. I also included a bonus "fourth trimester", what most doctors call your three month postpartum period, to help you recover and get back on your feet faster.
First Trimester Abs: Choose Your Favorites
During the first trimester, any and all abs are allowed as long as your doctor also agrees. I had a friend who had such strong abs that it was going to crush the baby, so she was restricted from exercise after she reached about 6 weeks. I cannot stress enough how important it is to check with you doctor before doing any physical activity.
For the First Trimester I have included 3 ab exercises that will most benefit you in the long run and help prevent diastasis recti. These are merely a guide for you. Chances are you may not be feeling too hot as you deal with all the new hormones, so make whatever workouts you do fun and enjoyable. What are you favorite ab exercises?
1) Flutter Kicks
Laying on your back, lift both feet 6 inches off the ground. Alternate bringing one leg about a foot higher than the other. Continue for 30 seconds or for 40 kicks each side. This exercise will work your lower abs.
The Plank will work your entire core, including your back and hip muscles, which are going to experience a lot of strain as the pregnancy goes on. Keep your hips level with the rest of your body as you do this and hold for 30 seconds.
3) Superman Hold
Laying on your stomach, lift both arms and feet off the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. This exercise will work your middle and lower back .
Second Trimester: Stay Off Your Back!
Doctors recommend that you stay off your back when you reach about 20 weeks, because the pressure from the baby can cut off the main blood supply to it. Up until 20 weeks you can do the exercises listed above, but after 20 weeks you should stay off your back and at this point your stomach as well (if it is uncomfortable). For the 2nd Trimester I have included 3 ab exercises that are safe and effective for you and your growing baby.
This exercise will loosen your hips and back from tight muscles. Start on your hands and knees with your back flat. Contract your abs and round your back toward the ceiling. Return to neutral. Then tilt your hips toward the floor and return to neutral. Repeat 20 times.
2) Standing Bicycle Crunch
This muscle will work your obliques, as well as your upper and lower abs. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, take your right knee and touch it to your left elbow. Alternate sides for 20 times on each side.
3) Glute Bridge
Your glutes are an important part of your core. This will help keep your hips in line with your body and take some of the pressure off of them. Laying on your back, feet shoulder width apart, bring your hips up as far as you can. Hold for 30 seconds. *After 20 weeks do this exercise by resting your upper back on a yoga ball or something to prop you up. When you lift your hips, your head should still be above your hips and that's OKAY.
Third Trimester: Better to Stay on Your Feet!
By this point, if you haven't been put on bed rest, the majority of your exercises will be conducted sitting or standing. Any type of crunching or bearing down motion will be advised against since it puts more pressure on your stomach and could cause a greater gap. I would also advise against any exercises you do from your hands and knees that let your stomach hang, because it also puts more pressure on splitting your abs. Use discretion here: if your stomach isn't that big, then go for it with your doctor's permission. I had a smaller stomach until about 8 months, so I actually stopped doing anything on my hands and knees right about the 8 month mark. For the Third Trimester I have included 3 ab exercises that will keep you safe and help prepare you for childbirth.
1)Pelvic Tilts (You can do this inclined, sitting, or standing. The motion is the same!
This exercise will loosen your hips and lower back while working your inner most abs - something that will come in handy for childbirth and recovery. Sitting with your back against the back of the chair, turn your hips up toward your head, which will make your back flatten out against the chair. Return back to neutral, where you may have a small space between the small of your back and the chair (that's perfectly natural). Tilt your hips toward your feet, which creates a larger gap than in neutral. Repeat for 20 times of each.
2) Side Plank (Left and Right)
This exercise will work your obliques and help close the gap from diastasis recti. Starting on your side, come up onto your elbow. Your feet should be staggered. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
3) Standing Side Crunch
This exercise will also work your obliques. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, touch your right elbow to your right knee. Alternate sides for 20 on each side.
Fourth Trimester: After Birth and Recovery
My body frame was small and my stomach grew pretty large by the end of my pregnancy, so my diastasis recti ended up being about 2-3 inches all the way up and down my stomach. From this (and having to recover in awkward positions with a newborn), I had pelvic pain and lower back pain to go along with it. I knew my body well, so I began doing a few simple exercises before my 6 week appointment. I started about a week after birth when my body started feeling better. Talk to your doctor about what you are allowed to do immediately after birth. I would suggest waiting until you and your doctor have a plan before doing any type of physical activity. These 3 exercises will be good for whenever you do start getting back into the swing of things.
1) Reverse Toe Taps
This will work your lower abs and inner most abs and help repair diastasis recti, pelvic pain, and lower back pain. Laying on your back with your feet on the ground and knees bent, bring one knee up to 90 degrees. While you do this, your back should stay firm against the ground. Alternate for 10 times on each side to start.
2) Core Braces
You can do this from any position you'd like. With your back firm, contract your abs to make them hard. Hold for 5 seconds. Release for 1 second. Repeat for 20 times. This works your inner most abs.
3) Modified Bird-Dog
This works your entire core. Begin on your hands and knees. Lift one arm up to shoulder length while keeping your core tight and back flat. Alternate for 20 on each side.
These are just mere options of what you can do while you are pregnant and recovering! Having strong abs will help you have a speedy childbirth and recovery. Remember, always consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine, including abs. And try your best to have fun and enjoy yourself. Your time is too precious to do anything but.
As always, if you have any questions or would like a more in-depth personalize exercise program, you can contact me at Cr3ation.Fitness@gmail.com