How to Build a Strong Core during Pregnancy
Pregnancy is an especially important time to strengthen and support the core, but probably not in the ways that traditionally come to mind. Appropriate and proper core training during pregnancy typically won’t include sit-ups, crunches or lots of planking.
When we talk about strengthening the core, we are referring not just to the abs or that six pack, but to all the stabilizers and muscles that produce movement from the shoulders to the pelvis stabilizing our spine and allow it to move optimally. (1)
Our spine flexes, extends, and rotates throughout the day, and especially during dynamic movements we need to be able to support this range of motion. Parenting a toddler while pregnant seems to be full of dynamic movement…
It’s not enough to simply strengthen the core and glutes in isolation, but real core strength and stabilization is accomplished through coordination of these muscle groups and proper breath work regulated by our nervous system. (2)
Focusing on exercises that strengthen the core muscles (again not just your abdominals!) through pregnancy supports a strong pelvic floor and reduces back and hip pain as your body shifts and changes. This can contribute to a less complicated birth and faster postpartum recovery. (3)
Breath work is actually the number one priority. Learning how to engage and relax your core, pelvic floor and diaphragm really does take practice. Take time each day to breath in 360 expansion, allowing your lower rib cage to expand and breath to descend all the way down to your tailbone and feel your pelvic floor relax. As you exhale, your pelvic floor will lift slightly. You do not need to exaggerate this movement.
Carrying too much tension in our core and pelvic floor can actually make birth and recovery more difficult. Your body has to be able to relax and contract to birth a baby. If we spend so much time building tension and never learning to relax, we will actually be weaker.
In addition to daily breath work, try adding these five functional exercises into your routine to support a strong core!
5 Exercises to Build a Strong and Functional Core During Pregnancy
Keep a long neutral spine, with shoulders stacked over wrists and knees under hips.
Move opposite arm and opposite leg in small coordinated steps as you progress forward or backward.
Goal is to make the movement slow and intentional and keep your hips, core and shoulders steady. (no waggly butts!)
Tempo Pallof Press
Start with a very light resistance band and move with your breath.
Focus on engaging glutes, lats, and obliques to resist the rotation and keep shoulders down away from your ears.
Tempo press away for 3 seconds, hold in extension for 3 seconds, and slowly return over 3 seconds.
Never done a pallof press? Check out this tutorial from Girls Gone Strong!
Dead Bugs or BIRTHFIT Functional Progression #1
Start laying down with knees, toes, and fingertips pointed toward the sky. Practice 360 breathing in the start position.
Move opposite arm and opposite leg slowly apart, as if pulling on a rubber band.
Extend only as far as you can maintain your breathing and keep your low back firmly on the ground. It’s not about getting to the ground!
If you experience dizziness or nausea laying on your back, you can do this move seated against a wall. Arms start extended in front as if you’re hugging a large yoga ball. Bring one arm up overhead as you breathe all the way down into your tailbone, keeping your back against the wall.
This is one of my favorite moves, during pregnancy and postpartum time alike. There’s nothing so awesome as pushing a bunch of weight around.
Focus on long, neutral spine keeping rib cage stacked over hip bones as you push. Breath work is key here.
Play around with the height of the push and the speed of the movement.
The weight should be manageable enough that you can keep breathing through the entire movement without creating excess intra abdominal pressure.
Kettlebell Suitcase Carry or Farmer Carry
This is the most functional movement I can think of for parenthood. Think of a suitcase carry like carrying a carseat. A farmer carry? It’s a carseat and a bag of groceries.
Hinge at the hips, keeping spine long and neutral (not rounded). Load hamstrings and glutes to lift the weight. Use that booty!
Stand tall, ribcage stacked over hip bones, shoulders down away from ears.
Walk forward, keeping arms straight and midline & hips steady.
As always, keep breathing!
Exercises you don’t see on here? Planks, kipping movements, sit-ups or crunches. Not because these are inherently bad movements but because they aren’t ideal or appropriate for most women during pregnancy!
Kollias, H., PhD, Hart, M., & Thomas, J. (2017) et al. Pre- & Postnatal Coaching Certification Manual. Coaching and Training Women Academy.
Frank, C., Kobesova, A., & Kolar, P. (2013, February). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3578435/
Clapp, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. Omaha, Neb.: Addicus Books.