Prenatal Core Work You Should Be Doing Daily
Want a stronger core? This tip is really for everyone but is especially important for the prenatal ladies out there. There's a lot of confusion about what core work is safe for pregnancy and what is not, so read on for the one thing you should be doing daily.
The real answer about core work during pregnancy, frustratingly, is not black and white. Every pregnancy is different and you'll need to check with your doctor about your exercise routine in general. Plus, every woman is at her own unique fitness level with her own unique medical history. That's why your doctor can help you navigate exercise while pregnant.
Another reason it's not a clear-cut answer is that core work in the first trimester looks a lot different than core work in the third trimester due to the body changing, and that's a whole different blog post. But here's one important tip for you, now, whether you're pregnant or not.
If you want a stronger core, try more transverse abdominis and pelvic floor activation…
Finding The Transverse Abdominis:
First, a quick word on the transverse abdominis (TVA). This is the front, deep part of your abs. We all have them. We may just need a little help finding them.
These aren't the vanity muscles that you might be thinking of if 6-pack abs come to mind. No, the TVA is deeper.
The TVA is a stabilizer. To find the TVA, try engaging your core like you’re zipping up tight pants. Or think of it this way: bracing your core like someone is about to punch you in the stomach. Or, pulling your belly button inward and toward your spine.
A great thing about learning to engage this core muscle is that you can do it anytime, anywhere— but you have to practice to find the correct engagement. Before you know it, it will become second nature.
I know what you're thinking: If it's not part of my 6-pack ab goals, then why does it matter?
It matters because the TVA helps to stabilize and support your back and can go a long way towards preventing back pain and keeping your back healthy.
You need the TVA engaged while you work out— whether you’re lifting weights, doing bodyweight exercises, using the TRX (like me in the above photo), pilates, yoga, or any other kind of exercise.
Do you know why else a strong TVA is so important for everyone? You also need a strong TVA for comfortably doing activities of daily living like yard work, housework, lifting your kid, unloading groceries, or hauling a full laundry basket around your house. That might seem small, but tons of back injuries happen while doing mundane things.
Finding The Pelvic Floor:
Remember when I said about the TVA:,"We all have them. We may just need a little help finding them."?
The same goes for the PF muscles. For whatever reason, this muscle group is taboo for some people to hear about. Many people think that only women have a pelvic floor, or that you don't need to worry about it unless you're having incontinence issues. But this simply isn't true. Females and males— we all have PF muscles. Furthermore, the PF is— for many people— the missing component to a strong core.
If you think of your core as a box, the PF muscles are the bottom of that box. For men and women. If you tried to pick up a heavy box that had a weak or compromised bottom, what would happen? In the same way, you need a strong PF if you want real core strength and stability.
To find the PF, understand that it's basically the same thing as doing a Kegel. If you don't know what that is, activate the muscles you'd use to stop the flow of urine. Think of elevating or lifting the PF.
Just like the TVA, it just takes a little practice, but do understand that these are two different muscle groups, so learn to activate each on their own.
Prenatal Core Work You Should Be Doing Daily:
Now that you can identify those 2 muscle groups, here's the work you need to incorporate daily, especially for prenatal (or postpartum) ladies:
Practice activating the PF and the TVA at the same time while you exhale. That's it.
This will help you to stay strong during pregnancy or to gain strength back after pregnancy. It's also helpful for literally anyone! Need a little guidance on how to do this? Here's how...
•Take a deep breath in and expand the ribcage in all directions.
•Right before you exhale, engage and lift the pelvic floor up. Then pull the TVA in towards your spine.
•Exhale to help you activate both areas.
•Release the activation when your exhale is complete.
•Inhale and start all over.
•Start by doing 3 sets of 10 a day, and work up to doing 6 sets of 10 a day.
This simple breathing technique and TVA/PF strengthening exercise can go a lonnnnng way toward preventing or helping achy hips or an achy low back, and toward preparing you to be strong for labor, delivery, and (hopefully!) an easier recovery. Don’t wait to start this— try to do several sets of 10 every single day of your pregnancy. You have no excuse since you can do these anytime and anywhere.
Hmm. Sounds Too Easy. Does This Really Work?
I can't tell you how many times I saw shocked faces when I said "Yes, I still do core work while pregnant." And though my core work changed greatly from the first trimester to the second trimester to the third trimester, this one drill remained.
Truth be told, before my pregnancy, I didn't really think of this as exercise or work at all. I was used to doing TRX crunches and leg raises, so this seemed like a waste of time for real-deal core development. As a yoga instructor, these concepts are second nature to me, and I took them for granted. But I can honestly say that I'm amazed at how effective it's been and at how strong my core has remained, even now at 37 weeks pregnant when I can't do much other core work. I've been lucky and have avoided the back and hip pain that most pregnant women are plagued by, and I attribute that to keeping my core strong and staying active. It's made my pregnancy much more comfortable and I've been able to (physically) enjoy it a lot more than I thought possible.
So, don't be like me and roll your eyes at this exercise and breathing technique. Take it seriously and do it daily.
One final note for you. Remember that your body is changing a lot, so it makes sense that some things will change over the course of your pregnancy regarding your fitness routine. Go with the flow and enjoy it! (I wrote about this in 7 Healthy Mindsets For a Fit Pregnancy). After all, it flies by.
Wishing you a healthy, comfortable, and enjoyable pregnancy. Love + Light.