The 4 Biggest Myths About Core Training During Pregnancy

By Jessie Mundell

Core training is actually one of the most important things you can do for your health during pregnancy. Consistently training your core can help relieve back and pelvic pain, help you have a more comfortable pregnancy, and even improve your chances of having a smooth postpartum recovery.

Unfortunately, when it comes to what core workouts you should and shouldn’t be performing during this unique time, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation out there. The result: Women are led astray with their prenatal workouts.

It’s time to clear up some of that misinformation. Here are the four biggest myths about core training during pregnancy. Bust them for a better core—and a healthier pregnancy.

MYTH 1: Hold your abs in tightly throughout the day to help support your belly.

Women commonly believe that holding their bellies in tightly throughout the day will help them “work” their abs, or maybe will make their bellies appear smaller.

We don’t recommend doing that. Here’s why:

balloon-pelvic-floor-example-425x281Holding your abs in tightly can actually create issues in your core. It can negatively affect how you breathe by not allowing your lungs and diaphragm to fully expand and contract. It can also apply added pressure downward onto your pelvic floor (like you don’t have enough of that during pregnancy!) and can even cause tension in the upper back, shoulders, and neck. What it’s not going to do is make your belly any flatter or stronger.

Think of your trunk as an inflated balloon. What happens when you squeeze that balloon in the middle? It bulges above and below where you’re squeezing it. The pressure has to go somewhere. Similarly, when you’re holding your tummy in tightly for long periods of time, the pressure is displaced above and below. These photos from pelvic health physical therapist, Julie Wiebe, BSc, MPT, illustrates this concept. The balloon on the left represents a balanced pressure system, and the balloon on the right represents what happens when you hold your abdominal muscles in.  To understand this topic in detail, check out this article on Julie's website.

It’s crucial to learn how to balance tension with relaxation.

Our bodies are constantly creating and releasing tension. We need our bodies to create extra tension in the abdominals to protect the spine, maintain balance, and move efficiently when we’re lifting weights, twisting and turning while doing laundry, reaching to get the glass from a kitchen cabinet, or carrying the bag of dog food in from the car to the house, for example.

However, when we’re walking, standing, resting, eating, and talking we don’t need to be tightening up our abdominal muscles. In these scenarios, simply being in good alignment will be enough stimulus to appropriately activate the core muscles.

MYTH 2: Front planks are a great exercise to keep your abs strong in pregnancy.

Up to a certain point in your pregnancy, this may be true. However, it’s unlikely that front planks will be an effective exercise through the middle to late stages of pregnancy.

For many pregnant women in their second and third trimesters, front planks can feel uncomfortable. While in a front plank, it may start to feel like your belly is unsupported or that it’s hanging down and out. You may feel a pulling sensation on the abdominals as well (take note, the same goes for push-ups). In a face-down position, the weight of the baby, extra fluid, and your internal organs create a lot of extra stress on the front side of the abdominal wall. Although some abdominal separation is very likely and very normal during pregnancy, this position can exacerbate that separation.

If you’re still in the early to middle stages of pregnancy, you might find an incline front plank more effective, as I’m demonstrating here during my pregnancy:

During pregnancy, it’s best to hold front planks for “short sets” in order to reduce the risk of exacerbating any abdominal separation. For example, hold the position for five to 10 seconds with perfect form, come down to rest, and then repeat two to three times.

This means that exercises like front planks may not be most suitable for mid-later pregnancy

MYTH 3: Do 50 kegels, three times per day.

Oh, kegels. It seems like everyone recommends or prescribes Kegels, with nothing but helpful thoughts in mind, I’m sure. The idea is not all bad, just not all right, either.

Many people, from health professionals to well-meaning friends and relatives, often recommend Kegels as the go-to method for strengthening pelvic floor muscles, which can be extremely important. Keep reading, though. Here’s the trouble with what we traditionally think of as kegels:

  • They really only focus on tightening or contracting the pelvic floor muscles and don’t emphasize the importance of learning how to relax or release tension in the pelvic floor—something that many women find challenging (myself included).
  • Sometimes kegels aren’t performed correctly, leading to more issues. For example, some women bear down onto the pelvic floor instead of drawing in and upward.
  • Often, women do not need to do tons of contractions of the pelvic floor muscles. The focus should be on the Core + Floor connection: a coordinated effort and timing when practicing contractions and relaxations of the pelvic floor. Remember, quality over quantity.

So, no, I don’t recommend you do hundreds of kegels per day—especially during pregnancy. I do recommend, however, that you learn how to practice that core and floor connection as I’ve detailed in this article.

MYTH 4: Don’t do any exercises in which you feel your abs working – it place too much stress on them.

While some women feel that they need to work their abs during pregnancy by doing front planks and squeezing, others believe just the opposite and try not to work their abs at all while pregnant. Just like Myth #2, this piece of advice can also be misleading and very confusing. It is completely normal and fine to feel your abdominals working during exercises in pregnancy.

What you do need to recognize is the difference between the sensation of “muscles working” and the sensation of “muscles straining.”

Muscles working? That’s great! Straining, burning, pulling, and cramping? Not so great. Here’s an example of an effective core training exercise in which you have to create stability through your trunk in order to keep walking in a straight line, without leaning side to side on each step.

For some great prenatal core training exercises in which you’ll feel your abdominals working (not straining!), check out this article.

When your abdominals are working, rather than straining, the sensation is certainly going to be different (and less “intense”), particularly if you’re used to doing a lot of repetitions of leg raises, crunches, holding planks until failure, etc.

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About the author:  Jessie Mundell

Jessie Mundell is a certified kinesiologist and a Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach, as well as an author and mother. She specializes in pre- and postnatal exercise and corrective exercise. Learn more about Jessie on her website and connect with her on Twitter.

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