Core + Floor Training In Pregnancy: The Best Exercises For All Three Trimesters

By Jessie Mundell

You’re in the gym, lifting weights, staying active, and feeling fab as you move through your pregnancy. That's great news! Now... a couple of questions: Are you doing any specific core training? Do you know what exercises are best? Staying away from the diastasis-dreaded crunches and sit-ups?

Core training can be a confusing thing to navigate during your pregnancy when you’re not sure what exercises to do or how to modify them as your body changes. With a few guidelines you’ll be on your way to a strong, stable core through all three trimesters.

Below, you’ll find specific core exercise suggestions for the first, second, and third trimesters. These exercises are designed to give you rock solid posture, to keep you moving well, and to keep your body pain-free. The exercises are separated into four categories: anti-rotation, anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, and neutral spine with hip flexion.

No pop quizzes at the end, so you don’t need to remember any of these words. All you need to know is that these exercise will support your changing body through pregnancy, will help you through labour and delivery, and will be beneficial for a speedy recovery.

Prerequisites To Core Training In Pregnancy

1. What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti (DR) is the common and necessary abdominal separation that many women experience in pregnancy and postpartum. Because your belly is growing to accompany your baby, your abdominal muscles stretch and expand. The 2 bellies of your rectus abdominis, the “six-pack muscle”, can begin to pull apart from the midline of the body, most notably around, above, and below your belly button.

Totally normal and treatable with focused rehab. That being said, there are ABSolutely (see what I did there?) exercises that can exacerbate the problem. If you have a DR you need to just say NO to crunches, sit-ups, and front loaded exercises (such as front planks and pushups) where your belly is hanging towards the ground. To assess your DR, check out this video.

2. Practice Breathing

Proper breathing patterns are essential for balanced pressure in your core and for preventing DR and pelvic floor issues. These are not mentioned as specific exercises below, but it will be extremely beneficial in all trimesters to practice your diaphragmatic breathing. For more on breathing and connecting your core and pelvic floor, check out this great article.

3. Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy

As the name alludes to, this specialty of physiotherapy deals specifically with pelvic floor concerns, that may be manifesting itself in many ways, such as incontinence, urgency, low back and hip pain, etc. I definitely recommend finding a pelvic floor physio in your area and going for an assessment in pregnancy and once the babe is born.

Trimester-By-Trimester Plan For Pregnancy Core Training

  • Repetitions: 8-12 repetitions, or 15-30sec hold, for each side if applicable.
  • Sets: 1-3 sets
  • Frequency: 2-3x per week. For example, if you train in the gym two days per week your schedule might look like this: Day 1 - Anti-rotation exercise + Anti-extension exercise. Day 2 - Anti-lateral flexion exercise + Hip flexion with neutral spine exercise.

First Trimester

1. Anti-rotation

1/2 Kneeling Cable Lift. Cues: squeeze your back leg glute, lift chest up tall, pull the cable attachment up and then push out.

2. Anti-lateral flexion

Side Plank. Cues: stack shoulder over elbow, press hips up, squeeze your bottom glute hard. See image below.

3. Anti-extension

Front Plank. Cues: engage the abdominals, keep a small curve through lower back, tighten the glutes, pull your elbows to toes and toes to elbows.

4. Hip flexion with neutral spine

Stability Ball Knee Tuck/Jacknife. Cues: keep a slight curve in the low back, draw the knees into the chest by tightening the abs.

Notes for 1st trimester: You’ll probably be able to do all the things you would normally do for non-pregnant core training. This is where you want to set a really solid foundation: develop great posture, work on neutral spine positions with the ribs down, and get the pelvis in proper alignment.

Second Trimester

1. Anti-rotation

Tall-Kneeling Pallof Press. Cues: squeeze your glutes, tuck your tailbone down, press straight out from your sternum.

2. Anti-lateral flexion

Overhead or Rack Position Farmer's Walk. Cues: ribs down, abs engaged, walk tall.

3. Anti-extension

Band-Assisted Leg Lowering. Cues: pin your lower back to the ground, slowly lower the leg feeling tension in the abs, only take the leg down as far as you can without the belly bulging up or low back lifting off.

4. Hip flexion with neutral spine

Slow Mountain Climbers. Cues: keep a slight curve in the low back, belly drawing up away from the floor, don’t touch foot to floor as you pull in.

Notes for 2nd trimester: Start being aware of signs of DR. Place one hand on your belly when doing abdominal exercises (where you can) and notice if the abdominals feel like they’re bulging or popping up. Modify the exercise to make it less challenging so this doesn’t happen.

Third Trimester

1. Anti-rotation

Half-Kneeling Pallof Press Cues: squeeze your back leg glute hard, tuck your tailbone down, press straight out from your sternum.

2. Anti-lateral flexion

Offset Farmer’s Walks/Suitcase Carry. Cues: hold the kettlebell or dumbbell slightly away from the side of the body, walk tall, ribs down.

3. Anti-extension

Dead Bug Variations. Cues: slight tension on the abs in the starting position, maintain the low back to the floor, exhale as you extend.

4. Neutral Spine with Hip Flexion

Straight Arm Pulldown + Single Leg Stance. Cues: stand in tall posture, keep shoulders tucked down through the pull, as you pull hands down toward your hips, use the abs to pull knee up, keep slight curve in low back. See image below.

Don't be deceived. This is much harder than it looks.

Don't be deceived. This is much harder than it looks.

Notes for third trimester: Even if you might feel like your abs have jumped ship at this point, I promise you they’re still in there. Watch your posture throughout the day; try to make sure you’re not pushing your hips forward and swaying through the low back.

These are fantastic exercises that will help you make it to D-day pain free (fingers crossed!). Notice there are NO front loaded exercises as you move further through your pregnancy and posture is emphasized a ton. Even more so than practicing these exercises, I’m more concerned about how you carry your body 16-18 hours a day. This will truly make the greatest difference in preventing a large diastasis and an achy body. Here’s to a fantastic pregnancy and a supported core and floor!

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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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