Your abdominal muscles are stretched most of all during pregnancy as they bear the weight of your growing belly. Keeping them toned and fit would, in turn, contribute to a healthy pregnancy. However, before trying out exercises to keep your abs in proper shape, knowing how safe it is to do them when you are expecting is essential.
Can you do abdominal exercises during pregnancy?
Ab exercises are considered safe during the first, second, and third trimesters if proper modifications are implemented. When you are expecting, it is essential to strengthening your core which comprises the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. When your abs are strong, they will provide adequate support to the pelvic organs as your stomach gets bigger. It also lessens the pressure thrust upon the spine, giving you proper support and minimizing back pain risks, helping you to push comfortably during labor and even recover from it properly.
However, if you are going through a high-risk pregnancy or your doctor has advised you against working out, refrain from doing abdominal exercise.
7 pregnancy-safe ab exercises or workouts for all trimesters
1. Standing Crunches
How does it help: Beneficial for the proper contraction of abdominal muscles and can be done at all trimesters of your pregnancy.
Ideal position: Standing
How to do:
- Stand straight with your feet apart to the width of your hip
- Place your hands behind your head, and bend your knees slightly
- As you breathe in, open out your side, with your chest being lifted
- While breathing out, gently pull your belly button and tuck in your tailbone gently
- Inhale again to get back to the start
How many times to do: 12 to 15 reps.
2. Pelvic Tilts
How does it help: Strengthens your abdomen and pelvic muscles.
Ideal position: Standing (if you have completed four months of your pregnancy) or on fours (if you are in your early pregnancy).
How to do (in a standing posture):
- Stand straight, placing your back against the wall, relaxing your spine
- Now press the lower part of your back against the wall and take a deep breath
- Exhale gently and repeat the exercise again
How to do (when you are on your fours):
- Go on your fours (knees and hands)
- Your arms and knees should be at your shoulder and hip width, respectively
- As you inhale, tighten the muscles of your abdomen, keep your buttocks tucked, look down to your belly button, and get your back to a round or c-shaped posture
- Breathe out and get back to the initial position
Doing the pelvic tilt in this posture helps to ease back pain while you are pregnant and even during labor, particularly if you are troubled by sciatica (pain of the sciatic nerve).
How many times to do: 3 to 5 reps.
3. Prone Stretch and Tuck
How does it help: Strengthens your arms and knee muscles
Ideal position: On all fours
How to do:
- Get on your fours
- Take a position with your left arm being in front and your right leg in the back
- As you inhale, pull your extended arm and leg towards the center and also engage your ab muscles while doing so
- Exhale and return to the starting posture
- After completing on one side, do the similar number of reps on the other side (left leg-right arm)
How many times to do: 3 to 5 reps
4. Heel Slides
How does it help: Stretches your thigh muscles, increasing the flexibility of your joints
Ideal position: Lying on the floor
How to do:
- Lie down on an activity mat on your back, prop yourself up with a pillow to remain on your elbows, and keep your palms down for support
- Bend your knees and bring it near your buttock, while your heels should be raised above the ground though close to it
- Stretch each leg alternately and get back to the starting position
- Do an equal number of repetitions on both sides
How many times to do: 2 to 4 reps (several times a day)
5. Single Heel Drops
How does it help: Strengthens your glute muscles, ensuring greater flexibility
Ideal position: Lying
How to do:
- Lie on your back, with the upper back as well as head being propped up in a way that it is above the heart
- Place a pillow under your back for support
- Keep your knees bent to 90°
- Lift your heels above the ground in a way that your feet are in line with your knees
- Lower your heels one by one so your foot touches the ground.
- Raise them back to the starting posture
How many times to do: 15 heel drops in 3 sets
6. Side-Lying Knee Lifts
How does it help: Strengthens hips, preventing back pain
Ideal position: Lying
How to do:
- Lie to your right
- Stretch out your right arm and rest your head on it
- Put your palm (left) near your chest to get support
- Fold your knees to 90° and bring them together to the front
- Now lift your knee off the ground ( you can raise both or even one of them) and release them to the starting position
- Do the same exercise on your opposite side too
How many times to do: 15-20 reps
7. Transverse Abdominis Workout
How does it help: It keeps the transverse abdominis and pelvic muscles strong, making labor easier.
Ideal position: Lying or even sitting
How to do:
- Keep your hands on your belly button, fold your knees and breathe in deeply
- While inhaling, make sure that your belly button, as well as your lower rib cage, expands
- Your shoulders should remain stationary and not rise
- After holding your breath for about 30 seconds, breathe out
- As you exhale, your belly button should be inwards in the direction of your baby
How many times to do: 5 to 10 reps
Are planks a safe ab exercise to do while pregnant?
Planks are one of the prime exercises to strengthen your core muscles. It is said to be safe during pregnancy as no pressure is exerted on your stomach. Moreover, in this workout, you are also not putting too much pressure on your back. However, never do it before consulting your doctor, mainly if you are in your second or third trimester, to avoid unpleasant occurrences. While doing planks, if you feel any strain on your knees, stop doing it immediately.
Precautionary tips to keep in mind while doing ab exercises/workouts during pregnancy
- Avoid double leg lifts and full sit-ups since they exert greater pressure on your abdomen.
- Do not go for movements where you need to twist or bend your body.
- Avoid doing exercises such as crunches where you need to be on your tummy, especially after crossing the first trimester. At this point, your uterus could compress the vena cava (the vein transporting blood to the heart), posing a problem for your baby.
- While doing exercises that require you to lie on your back, use pillows or a ball for support.
- Never exert yourself, and stop exercising when you experience pain or discomfort.
Dr. Mashiach has completed his MD at the Sackler School of Medicine, TAU; specialization in gynecology at the Lis Maternity and Women’s Hospital, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center; fellowship in Endoscopy at the Polyclinique de I’Hotel-Dieu, Universite d’Auvergne, Clermont, France.
He is a Senior Physician, Director of the Department of Gynecology, which provides routine and preventative care services to its patients and a full range of gynecological surgical procedures for adequately managing its patients with benign gynecologic disorders.
He offers advanced care in all gynecological subspecialties such as Urogynecology, Colposcopy, Fetal Loss Clinic, and Post Menopausal Clinic.