Many of us struggle with core stability while pregnant. For obvious reasons! There’s a belly bulging out from behind your abs that wasn’t there before. The stretched out muscles feel weaker, looser, and less controlled.
Time to hit the crunches, right? Wrong! No one wants to get the dreaded Diastasis Recti that can come from too much internal pressure against your abs.
So how can you keep up your core strength without putting yourself at risk for abdominal separation?
Easy! By working the Transverse Abdominals, or TVA.
The TVA is a band of muscle that encircles your core like a giant elastic band. It helps move your limbs, keeps your torso upright, and stabilizes your pelvis and lower back. In a nutshell, any major movement you make, the TVA is responsible for.
There are several preggo-safe exercises you can do to keep this muscle strong over the baby belly.
There’s a variety of ways you can do pelvis tilts. All have the same goal: engage your core while improving flexibility in your hips and pelvis.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Draw your pubic bone up toward your belly button, engaging your abs. It will be a very slight movement. Don’t let your shoulders slouch forward. Hold, then release and tilt your pelvis backward. Your back will arch ever so slightly. Don’t stick your chest out or move your shoulders backward. Your torso should remain stationary from your belly button up.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart then tilt your pelvis forward like you did in Method One. Now rock your pelvis to the right as you release the tuck, like a belly dancer. Continue by arching your pelvis backward like Method One, then to the left to complete the circle. Your core should stay engaged the entire time, with only your hips moving. Picture Shakira’s hips 🙂
Stand with your back flat against a wall. Slowly draw the small of your back towards the wall, again mindful not to hunch your shoulders forward. You will notice the muscles around your belly button engaging. Don’t rock your pelvis; this is an isolated back motion. Hold your back against the wall, then release and repeat.
Cat and Cow
Anyone who’s gone to a prenatal yoga class will know this one. Start on your hands and knees, with your shoulders square over your wrists and hips directly over your knees. Now, inhale and arch your back like a cow so that your butt sticks up in the air. Hold for as long as feels comfortable. Exhale and curve your back like a startled cat, chin to chest, pelvis tucked forward, and back up in the air. Repeat sequence.
As a bonus move, return your back to flat again. Keeping your hands and knees on the ground, shorten the right side of your body so that your hips and shoulders both move to the right. Look over your right shoulder to see your hips. Now, shorten your left side to let your hips and shoulders both tilt left. Look over your left shoulder. Repeat.
Finally, put all four moves together! Begin in cow with your back arched, then flatten your back and move your hips and shoulders left, then straighten out and curl into cat, and finally move to the right. The center point of your back will end up moving in a big circle.
Opposite Leg and Arm
Return your back to a neutral position on your hands and knees, with your weight equally distributed over all four points of contact. Slowly raise your right arm straight in front of you while simultaneously raising your left leg straight behind you. Keep your back in a neutral position, not letting it arch. Hold the position, then return to all fours. Repeat on the other side.
From all fours, extend your left leg to the floor behind you and rotate your hips and shoulders open. Slide your right leg back to meet your left and reach your left hand up to the sky. Your shoulders and hips should be stacked, with your weight in your right hand. Look up to the sky and hold side plank. Engage your core so that your butt doesn’t sag; your body should be a straight line from your armpit all the way down to your ankles. When ready, return to all fours and repeat on left side.
Downward Dog Leg Lifts
From all fours, push your butt into the air and straighten your knees and shoulders so that your body looks like a teepee. Lift your right leg up so that it makes a continuous line with your back and arms. Keep your hips and shoulders square with the floor. Lower your leg almost back to the floor then lift again, keeping your core tight so that your hips don’t rotate. Repeat a total of five times. Return leg to floor and repeat on left side.
Everyone’s favorite: squats! Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-length apart. Stick your butt out behind you and slowly lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are at 90 degrees (if it doesn’t feel comfortable to go that far, pause whenever feels right). Your shoulders at this point will be over your knees. Keep your stance wide to leave room for your belly, and your back slightly arched to minimize lower back strain. You can hold a kettle bell or other weight to make this move harder, if you wish. I like to use pull up bands for added resistance on the way up. Hold squat at ninety degrees, then slowly return to standing.
There are three types of lunges you can try depending on how far along you are and how good your balance currently is. For the first type, step your right foot far in front of your left. Leaving your left knee straight, bend your right knee to ninety degrees. Your feet should be far enough apart that your knee remains directly above or slightly behind your ankle, not in front. From here, gently lower your left leg until your knee taps the ground. I like to put my hands on my hips for balance. Push your left leg straight again and repeat. Once you’ve finished your reps on that side, repeat with your left leg in front.
If you feel comfortable keeping your balance while moving, return to standing with your feet right next to each other. Take a big step forward with your right leg, letting your weight drop until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Again, don’t let your right knee slide in front of your ankle. Once your right thigh is flat, quickly push off your right leg to return to standing with both feet next to each other. Do several reps, then repeat for left side. If this is easy for you, try holding weights or kettle bells.
Next is the reverse lunge. This is similar to a regular lunge, but this time step your right foot back instead of forward. Bend your left knee until it’s at ninety degrees, hold, then kick up with your left leg to bring yourself back to standing. Repeat on the other side. You may find this style lunge less stressful on the knees and easier to balance with a belly compared to a regular lunge.
These exercises are all great for safely working your core while pregnant. Notice many of them entail maintaining your balance in unstable positions or focusing on sideways or asymmetrical movements. This prevents your abdominus rectus (aka the “six pack” muscles) from becoming too strained while strengthening the band of muscle that is your TVA.