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Prenatal Pilates: 5 core exercises that you can do safely during pregnancy

So you’ve heard that you’re not supposed to do any crunches while you’re pregnant (especially from 2nd trimester onwards). It’s true, please don’t! It’s not just about the belly getting in the way. Even if you are able to do a perfectly executed chest lift while sporting a pregnant belly, it is not recommended to do movements that put further pressure on your rectus abdominis (i.e. that “6-pack” muscle) when your growing baby is already naturally pushing it outwards, as this can result in diastasis recti (or in layman terms, “splitting of your abdominals”). This includes sitting straight up from lying on your back by the way (it’s best to roll over to your side and use your hands to push yourself up).

It doesn’t mean that you have to throw core exercises out of the window for 9 months though! In fact, you do need your core during pregnancy and birth. Focus on exercises that support core stability (which are great for minimising lower back pain) and full-body movements instead of simply isolating the core.

Transverse Abdominis (TA) breathing

Begin in your all-fours quadruped position. This exercise is simply about connecting your deep inner core muscles, aka your Transverse Abdominis (TA), as you breathe. Take a deep breath in through your nose, filling your belly with air and allowing it to expand downward. As you breathe out through your mouth, think of hugging your baby in towards you as your draw your belly upward. Continue with this breathing, allowing your belly to expand and contract.

Quadruped

This balancing exercise is great for core stability. In the quadruped position (same as the previous exercise), imagine that you have a glass of water balanced on your back and try not to spill it! Breathe in to prepare, and as you exhale, reach your right arm left leg in opposite directions. Focus on length, rather than kicking the arm & leg up (you do not want to arch your back and spill that imaginary glass of water). Inhale to lower the arm and leg, reset your stable tabletop position and then repeat on the other side as your breathe out.

For an added challenge, bring your arm and leg out to a diagonal while keeping your body stable in the center. This requires more core stability and balance, and works your obliques as well. If this is too much for you, stick with the previous variation, and perhaps just go with a single limb (either arm or leg) at the start till your balance gradually improves.

Tabletop reverse plank

Reverse tabletop plank

Now we turn around to be in a seated position, with your knees bent and feet will be flat on the ground. Have your legs about hip distance apart and parallel to each other and your hands will be behind your bum with your fingers pointing toward you. Focus on maintaining good posture by rolling your shoulders back, and keeping a distance between your ears and shoulders.

As you exhale, hug your belly inwards as you curl from your tailbone to lift your bottom off the ground, until you come up into a tabletop position, this time with your body facing upwards (the opposite of our previous exercise). Ideally, your body should be in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees, without your bottom sagging. Think of looking out into the horizon as you come up into the tabletop, or towards your knees, rather than looking up to the ceiling so as not to strain your neck.

Sidelying crunch

Sidelying crunch

Turning to face the side, have your elbow right under your shoulder to prop your body up. Again, focus on maintaining good posture, lifting up from the side of your waist, and with some distance between your ear and shoulder. Inhale to extend your top arm and leg in opposite directions, and exhale to crunch your elbow to your knee. This is great for working on the side of your waist!

If you feel that your shoulder is starting to get tired from being propped up on your elbow, you can also lie on your side, resting your head on your bottom arm or on a pillow.

Elbow side plank

Elbow side plank

This is a progression from the previous exercise. From the same position, stack your knees on top of each other and have your top hand on your hip. Breathe in to prepare, and as you breathe out, hug your belly inwards as you lift your hip off the ground. Lower it down gently, and repeat this lifting and lowering. For an added challenge, reach your top arm to the ceiling. On the other hand, if you find it hard to balance, or your shoulder feels tired from the lifting, you may also place your top hand on the ground in front of you to help you in lifting your hip off the ground.

Remember to repeat this exercise & the previous one on your other side too! If you’d like to see the movements in action, check out my IGTV for the walkthrough!

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