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HOW TO PROTECT YOUR ABDOMINAL MUSCLES DURING PREGNANCY
Abdominal separation is very common during pregnancy. Many women think that because of this, you should avoid working out. This is a super common misconception.
There are really great ways to safely work out while pregnant, and if you’re doing the right exercises and protecting your core, there are a ton of benefits.
Unfortunately many women can end up doing all of the wrong things. If you are worried about abdominal separation during pregnancy, here are some tips and tricks to help you continue working out while protecting your ab muscles!
WHAT IS DIASTASIS RECTI?
There are also several exercises and things you should avoid during pregnancy that could make abdominal separation, or diastasis recti, worse.
Diastasis recti is a common condition in pregnant and postpartum women that occurs when the rectus abdominis muscle, or the abdominal muscles, separate from being stretched out. This separation can make your belly kind of stick out or bulge even months or years postpartum. This is how you get the phrase “mommy pooch”.
As a pre and postnatal specialist, I'm here to share with you what I know so that you can protect your core. Together we can heal even a four finger gap all the way down to one finger in about six weeks.
Did you know that 100% of women who are pregnant will have diastasis recti to some extent? This is because your abs have to separate for the baby to grow. However, the severity of the separation depends on how you carry and also how careful you are during and after your pregnancy. One of the most important aspects of protecting your core is to choose exercises that keep your core safe, rather than worsening the separation.
EXERCISES TO AVOID DURING PREGNANCY:
You want to avoid any exercises that can cause coning or bulging down the midline of your stomach.
Here are four common mistakes that pregnant women make:
1. Direct abdominal exercises.
You do not need to do direct abdominal workouts to keep your core strong and prevent separation.
Once your abdominal muscles start to separate, traditional ab workouts actually put more stress and more pressure on your core and it will actually make your separation worse.
AVOID: crunches, planks, leg lifts, Russian twists, bicycles, or anything twisting movement and putting strain directly on your core.
Instead, what you can do:
- Hip Bridge - lift your hips, squeeze your glutes at the top, and then slowly bring it back down.
- Bird dog - Start on all fours. Bring your right arm forward and your left leg out, and you're just gonna squeeze right here. You can hold this position for a few seconds, and then switch. This is going to really engage your core, engage your whole posterior chain, your upper back, your shoulders. Then switch sides, and squeeze again. Remember, don’t arch your back.
- Cat cow - Again, begin on all floors. You're going to take a deep breath, inhale and curve your back up, exhale out and arch your back, inhale up, exhale out, again.
2. Avoid running and jumping in your third trimester.
If you’re a runner or have been doing intense workouts like CrossFit, it's definitely tempting to continue doing those workouts into your third trimester. Unfortunately, as your belly grows, running or high intensity workouts put way too much pressure on your already weak pelvic floor. This can cause issues later on like incontinence or pelvic prolapse.
I recommend skipping the long runs, box jumps, and anything that's really like putting a lot of pressure on that pelvic floor.
Instead, you can walk on an incline. If you walk at a quicker pace, you’ll get your heart rate up. The StairMaster or elliptical are great alternatives to running because they are gentle on your body. These cardio options will still work your legs and get you moving.
3. Not engaging your core when you're lifting or picking things up.
Another mistake pregnant women often make is lifting heavy things without engaging your core. Your abdominal muscles are no longer supporting your core as much as before pregnancy, so you have to be careful when lifting things.
When you're lifting something heavy, take a deep breath. Don’t hold your breath. As you lift, tighten that core and exhale, so that you have some sort of support with your lower back.
Even something as simple as getting up from a lying down position can put strain on your abdominal muscles. For example, when you're getting up out of bed from a lying position, you should roll to the side and then lift yourself up gently. You don't want to go straight from a lying position into a crunch.
4. Not doing any core strengthening at all.
Just because you should avoid direct core work doesn't mean that you're going to ignore your core completely.
It's actually very beneficial to do your 360 or TVA breathing to engage your core in a safe way. You can do this throughout your entire pregnancy. It's completely safe, and you can also do this postpartum as you're trying to heal.
First, you're going to want to inhale, and then expand your ribs as wide as possible. It may feel a little counterintuitive, but just follow these steps:
- Start with a big inhale, expand your ribs.
- When you exhale, you'll want to suck everything in as if you're trying to bring your belly button to the back of your spine. You're not just tightening your abs, you're actually pulling up and in.
- Hold for a few seconds, let go, and start again.
- Repeat for three rounds of 10.
Incorporating 360 breathing will help keep those abs closer together. It's also going to strengthen your pelvic floor.
To learn how to do 360 or TVA breathing, watch my YouTube tutorial here:
Hopefully these tips and tricks help you keep your ab separation to a minimum. If you want support and customized help, check out my Postpartum Training Programs here.
I'm a mom of 4 and have been a certified personal trainer with specialties in pre- and postnatal fitness for 13 years. I'm also a certified nutrition specialist and certified meditation and mindfulness coach.
I am passionate about helping women change their lifestyles to be the healthiest, happiest versions of themselves and I've seen it happen for thousands of women.
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