Exercise during pregnancy can benefit both mom and baby, but you’ll need to take a few moves out of your workout to stay safe while you’re expecting.
You know which foods, drinks, meds and products are off-limits during pregnancy, but figuring out which exercise moves and routines to avoid can be tricky. Thanks to that surge of hormones coursing through your pregnant, expanding body that cause physical and hormonal changes, it’s important to be cautious when it comes to hitting the gym or taking fitness classes. “The hormone relaxin loosens ligaments, making it easier for you to overstretch,” says Kristin McGee, a celebrity yoga and Pilates trainer in New York City. “In addition, changes can occur in a pregnant woman’s posture and balance as her belly grows, making her more prone to injury.”
Before you kick your legs up at the barre (sadly, not the one that has margaritas!) or sit down in the saddle at spin class, remember to avoid these five fitness moves.
While this is often the one exercise move women want to do when they find out they’re pregnant, crunches should be avoided once the belly starts to expand, typically by the end of the first trimester. This flexion movement can aggravate diastasis resti, a non-painful, but unsightly separation of the abs. “When you’re pregnant and your belly grows, your rectus muscles are pulled apart,” explains Jennifer McCamish, fitness instructor and owner of Dancers Shape in Austin, Texas. “So performing flexion ab exercises can cause more strain on the muscle and exasperate the separation of the belly muscles.” Instead of doing exercises like crunches, a better alternative would be to practice TVA and pelvic floor muscles to keep your muscles strong around the spine. “You always want to think about engaging your abdomen into your spine when you’re lifting or moving, which will help keep the muscles strong and stable along the spine for balance purposes,” says Brooke Taylor, fitness instructor and creator of TFIGNITE PROGRAM and Taylored Fitness NY LTD.
Planks are a great abdominal exercise, but during pregnancy the movement can place too much pressure on your abdominal wall, especially once you hit your second trimester. “The weight and pressure of the baby is putting enough strain on the abdominal wall to cause diastasis recti, so additional stress only exacerbates the issue and sets you back in your recovery,” explains Taylor. She suggests modifying planks by doing the “Quadruped Swimming Exercise.” Start kneeling, with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips. As you exhale, draw your abdomen in and extend the right arm and left leg away from each other. Simultaneously, lift in the abdomen and focus on keeping the hips nice and even throughout. Inhale, lower the arm and leg down to the mat and repeat the same sequence on the opposite side. “This works the stability of your spine, while keeping your core engaged,” Taylor says. “By lengthening the opposite arm and leg away from each other, you’re also engaging the posterior chain of your body.”
For the same reason as planks, it can be very difficult to keep the abs completely contracted and prevent diastasis recti when doing push-ups. As your baby (and belly) grows, a lot of unnecessary pressure is placed on your abdominal wall. In order to activate the same muscle group, try dropping your knees to the floor or doing incline chest presses instead. Or, Taylor suggests trying a “Standing Cable Chest Fly.” Start with your legs in a nice staggered position with one in front of the other. Align the Cable straps with your chest and hold each strap with one hand. Lunge forward in a nice long lunge stance with your arms in your peripheral vision. “You should always start with your arms slightly in front of your body,” says Taylor. As you exhale, draw your navel into your spine and bring both hands to meet in front of your chest and center of your body. Envision wrapping your belly into your spine and your arms around a big beach ball. As you inhale open your arms back to your starting position and repeat the sequence for 20 repetitions.
Just like your doc told you not to snooze on your back during pregnancy, the same goes for your exercise moves. “Lying on your back for extended periods of time can cut off blood flow and result in dizziness for the mom, because the baby is pressing on the vena cava vein, which returns blood flow from her lower body to her heart,” explains McGee. If you’re looking to fire your back side and get those glutes, hamstrings and abductors working, Taylor recommends trying a side-lying move. “This will help work the deep stabilizers of the hips supporting the weight on the pelvis.” Lying on one side, stack your ribs, hips and knees. Make sure there’s a small space between your hips and ribs and, as you inhale, lift your leg up as high as you can without compromising your hips—typically 2-3 inches—then lower down. Repeat 20 reps and then perform 10 circles forward and 10 circles back.
5. Deep twists
While it’s good to continue working out in all planes of motion, once you hit your second and third trimester, you should avoid twisting, spinal rotation or jarring movements, suggests Taylor. The main reason is because doing so could cause diastasis recti and the midline of your abs to split, creating an avoidable tear. Instead, focus on doing stabilization exercises that continue to work your core without flexing and extending. “This will also help you maintain balance as your baby continues to grow and expand and your ligaments continue to loosen,” she says. One example, is lying on your side and doing a side leg lift. “Bend your bottom leg and straighten your top, inhale to prepare and exhale as you lift, lowering your top leg with your knee facing the floor and your heel spiraling to the sky,” says McCamish. “This exercise will strengthen your adductor muscles, which are important stabilizers on the outside of the hip.”