14 Core Exercises For When You’re Pregnant (A Cheat Sheet For Getting Your Abs Back After You Have A Baby)

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In Episode #141 with Cassandra Forsythe (What Is A Good Pregnancy Exercise Routine?), we discussed why most recommended exercise and nutrition routines for pregnant women during or after pregnancy leaves you way more fat and out-of-shape than you need to be after you’ve had a baby. In reality, exercise should be considered an acceptable and regular part of pregnancy, and in most cases, you can do more than you think you can.

So while I definitely recommend you go back and listen to that podcast (or read the transcript), in today’s article I’m going to give you 15 core exercises for when you’re pregnant. Consider this a cheat sheet for getting your abs back after you have a baby.

But first, it’s important to understand why it’s crucial that you be doing core exercises when you’re pregnant.

During pregnancy, you gain significant weight, and since the weight is primarily distributed in front of your body, it shifts your center of gravity forward, which creates a bend in the lower (lumbar) spine called a “lordotic” curve. This shift not only affects your posture and balance, but can also cause significant low back pain – both during and after your pregnancy.

Unfortunately, most of the resources you’ll find in books, magazines and the internet simply recommend that you limit your choice of exercises to pelvic tilts (literally just standing there and tilting your pelvic muscle back and forth) or Kegel exercises. News flash: these really don’t get rid of a lordotic curve or prevent low back pain.

And that’s not all.

If you’re concerned about getting back into shape fast, or you’ve developed some nice abs that you don’t want to disappear for the rest of your life, pelvic tilts and Kegel exercises during pregnancy just don’t get the job done.

But these exercises below will keep your stomach strong, your low back pain at bay, and let you bounce back into flat stomach shape as soon as possible after you’ve had your baby:

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #1 (1st-2nd Trimester only): Front Plank Variation (i.e. Front Plank Taps are shown in the video)

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #2 (1st-2nd Trimester only): Kneeling Ab Rope or Elastic Band Crunch

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #3 (1st-2nd Trimester only): Standing Ab Crunch

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #4: Bent Knee Raises (single or double leg)

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #5: Opposite Arm/Leg Extension

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #6: Can-Can

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #7: Cable or Elastic Band Torso Twists

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #8: Saxon Bends

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #9: Russian Twists

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #10: Modified V-Sit (try to keep back at 45 degree angle for this one)

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #11: Seated Bicycle Crunches

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #12: Reach For The Sky

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #13: Seated Side Bend

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #14: Standing Medicine Ball Rotations

I’d recommend you choose 2-3 exercises from the ab exercise list above, put all of them together as a back-to-back circuit, or make 2-3 of them part of a full body workout routine with other exercises. Try to work your core three times per week consistently during your pregnancy.

For example, you can do a Monday sequence three times through of 10-15 reps of:

-Bent Knee Raises
-Opposite Arm Leg Extensions
-Can-Can

A Wednesday sequence of:

-Torso Twists
-Saxon Bends
-Modified V-Sit

And a Friday sequence of:

-Reach For The Sky
-Seated Side Bend
-Med Ball Rotations

Let’s finish with a few quick tips for safety during pregnant exercise:

1) An increase of more than 1.5° Celsius in the your temperature could potentially harm your baby and cause congenital defects. So avoid exercising in hot environments and stay very well hydrated.

2) There’s a reason none of the exercises above are done in a traditional crunch or sit-up position. Lying supine (on your back) creates a decrease in cardiac output by blocking venous return, and can decrease oxygen delivery to your baby.

3) During exercise, your body tries to keep up with oxygen demands, and if you exercise too hard, it can cause fetal tachycardia (irregular heart beat) and increased fetal blood pressure as your baby’s body tries to protect itself. So you should never exercise at more than 75% of your heart rate reserve (click here for an easy calculator to find out your personal heart rate reserve).

4) Avoid any exercises that put you at risk of abdominal trauma. If you have any difficulty balancing and are nervous at all about falling (which can lead to fetal injury), then avoid any activities that involve abrupt or jarring movements.

5) Finally, there are absolutely situations where you should not be exercising during pregnancy. Here is a full list.

Questions, comments or feedback? Leave them below.

And if you’re planning on having or trying to have a baby any time soon, you should click here to check out the Healthy Baby Code program, which teaches you the absolutely essential steps you should take before, during and after pregnancy to set the stage for fertility and lifelong health for your baby.

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27 thoughts on “14 Core Exercises For When You’re Pregnant (A Cheat Sheet For Getting Your Abs Back After You Have A Baby)

  1. Thanks for this. I too found a lot of the exercise advice when pregnant limited and lacking in evidence to back it up. On my second pregnancy and will incorporate a few of these exercises.

    First time round a physio recommended the opposite arm/leg extension as the number one for abs, concentrating on good form. By the end i could only do arm extensions, but I did get my abs back after the baby so it did help.

    Not so sure about the russian twists or v-sit towards the end of pregnancy – by the third trimester it would be quite difficult to sit up enough (because of the belly in the way) to stop muscle separation …

  2. Because pregnancy alters alignment and causes a kyphotic/lordotic posture, abdominal exercises should focus on lower spine flexion, with only limited upper spine flexion. Isolations of the Transverse Abdominis, either side-lying, seated, or standing, should be done daily.
    Pregnant women should also be tested for diastasis recti by week 20, and if found, avoid all twisting movements, as these place shear forces across the linea alba (mid line connective tissues) which will worsen the condition and may lead to complications such as umbilical hernia or pelvic instability.
    BeFit-Mom

  3. I’m a 28 yr old and weigh 171 lbs with 20% body fat. I have a pretty active lifestyle which includes lifting weights 3 times a week and 2-3 times a week of good 45 mins cardio with intervals etc. My goal is to lose some fat and build lean mass and I’m on a 2000 calorie diet with carb/protein/fat in ratio of 40/30/30 but I sometimes go a bit high on protein and might add 200 more calories. Does this excess protein convert into fat or does it just tax the kidneys a little more and get flushed out? Do you have any more suggestions on changing the ratio of carb/protein/fat intake and still create some calorie deficit.
    Regards
    Keerthi
    PS: Thanks a lot for your advice on fixing my lower back issues. I’m doing some of your stretches from the book runwithnopain and it’s working out pretty well for me :)

  4. Sorry I meant to ask this as question for your next podcast but it got posted as a comment and there is no way to delete it. Now i know i shouldn't use my phone to post on websites.

  5. Ben,
    Your abdominal exercises for pregnant women could get you in some serious trouble. You are recruiting alot of rectus and obliques throughout your workout which puts women at a much higher risk for diastasis recti. The only "safe" abdominal exercises during pregnancy will be recruiting the transversus abdominus and quieting the rectus abdominus and obliques. A simple way to achieve this would be to stay with any plank or hands and knees exercises and omit all others. Any abdominal exercise that curls your ribs closer to your pelvis will recruit those unwanted abs as well as force more pressure down on those strained pelvic floor muscles. Careful!!!
    Tasha Mulligan, PTpartnersllc.com

      1. I do see the benefit to some of these exercises, others not so much. In my experience with exercise during pregnancy I feel that there is a great deal of concentration on exercises that will likely do more harm than good (to the mom to be). Although you are educated on diastasis recti I do hope that women are doing there own homework before embarking on this exercise regime.

  6. I m sorry but crunches and curls, bent knee raises etc are NOT suitable for pregnant women, they have very little use for the general public. They can cause diastasis recti in men and woman as well as herniated discs, abdominal hernias and but worse than anything, prolapse in women. Functional exercises are more appropriate, if done correctly the core is utilised. Pregnant women should be training postural muscles including obliques as they assist in delivery.

  7. I always thought that you should take it easy during the pregnancy… somehow i feel that this is something you should learn early on and it should be common knowledge… but it isnt. Anyway thx for a good read!

    1. And that's why so many women get fat when they get preggers. They don't think they should exercise and eat too much of whatever they feel like. There are women given bed rest, and of course now is not the time to be pushing yourself too hard, but taking it easy is a disaster waiting to happen!

      I biked about 100 miles a week and up until the day before my little girl was born because that's what I did before I got pregnant. I didn't push myself, start anything new, and if I felt overly tired, gave myself plenty of rest. The end result was I was back to pre-pregnancy weight/ pant size in about three months continuing to eat the regular healthy meals I usually do (with some treats and junk food too). Although it's nothing scientific, I personally think my little girl has the happy sunny personality that she does because of all the contact with endorphins she had before she was born.

  8. Thanks for the exercises! I've been told by dr's to do regular core exercises because of some back issues I had, but never quite knew what exercises where safe/effective during pregnancy. Pelvic tilts and cat/cow just doesn't feel like it does anything.

  9. Seems like hard core exercises for a delicate woman…. I really doubt if a single woman would be ready to do these hard core exercises… One has to be strong enough mentally as well as from the core of her heart to perform these exercises…

  10. So glad I came across your blog post!! FINALLY a pregnancy workout that isn't just stretching and breathing!! Can you recommend strength training for the pregnant woman?? I would love to be able to keep my tone in my arms and legs during this pregnancy. I am definitely implementing these workouts into my daily regimen along with my running.

    1. Please see the message I just publicly posted to Ben. You shouldn't be doing most of these movements. They are contradindicated during pregnancy

  11. I am a very strong believer in exercise during pregnancy. I worked out during each of my pregnancies until the day(s) I gave birth. I am also a certified fitness trainer, yoga instructor, and Pilates studio owner, and I teach workshops on Pregnancy and Fitness. I have been training women through their entire pregnancies and beyond for over 10 years, and as I stated, I trained during my own 2 pregnancies. This is a subject I feel very passionately about, which is why I feel the need to weigh in here.
    I truly believe that Ben has put a lot of time and effort into these tips, and I feel that what he does is amazing. It takes a lot of dedication, time, and effort to write, speak, and be the Top Trainer in the USA. He is Badass and deserves props.
    However, I have to say that these tips are potentially quite harmful. Here's why: Twists are contraindicated during pregnancy. Crunches are not advised during pregnancy. Hanging from something is not advised during pregnancy. Movements with a wide range of motion where one straightens and bends the legs by engaging the abs is not a good thing for the round ligament, and puts a lot of strain on the lower back and hip flexors. From a practical standpoint, the abs really do need to soften so that the uterus can grow. . . because there is a BABY that is trying to grow. Space needs to be made. The abs have to stretch a lot. The exercises that you scoff at, like pelvic tilts and kegels, are actually pretty important. You state that "Unfortunately, most of the resources you’ll find in books, magazines and the internet simply recommend that you limit your choice of exercises to pelvic tilts." Yes, Ben, that is because pregnant women aren't supposed to be doing the types of exercises you recommend. They are not supposed to be doing advanced and technically challenging movements that increase the chances of injury and squish the baby. It is really easy to freak a pregnant woman out about what she is going to look like after having a baby, and you wrote that many nutrition and fitness programs for pregnancy "leaves you way more fat and out-of-shape than you need to be after you’ve had a baby."
    Really? You needed to go there? Cheap Shot.
    Women can get their bodies "back" after having kids. They can actually get tighter abs than they had pre-pregnancy. They can come back fitter, healthier, and stronger.
    So, let's keep encouraging women to exercise and challenge themselves and to feel strong while they are pregnant without encouraging them to maintain a 6 pack. Cool?

    1. Agree! Ben you make some great offerings here , but as a childbirth educator and pre/ post natal yoga instructor I have concerns.

      I am a yoga instructor and I have founded that we can challenge and support women to encourage strength, stamina, and fitness. We can also be conservative when it comes to safety and security. Crunches put too much focus on surface and deplete her capacity to breathe. In turn the baby is depleted. She needs to get in touch with her transverse ab…her belt. She needs access to her diaphragm and intercostal muscles so she can fully respirate. A pregnant woman should not twist the Lower abdominal region as this can pull in the round ligaments. They can over stretch and therefore will not support the uterus and this may lead to pain, , swayback, pubic bone pain, poor fetal positioning. There is also thought that twists can disrupt the pregnancy as they are not only for the spine but also “wring ou t” the inner organs much like one wrings out a sponge. There are so many good workouts she can do that do not put her or her baby at risk.

  12. I am pregnant with my 4th child. it was a surprise due to a cone biopsy last year. will these exercises still be safe to do if i am considered high risk.

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