When it comes to pregnancy there are two main body parts that women worry about, these are the ‘abs’ and the pelvic floor. We worry about losing our ‘abs’ forever, and we worry about damaging our pelvic floor muscles. These are perfectly acceptable worries because it’s extremely common for women to end up with weakened and stretched pelvic floor muscles, or separation between the left and right sides of your abdominal muscle. But, did you know it’s actually possible to train your abs and pelvic floor throughout pregnancy to avoid issues like this?
Training your abs in pregnancy is all about prevention, and then healing after. This blog will tell you how you can train during pregnancy and why it is beneficial for you. But first let’s tackle one slight problem here, the perspective we have about ‘abs’.
It’s not about having a six pack and a flat stomach, it’s more to do with having a strong core that supports you throughout pregnancy and birth helping to prevent common issues that arise from pregnancy. A tree without a tree trunk would be weak, limp and would more than likely blow over in a small gust of wind. Your body is no different. Your core or ‘trunk’ is what keeps you strong and more able to ‘bounce back’ after giving birth.
Your abs form part of your core and are a set of strong postural muscles that also keep your internal organs intact and are made up of 5 muscles, obliques, pelvic floor, diaphragm, multifidus (lower back) and rectus abdominis. Your rectus abdomini is essentially your ‘six-pack’ muscle. It’s the one that you train when doing crunches and is formed of two parallel muscles connected by a thin band of tissue that runs vertically down the middle. Pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on these muscles and can sometimes cause them to separate. This is called Diastasis Recti, ‘diastasis’ means separation and ‘recti’ refers to the ‘rectus abdominis’.
It is perfectly normal during pregnancy, There is little research on this condition but Boissonnault & Blaschak (1988) found that 27% of women have a DRA in the second trimester and 66% in the third trimester of pregnancy (1).You cannot always prevent this separation but you CAN prevent the severity that you experience during pregnancy and then improve the healing time after.
To do this, you need to start thinking about ‘function’ rather than aesthetics – becoming more functionally fit during pregnancy. For example; keeping you pain free during pregnancy, making sure your pelvis is supported, your knees are not taking too much stress and your upper body is stacked on top of a supportive foundation. Function means you can push, pull, pick up, stand up, sit down, twist, turn and reach with ease (even with a bump!). Because sure as hell you’re going to be doing all of this in labour AND postnatal when the little one arrives.
Abdominal exercises to avoid are moves such as sit ups, planks and crunches. Now you might be thinking OMG so what exactly is left?! Well, there are tons of other exercises you can do to train your core, here’s some of the main ones we do in our Bump classes!
We call these types of exercise ‘crunchless core’ exercises – think ‘plank’ but without the same stress on the core.
The next set of exercises are functional exercises; great for pelvic floor training (without really thinking much about it) and getting that connective tissue down the front of your abs strong…
Try a few of these at home, whether you are a total novice or a fitness queen, they will keep that core strong, and ready to support that growing bump and pelvic floor.
But why? Surely, it’s all going to go to pot during pregnancy anyway so we’ll just wait until after birth and fix it then!
Sure, you can, but there is something about postnatal that is quite obvious, and that is tiredness, less time to yourself and less focus on yourself. Your core supports your knees, ankles, hips, shoulders so if you strengthen the core during pregnancy, you will be less likely to experience pains and aches during and post pregnancy. And, if you get into the habit during pregnancy, it will also be easier to keep it going even after birth.
If you are pregnant and want to learn even more about this, check out our first women’s health workshop on Exercise in Pregnancy on 24th January with Helen Keeble, a specialist pelvic health physiotherapist.