6 Ways To Activate Your Core ( Pre & Postpartum Safe!)

Keeping your core healthy and strong is crucial to overall health and wellness. A strong core decreases your chances of common pregnancy-related symptoms. Things like low back pain, hip pain, and SIJ discomfort.

The thing is...how do you start to give that area of your body some love, in a way that's pregnancy-safe?

One of the best and simplest things you can do for your core is simply staying active. Get into a moderate-intensity walking routine. This improves blood flow to your core musculature. It promotes good connective tissue. It avoids over-compression and stiffness of joints (like what happens with prolonged sitting).

Here are some specific recommendations and guidelines for working on your core strength:

1 . Activate your transverse abdominis

It’s one of the 4 deep core muscles that essentially acts like your body’s natural belly band. How? Imagine you are drawing your belly button away from a cold object. Pull it inward toward your spine...just slightly. You don’t have to do this all day every day. But, it’s especially important when sitting for > 30 minutes.  Or when you're lifting something > 10 lbs. It will give you some extra support.  Less is more. It’s a slight “sucking in” type of feeling. It's similar to trying to get into your fav jeans a few more days before switching to your maternity pants. Just keep in mind, you shouldn't do this intensely. You always want to feel like you can breathe. 

2. Plank, don’t crunch. Now, or ever. 

Tradition, rather than evidence, often dictates how core muscles are worked. Especially in the abdomen. Abdominal muscles are designed to stabilize and actually prevent motion. Much more than they are designed to flex or generate motion. Repeated flexion of the back is a potential mechanism of injury for the discs in the back. Most of the power in daily activities like bending/lifting or sport-specific movements should generate from the hips. When the core is not stable, that’s when “energy leaks” occur and the potential for injury rises. So, lots of “crunching” type motion to strengthen the core is not advisable, especially while pregnant. 

3. Engage your TA while performing a plank to make it maximally effective and safe.

This will also help prevent you from tilting your pelvis too far forward or backward while planking.

4. Obliques are important too.

If you think about how baby wraps criss-cross in the front, that’s what our internal and external obliques do to allow us to do. Rotating our core is great for this. Dancing is a great way to engage this muscle.

5. Reps and Sets

As far as how long to hold and how many to do, it’s really dependent on what feels right to you. During pregnancy, you might be able to continue doing what you’ve been doing. But just decrease the duration of each hold. So, instead of planking for 1 minute, you’d plank for 2x 30 seconds or 10 x 10 seconds.

Remember, your body is naturally applying the principles of strength training while pregnant. You have a built-in gradually increasing load. So, decreasing the amount of time you do something doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing less!

6. When You're Postpartum

Always be cleared by your healthcare providers before initiating any kind of exercise. You can do a few little TA activations on Day 1 of giving birth. I recommend keeping it no more than that intensity until 8-12 weeks postpartum. Resuming some light walking first is more important. Then, you can gradually work through the list above, from least to more impact.

There are many ways to modify planks. Here’s a list of modifications in order from least impact to most impact.

Standing Plank. 

Stand arms-length away from a wall. With open palms, pretend like you are pressing the wall away. Be sure to keep your knees slightly bent, pelvis neutral, and shoulders down and back.

Elevated Surface Plank.  

Stand next to a firm raised surface (like a countertop, desk, or back of a couch). The closer the surface is to the ground, the more challenging it will be.

Side Plank. 

This can be done from an elevated surface. Or side-planking on your knees does a great job of activating your glute medius, too.

Ab isometrics. 

Lie on your back, bend your knees, and bring your thighs up to a 90-degree angle with your pelvis. From here, you press the palms of your hands and the fronts of your thighs into each other.

Kneeling Plank. 

Here you are at ground level, knees making contact with the surface. You’re welcome to put a yoga mat or towel roll underneath your knees if they are sensitive. Place your hands down on the ground, below your shoulders, and your belly is lifted from the ground.

Standard Plank. 

Your legs are outstretched. Toes pointed down. Hands directly beneath your shoulders. Belly is lifted from the ground. 

You can perform modified planks while pregnant until you notice any kind of “doming” of your abdomen. Doming means that means there’s too much stress on the fascia around your core and it would be better to stop.

Main take-aways about pre and postpartum core work

  • Fast, repetitive crunches are not the answer for a better core.
  • Research indicates that our obliques and transverse abdominis are the primary muscles for stabilizing the lumbar spine and pelvis. Not the rectus abdominis-the primary muscle that’s worked when performing crunches.
  • Fast repetitive crunches can lead to a DECREASE in the stabilization of your pelvis and spine. They simply aren’t the answer to a better core, especially when just getting into “ab work”.
  • The main goal of doing core work should be to activate and protect it. Performing subtle movements well and voiding overstraining it.
  • Don’t force planking if it doesn’t feel right.
  • Always avoid holding your breath while performing any kind of core work, exercise, or lifting. This puts undue stress on the pelvic floor muscles.

We know it can be so tempting to want to whip out a bunch of crunches, especially postpartum, to reduce your baby belly. But really, that can lead to issues with your pelvic floor down the road. The Train4Birth program is designed with all this in mind. It safely guides you through the process of core and pelvic floor protection.


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