Sara Haley is one of our favorite pre- and post-natal exercise specialists around here. She shares awesome, fun workouts with us and great fitness tips, too. Sara has a miles-long fitness resume, including being a Reebok Global Master Trainer and choreographing and starring in more than 10 fitness DVDs. She’s a certified trainer and certified Pre/Post Natal Exercise Specialist. Today, she shares her insight on working on core strength during pregnancy.
One of the most common questions I get asked by pregnant women is: “What can I do now instead of crunches?” First of all, don’t even mention or think about crunches for at least a year. They are no longer necessary for pregnancy and probably one of the worst things you can do in immediate post recovery. In my mind, crunches are all about the aesthetics of your abdominals (which should be the least of your worries right now), so the best thing to do during pregnancy is to focus on strengthening your entire core, which is everything from your breast bone to your hip bones and everything all around (the part of the body that is effected the most during your pregnancy). You especially need to work the opposing muscles that support the abs — your lower back and your deepest core muscles (your pelvic floor). This will help keep your abdominals supported and strong, while they slowly disappear from view.
Here are three of my favorite exercise sequences for stretching and strengthening the lower back.
1. Cat/Cow to Extended Crawl
Cat/Cow is probably one of the most popular exercises for pregnancy because it just feels so good. Enjoy the stretch and release in the low back and abdominals of Cat/Cow. Follow up by engaging your abs and low back as you extend opposite arm and leg out in opposition, working to keep your hips in one place. If you find that your balance is becoming shaky and unstable as your pregnancy progresses (which is very common due to the hormone relaxin), just lift one arm at a time, followed by one leg at a time. Hold each extension for a count of anywhere from 4 to 8. Repeat 6 to 8 times total.
2. Breast Stroke Dive
From a kneeling position, breast stroke your arms through to open up your chest. This should feel amazing as your growing chest is probably becoming tighter and tighter throughout your pregnancy. Follow through by “diving” to the floor on to your hands and knees, making sure to hug your baby to your spine as you do so to keep the core muscles feeling well supported. If you’re feeling more advanced, take your hands out a little farther from your knees, or even to a full plank. Return to your knees by rocking back to your feet and rolling through a cat position to come back to an upright position on your knees. Repeat 6 to 8 times total. Feel free to hold the planks for 15 to 30 seconds for an added challenge. Please note: If you have signs of a diastasis recti, please avoid full plank.
3. Bridge Walks
Lie on your back with your feet under your knees. (Feel free to elevate your head a bit under a pillow or rolled up mat.) Reach your arms by your sides with big jazz hands as to open up your chest. Lift your hips up. Hug your baby to your spine as you get a good look at him or her from this position. Lift your heels up off the floor and alternate lifting one foot up off the floor at a time as you go for a walk. Walk for a count of 10 and then repeat as needed.
These moves are also great for postpartum recovery as well. Whether you’re pregnant or recovering, always make sure you’ve got your doc’s approval for exercise, and do what feels comfortable for you! —Erin