Despite the recent abundance of pregnant moms showing off their six-packs on Instagram, pregnancy isn't the best time for you to define your core, the area that incorporates all the muscles that make up your abs, but also your lower back and hips.
Still, core strength during pregnancy is V-I-T-A-L, largely because it can alleviate back pain, make labor easier, and help you get back in shape after giving birth. So it's a smart idea for you and literally every woman you know to maintain whatever core strength you've got long after your flat belly gives way to a bump.
Unless your doctor objects, you can (and should!) carry on with your regularly scheduled workouts when you're pregnant — at least for as long as you feel good and comfortable being active. Just note that after your first trimester, you'll want to avoid any exercises (looking at you, crunches) that put you in one of these positions, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG):
Lying face-up on your back. After your first trimester, the weight of your uterus can put pressure on your organs (Hello, there bladder!) and compress the vena cava, the vein that carries blood to your heart. Cut it off, and you won't just feel faint — you can also endanger your baby, who relies on your supply of oxygenated blood. This means no regular sit-ups, crunches, or reverses crunches. (If this wipes out your entire abs routine, see below for more ideas.)
Lying face down on your stomach. Duh, your baby belly will get in the way! It's uncomfortable and it can potentially hurt your baby.
Standing still. Any positions that challenge your muscles to hold still (like a yoga chair pose) can decrease the amount of blood returning to your heart and temporarily lower your blood pressure — a bad idea.
To stay in the safe zone and still keep your core strong, try these gentle moves from Physique 57, performed by pregnant Physique 57 instructor Tsarra Bequette.
1. Bent-Knee Kickbacks. Face a wall or super-sturdy piece of furniture and hold it for support as you bend your left knee and bring your heel behind you. Keeping your standing leg slightly bent while engaging your core for balance, press the elevated heel behind you, then bring it back so your knees are aligned. That's one rep. Continue for up to three sets of eight counts, then repeat on the opposite side.
2. Raised Heel Hip Shake. Stand with feet hips-width apart and heels together with your right hand on a wall, bare, or sturdy piece of furniture at your side for support. Bring your left hand to your hips and bend your knees as you lift your heels a few inches off the ground. Keeping your shoulders stacked above your hips, tilt your right hip to the right. Next, tilt your left hip to the left. That's one rep. Continue to alternate sides for up to three sets of eight counts.
3. Back Extensions. Get onto your hands and knees with shoulders stacked above your wrists and hips above your knees. Engaging your core for stability, carefully extend your right arm straight out in line with your body as you extend your left leg straight out behind you. Hold and then return to starting position. Continue up to three sets of eight counts and then repeat on the opposite side.
4. Single Leg Lowers on Wedge. Use a few pillows or a wedge to support your upper body, and prop your head up above your heart. Lean backward to lay face-up with your left knee bent and arms extended along your sides. Next, extend your right leg and raise it toward the ceiling. Lower it with control without touching the ground to complete one rep. Continue for up to three sets of eight counts and then repeat on the opposite side.
5. Hip Bridge Circles on Wedge. Use a few pillows or a wedge to support your upper body and prop your head up above your heart. Lean backward to lay face-up with your knees bent, heels firmly planted on the floor, and arms extended along your sides. From this position, lift your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line between your knees and shoulders. Circle your hips down and around clockwise for up to eight counts, then reverse for eight counts to complete one set. Repeat for up to three sets.
6. Heel Reaches on Wedge. Use a few pillows or a wedge to support your upper body and prop your head up above your heart. Lean backward to lay face-up with your knees bent and soles of your feet pressed against the ground. Reach your left hand beneath your left thigh for support as you extend your right hand and reach toward your right heel. Return to centre, then repeat on the opposite side, this time using your right hand underneath your right thigh to help pull you up. That's one rep. Continue to alternate sides for up to eight reps and then repeat the entire set for a total of up to three times.