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Answering Your Questions: Abs Part 2!

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Hi Mamas!

If you’ve been following along, you may recall that we recently had a client reach out on our Instagram asking:

“Abs: what can be done on your back and until when?”

Two weeks ago, we dove deep into one part of this question and talked about the risk that comes along with laying on your back for an extended period of time during pregnancy, as well as what we consider if we’re asking you to be on your back for an exercise during class. Today, we want to continue to unpack this question by talking about abdominal work during pregnancy. This may be one of the first and most confusing topics you come across in your pregnancy fitness journey. We made a bit of a joke about it on Instagram, but in all seriousness, if you hear that you should not train your core during pregnancy - run! The reality is that during pregnancy and postpartum, training your core (which includes everything between your knees and shoulders, BTW) is actually our top priority to support your changing body. This, of course, includes your abs. Here are two things I hear from clients all the time:

  1. Can I do a plank?

  2. I took a class at ____ and when I told the trainer that I was pregnant they just told me not to do crunches. They didn’t tell me what to do instead.

So, let’s start here:

  1. You can do planks while you are pregnant, however, your planks may look different than they did when you weren’t pregnant - and at each week of your journey.

  2. We will NEVER leave you hanging in Freya Movement classes. So much of our programming includes pregnancy safe variations on ab work.

As we mentioned in our blog about exercising on your back, in order to program the most effective workouts with specific benefits to the prenatal and postpartum body, we ask ourselves two questions:

  1. What is the potential risk when doing this exercise during pregnancy and postpartum?

  2. Why are we doing this exercise during pregnancy and postpartum?

If there is a direct risk involved with performing a given exercise, but we also feel the benefits of the work are great enough for you, we’ll find a different variation of the exercise to coach you through so it accomplishes the same goals as the original movement.

To show you how we think through this programming process, here are the answers to the questions above:

1. What is the potential risk when doing this exercise during pregnancy and postpartum?

The potential risk in performing ab exercises such as a crunch or holding a plank for a long period of time are the impacts that the pressure inside your inner core unit (a contained area between your ribs, pelvis belly, sides and back), could allow excess pressure to be placed on the sensitive connective tissue that connects your abdominal wall in the front (linea alba) as well as the vulnerable muscles at the base of your body (pelvic floor) which are responsible for protecting your internal organs, as well as bathroom and sexual function. This risk does not have an impact on your baby, but it can have an impact on your body that could last a lifetime if awareness, prevention and proper rehabilitation are not considered. The outcomes of this risk include things such as: persistent separation of the abdominal muscles, incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, etc.

2. Why are we doing this exercise during pregnancy and postpartum?

While these risks are certainly ones you want to avoid, the reason we want to train your core during pregnancy is that strengthening your inner core unit - connecting to you diaphragm and building strength and stamina in your transverse, obliques and rectus abdominals as well as your pelvic floor muscles, is EXACTLY the prescription for preventing these injuries.

Therefore, at Freya Movement we believe that how you perform an exercise is WAY more important than what exercise you are doing. So, we will always let you know why we are doing what we are doing, how to know whether or not each and every movement is safe in your body at any given point during your pregnancy and at least one clearly outlined and equally effective alternate option for you to perform should you need it. There are SO many more ways than crunches and holding your plank for 10 minutes to train your core! Here are a few things to consider to keep your body as safe as possible when you’re doing abdominal exercises during pregnancy:

  1. Some of the exercises you can perform to train your abs during pregnancy may be done on your back, on all 4’s, on your side and even standing. We recommend listening to your body and choosing variations that feel good in your body. This may mean that on Monday you feel okay on your back for 1-3 exercises (remember, it’s more about how long you stay there vs. being there), Wednesday you may have an instinct to choose all quadruped exercises, and Friday you may do 2 standing ab exercises, and one on your back — and that is okay!!

  2. As long as you are feeling comfortable and are able to follow our cues in class to find support, we may also refer to this as closure or connection, in your abdominals and pelvic floor, you get a green light to continue a specific exercise.

  3. If the position you are in is uncomfortable for any reason; at a certain point being on your back may just apply too much pressure to your pelvis and low back for example, or you’re not able to find and maintain a deep connection in your abdominals and pelvic floor while you are performing an exercise; which is typically indicated by seeing a coning, bulging or tenting shape in the middle of your belly or feeling pressure down into your pelvic floor, the time has come for you to choose a different core exercise and position.

  4. As with our answer about how long you can do exercises on your back, we find that each person’s experience is super individual, so we don’t usually prescribe any one solution for specific weeks of your pregnancy. We want you to do as much as you can as long as you can in your body safely. Therefore, we are much more focused on educating you and empowering you with the tools to feel what’s best for you and when.

We LOVE answering your prenatal/postpartum questions here, on IG, and in classes. If you have any further questions about this topic or anything else at all, don’t hesitate to reach out! In classes we will guide you through the step by step process of preparing for and performing abdominal exercises safely. In our next blog, we’ll share a few of our favorite ab exercises… some on your back and some not… and talk through the cues we use in class for you too…. Stay tuned! Book your next class now to feel this in your body soon. We look forward to seeing you on the mat! Xo Jenny & Amanda

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