8 Pregnancy-Friendly Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Core (And Why That’s Important)
The Internet is a noisy place, and pregnancy advice can be confusing. You often see suggestions to categorically avoid ab work and yoga poses that aim to strengthen the core because they’ll ruin your abs.
If you’ve spent a bit too much time googling and reading online comments and have no idea what’s right, I have good news for you. You can have a baby and keep your abs. In fact, I am actually in much better shape now, after having babies, than I was before.
Ideally, you should start working on your before you get pregnant. It can make things much easier during and after pregnancy. However, if you haven’t done it, don’t worry. It can be extremely beneficial to work on your core during pregnancy, too, regardless of whether you’ve done it before or not.
It’s not just about the looks or the abs; a strong core can bring many benefits to your health and well-being.
Let’s find out how, but first…
What Is the Core?
Before we jump into the yoga poses that can help you strengthen the core, let’s first determine what the core actually is.
You can often find the terms “core” and “abdominals” used interchangeably. However, that’s not quite accurate. “Abdominals” refers to the abdominal muscles alone, which include the four muscles in the abdominal area:
- Transverse abdominis or the TVA – the deepest core muscle that runs from the lower ribs down to the pubic bones,
- Internal obliques – the oblique muscle located above the TVA and the external obliques that start at the hip bone and end at the lower ribs and the line alba, the connective tissue that connects the left and right halves of your abdominals,
- External obliques – the muscle between the internal obliques and the rectus abdominis that runs from the lower ribs to the linea alba, the pubic and hip bones, and
- Rectus abdominis – the most superficial of the abdominal muscles, which you also know as the “six-pack.”
In the meantime, the “core” is more than just the abdominal muscles. The term refers to all muscles forming the trunk and the surrounding abdominal cavity. Therefore, core muscles include:
- The abdominal muscles (TVA, internal and external obliques, and the rectus abdominis),
- Spinal and lower back muscles,
- Diaphragm, and
- The pelvic floor muscles.
The definitions of the “core” differ, and some broader ones also include glute muscles and lats, large V-shaped muscles from the bottom of your arms to the spine.
Keep in mind that these definitions are simplified and do not include each and every muscle, bone, and ligament. That’s because they are meant for pregnant women to familiarize themselves with the structure of their bodies and learn how to strengthen their core in prenatal yoga practice.
Why Is a Strong Core Important during Pregnancy?
Having a strong core rather than just strong abdominals is always important. It provides support for your internal organs and all the activities that you do. A strong core helps you to have a good posture and prevents pain and injuries resulting from muscle weakness and imbalance.
If any of the core muscles is not performing optimally, it requires other areas to compensate for that. This can result in pain and injuries even in areas that may seem unrelated to the core, such as the neck.
During pregnancy, a strong core becomes increasingly important. Your body carries increasing extra weight, and its center of gravity changes and moves forward as the baby grows.
The additional weight in a single area puts extra strain on your lower back. This results in lower back pain, one of the most common complaints of pregnant women. However, a weak core can also lead to back tension, sciatica pain, hip pain, and upper body pain.
Having a strong core during pregnancy can help you to:
- maintain a good posture throughout pregnancy,
- alleviate the pressure on the lower back, preventing or reducing lower back pain,
- improve overall stability and balance,
- reduce the risk of injury,
- have more control and strength during labor,
- recover faster after delivery, and
- prevent the severity of diastasis recti.
What Is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti, or simply abdominal separation, is a condition in which the growing uterus causes the left and right sides of the abdominals to separate, creating a gap that runs down the middle of the abdomen.
Linea alba, the connective tissue that keeps the sheets of the abdominals together, stretches too to accommodate the growing baby. However, unlike muscles, it does not go back to its original state when the baby finally arrives. If core muscles provide weak support, this causes inaccurate engagement of the abdominals, which you may know as the “mommy tummy.”
As a result, a woman can still look pregnant even long after her pregnancy, and clothes such as jeans that used to fit before no longer do, even if the size remains the same.
A strong deep core helps draw abdominal muscles back together, pulling the belly in.
How to Correctly Engage Core Muscles during Pregnancy (and Beyond)
To prevent the formation of diastasis recti, it’s important not only to work on developing core strength but also to engage those muscles correctly. Improper engagement can lead to worsening abdominal separation even though you may be working on core strength.
In simple terms, aim for your ab muscles to “close” and pull together as if you were trying to draw your navel closer to the spine and create a corset with your abs. This will train your core muscles to pull inwards, narrowing the gap between them even when you are not exercising.
The opposite would be letting your abs sway to the sides and lift up, creating a cone or triangle shape. This can result in pulling even more on the connective tissues between the two sheets, causing them to stretch even more.
In addition to that, your abs will learn to open rather than close, which can look like a pouch after the pregnancy.
Keep in mind that correct engagement, i.e., pulling your navel to the spine, will result harder. So, if you need to lower the intensity, such as by doing fewer reps of shorter holds, do that before compromising your alignment.
Best Prenatal Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Core
If you focus on correct alignment in yoga, your core works pretty much all the time. Nonetheless, there are yoga poses that work specifically on the core.
Keep in mind that not all yoga poses and exercises will be equally beneficial during pregnancy. Some, such as crunches, sit-ups, and full Navasana, can do more harm than good, especially if you lack the deep core strength to support you and do not engage your abdominals correctly.
Below you’ll find core yoga poses that you can safely do during pregnancy.
1. Table Top
Table Top Position or all fours may seem like you’re doing nothing, but it does make you do some work if you do it correctly.
So, position your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Then, tuck your pelvis in to gently engage your lower abs. Imagine that you have a board or another flat object on your back, and you are trying to glue your lower back to it. This will prevent your back from collapsing and will provide your abs with a gentle workout instead.
If you have never done Table Top in this way, try doing the tuck against the wall first.
Hold Table Top Pose for about five breaths.
2. Cat Cows
The Cat-Cow flow is a great way to warm up the spine, relieve lower back pain and tension, and gently engage the core. Relax your abs as you inhale into Cow Pose. To engage your core muscles, pull your belly button toward the spine as you exhale into Cat Pose.
Do from five to ten rounds or more if you wish.
3. Sunbird Pose
Sunbird Pose is another pose that allows you to strengthen your core during pregnancy gently and safely. From Table Top position, extend your opposite leg and arm. Make sure not to lift them very high, but hold them parallel to the floor. Remember the tuck that you did in Table Top? Hold it here, too, to keep your core engaged.
You can either hold Sunbird Pose or do a little flow. On the exhale, round your back, and draw your belly button toward the spine and your opposite elbow and the knee together. On the inhale, extend them again. Repeat five times or more if you feel like it.
Make sure there is enough space for the little one as you move. So, if your elbow and knee don’t touch, that’s OK.
4. Modified Chaturanga
There is no reason to stop doing Chaturangas when you are pregnant. As a matter of fact, they can help you maintain your upper body strength as well as strengthen your core.
As your belly grows starting from the second trimester, your abs won’t be able to provide the same support as they did before pregnancy. Plus, the increased weight will pull your midsection down, making Chaturangas quite a challenge.
However, you can modify your Chaturangas by lowering your knees down. This way, your body will remain in an inclined position, making Chaturangas more accessible yet still allowing you to enjoy their benefits.
5. Modified Side Plank
Planks are wonderful yoga poses to strengthen the core and build endurance. To make Side Planks more accessible during pregnancy, drop your bottom knee to the floor.
6. Side Angle Pose
This pose can help you strengthen core muscles on one side and stretch them on the other. During pregnancy, prop your bottom elbow on your knee, but do not dump your weight into it. Instead, hold yourself up with your abdominals and only use your elbow as support.
7. Modified Boat Pose
Full Boat Pose is one of the yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy. It requires your rectus abdominis to do most of the work, and that’s the primary muscle that is affected by diastasis recti.
Instead, keep your legs bent with your toes touching the floor. You can also lift one leg at a time while you keep the toes of the other one on the floor. Keep your back straight when you’re in modified Boat Pose, and do not let your lower back round.
8. Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose can safely stretch the front body and hip flexors as well as strengthen back muscles and glutes. Hold the pose for about five to ten breaths or longer, and keep lifting your hips up.
Well, there you go. Don’t forget to include these yoga poses next time you practice yoga, so they help you strengthen your core during pregnancy. And remember to always stay safe.