Preparing for a baby? It’s time to prepare your body as well. During pregnancy, your body goes through physical changes which can cause temporary low back or pelvic pain, abdominal muscle separation, or urine leakage. Strengthening your core can help prevent or treat these symptoms (even after delivery). Let’s learn how to use it and take back control!
What is the core and how does it work? The “core” is a group of muscles in your midsection which work together to stabilize your back and pelvis. First, let’s find the key muscles involved in our core training exercises:
- The diaphragm muscle sits underneath the lungs and helps you inhale.
FIND IT! Place your hands on your belly. As you breathe in through your nose, feel your belly gently rise. As you breathe out through your mouth, let the belly return down.
Avoid: pushing the belly out forcefully or using the chest to breathe in.
- The transverse abdominal muscle, or TA muscle, connects the hip bones across the front of your lower belly to stabilize your pelvis and back. It should contract as you breathe out.
FIND IT! Put your hands on your hips and curl your fingers in front of the hip bones. As you breathe in, the belly rises. As you exhale, tighten the TA muscle under your fingers. You can do this by sinking the belly-button down to your back and your fingers should feel a gentle tightening of the abdominals.
Avoid: pushing the belly out forcefully.
- The pelvic floor muscles include the vaginal, urinary, and rectal muscles. These help control bowel/bladder function and are involved in the childbirth process.
FIND THEM! Imagine trying to hold in gas or urine. Gently squeeze the vaginal and rectal muscles to keep from passing gas or urine, and then relax them.
These muscles can now work together to stabilize the back and pelvis. Let’s put it all together with an exercise to coordinate these muscles:
- Lie face-up with your knees bent 90° and hands on your hips.
- Breathe in through your nose, gently filling your belly with air.
- Breathe out through your mouth, tightening the TA and pelvic floor muscles together*.
Relax and repeat Steps 2-3 until comfortable with this exercise.
*For extra help activating the TA and pelvic floor muscles, squeeze a ball or pillow in-between your knees as you exhale in Step 3.
After you have learned how to coordinate the core muscles with Steps 1-3, let’s put them to the test. Add Step 4 to test if the core muscles are stabilizing your back and pelvis:
- Once the TA and pelvic floor muscles are tightened: lift one bent leg slightly off the ground and place it back down, then lift and replace the opposite bent leg. While doing this, make sure your back does not arch. Use your hands to feel that your hips are not moving, so the pelvis is stable.
This will take some practice!
Relax and repeat Steps 2-4 until comfortable with this exercise.
These exercises should build strength and control, but should NOT cause back or pelvic pain.
Once you have mastered Step 4 to stabilize your back and pelvis, start using your core in everyday activities! Engage your core with Steps 2-3 before getting up from a chair or out of bed, use it to help you lift groceries or any other challenging activity. With practice, you can create a strong base of support to help protect your body from injury.
For more help learning to use your core or to advance your practice, find a local Pilates pregnancy course or women’s health physical therapist.