14 Core Exercises For When You’re Pregnant (A Cheat Sheet For Getting Your Abs Back After You Have A Baby)

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In Episode #141 with Cassandra Forsythe (What Is A Good Pregnancy Exercise Routine?), we discussed why most recommended exercise and nutrition routines for pregnant women during or after pregnancy leaves you way more fat and out-of-shape than you need to be after you've had a baby. In reality, exercise should be considered an acceptable and regular part of pregnancy, and in most cases, you can do more than you think you can.

So while I definitely recommend you go back and listen to that podcast (or read the transcript), in today's article I'm going to give you 15 core exercises for when you're pregnant. Consider this a cheat sheet for getting your abs back after you have a baby.

But first, it's important to understand why it's crucial that you be doing core exercises when you're pregnant.

During pregnancy, you gain significant weight, and since the weight is primarily distributed in front of your body, it shifts your center of gravity forward, which creates a bend in the lower (lumbar) spine called a “lordotic” curve. This shift not only affects your posture and balance, but can also cause significant low back pain – both during and after your pregnancy.

Unfortunately, most of the resources you'll find in books, magazines and the internet simply recommend that you limit your choice of exercises to pelvic tilts (literally just standing there and tilting your pelvic muscle back and forth) or Kegel exercises. News flash: these really don't get rid of a lordotic curve or prevent low back pain.

And that's not all.

If you're concerned about getting back into shape fast, or you've developed some nice abs that you don't want to disappear for the rest of your life, pelvic tilts and Kegel exercises during pregnancy just don't get the job done.

But these exercises below will keep your stomach strong, your low back pain at bay, and let you bounce back into flat stomach shape as soon as possible after you've had your baby:

Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #1 (1st-2nd Trimester only): Front Plank Variation (i.e. Front Plank Taps are shown in the video)

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #2 (1st-2nd Trimester only): Kneeling Ab Rope or Elastic Band Crunch

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #3 (1st-2nd Trimester only): Standing Ab Crunch

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #4: Bent Knee Raises (single or double leg)

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #5: Opposite Arm/Leg Extension

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #6: Can-Can

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #7: Cable or Elastic Band Torso Twists

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #8: Saxon Bends

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #9: Russian Twists

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #10: Modified V-Sit (try to keep back at 45 degree angle for this one)

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #11: Seated Bicycle Crunches

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #12: Reach For The Sky

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #13: Seated Side Bend

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Ab Exercise for Pregnancy #14: Standing Medicine Ball Rotations

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I'd recommend you choose 2-3 exercises from the ab exercise list above, put all of them together as a back-to-back circuit, or make 2-3 of them part of a full body workout routine with other exercises. Try to work your core three times per week consistently during your pregnancy.

For example, you can do a Monday sequence three times through of 10-15 reps of:

-Bent Knee Raises
-Opposite Arm Leg Extensions

A Wednesday sequence of:

-Torso Twists
-Saxon Bends
-Modified V-Sit

And a Friday sequence of:

-Reach For The Sky
-Seated Side Bend
-Med Ball Rotations

Let's finish with a few quick tips for safety during pregnant exercise:

1) An increase of more than 1.5° Celsius in the your temperature could potentially harm your baby and cause congenital defects. So avoid exercising in hot environments and stay very well hydrated.

2) There's a reason none of the exercises above are done in a traditional crunch or sit-up position. Lying supine (on your back) creates a decrease in cardiac output by blocking venous return, and can decrease oxygen delivery to your baby.

3) During exercise, your body tries to keep up with oxygen demands, and if you exercise too hard, it can cause fetal tachycardia (irregular heart beat) and increased fetal blood pressure as your baby's body tries to protect itself. So you should never exercise at more than 75% of your heart rate reserve (click here for an easy calculator to find out your personal heart rate reserve).

4) Avoid any exercises that put you at risk of abdominal trauma. If you have any difficulty balancing and are nervous at all about falling (which can lead to fetal injury), then avoid any activities that involve abrupt or jarring movements.

5) Finally, there are absolutely situations where you should not be exercising during pregnancy. Here is a full list.

Questions, comments or feedback? Leave them below.

And if you're planning on having or trying to have a baby any time soon, you should click here to check out the Healthy Baby Code program, which teaches you the absolutely essential steps you should take before, during and after pregnancy to set the stage for fertility and lifelong health for your baby.

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

45 thoughts on “14 Core Exercises For When You’re Pregnant (A Cheat Sheet For Getting Your Abs Back After You Have A Baby)

  1. Lisa says:

    Hi Ben – I was hoping to revisit these exercises but the video links seem to have broken. Is there anywhere else we can find these exercises? Thank you, Lisa

  2. Patricia says:

    I used these exercises throughout my 1st pregnancy in 2017 and it was superb. Now I came back to this website, hoping to do them again, but the videos are not loading, for whichever reason.
    If you have another link (youtube or whatever), could kindly send it over to me?
    All the best,

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  6. Mya says:

    Which exercises are going to do 3rd trimester?

    1. I am not a doctor and this is not to be taken as medical advice but for the third trimester you need to be pretty careful with most ab and core exercises and only choose very easy movements. I'm a big fan of things like walking and swimming during the later trimesters. For more targeted help, I'd be happy to help you with the consult: insert consult link here Rachel

      1. Tracey says:

        Hi. I am one month pregnant and i am worried to put on much weight. Im slightly obese according to BMI. Please i need some advice on the types of exercises to do and a diet so i do not put on much weight

        1. HI Tracey, I've written extensively about weight loss. Search my site and you'll find plenty of information to get started with getting to healthy weight. You should consult your doctor since you are pregnant about safe ways to lose weight while you're pregnant.
          https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/ab-exerc… https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/fitness-…

  7. not childless anymore says:

    You realise none of the videos are of pregnant women doing the exercises, actually some of them seem to be of the male gender, which I am pretty sure don’t get pregnant…

  8. Andrea says:

    If these exercises are for pregnant women, I’d like to see videos with pregnant women actually doing the exercises.

  9. Natasha says:

    All the people saying these exercises are “dangerous” for pregnant women are using some very dated archaic advice. It’s funny, too, that most of them are yoga/pilates instructors. Yoga and pilates can’t come even close to weight-lifting for benefits and number of calories burned per minute. More and more pregnant women challenge outdated notions of “fragility” and ‘don’t twist or crunch’ advice and continue doing even crossfit and hardcore ballet and marathon training until the minute of giving birth. In the first trimester the embryo/fetus is microscopic and there is zero impact on abdominal muscles so that’s the time to train them ultra-hard as much as your fatigue and morning sickness allows. Good grief, no wonder we have so many overweight/obese pregnant post-birth women with so much fearmongering. Awesome job, Ben, please keep it up!

    1. Tracey says:

      So can i keep doing ab exercises cos im just a month pregnant

  10. Dawn says:

    Thanks Ben for the exercise tips. My doctor approved of these exercises and said to keeping working out at a level that feels good to me and not strain myself. So for all the women in here saying it’s not safe, I think you should let every pregnant woman decide for herself if these moves feel safe or not. Ben has posted which moves are only for the 1-2 trimester and said only to do 2-3 a workout. That’s not very difficult. Therefor I really think you shouldn’t be so hard on him, if a woman’s doctor says she is good to workout then I don’t think we need your negative opinions on here and I don’t really trust your advice. And don’t nag Ben for saying we want to stay in shape and look good. My goal is to stay in shape an look good, pregnancy is not an excuse to become lazy and fat while thinking I have to take it easy for the baby. So thanks again Ben, don’t let these women’s negative comments keep you from posting more on this topic!

  11. Olga says:

    As a Personal trainer, Ante/Postnatal instructor with Master degree in Sport science and mum I wouldn’t really recommend these exercise to pregnant women.

    Sit ups, curl ups, twisting from your waist? Seriously?? Or the exercise is not explained well enough for an average pregnant female who doesn’t really know much about exercising during pregnancy.

  12. Edi says:

    Before I got pregnant with my 1st one I had great abs, but! During my pregnancy as the baby was growing it was literally tearing those nicely trained abs apart. So painfull. My midwife said I suffer because of tight abs. Now preg with 2nd, have not done any abs since my 1st was born and don’t feel any pain at all. Thanks to those abs being already stretched, not tight. I loved my abs and planing to train them again, but would definately not recommend it prior pregnancy or during pregnancy.

  13. Paultoor says:

    Some good ones there. My wife is a runner so see does a lot of core work and she carried it threw when pregnant. Hard work but keeps you in great shape

  14. taralogel says:

    I am pregnant with my 4th child. it was a surprise due to a cone biopsy last year. will these exercises still be safe to do if i am considered high risk.

    1. That's impossible to answer with the information given… I would say, if you are worried at all, you should consult with a good sport doc who can do a thorough hands-on assessment.

  15. wondertrainer says:

    I am a very strong believer in exercise during pregnancy. I worked out during each of my pregnancies until the day(s) I gave birth. I am also a certified fitness trainer, yoga instructor, and Pilates studio owner, and I teach workshops on Pregnancy and Fitness. I have been training women through their entire pregnancies and beyond for over 10 years, and as I stated, I trained during my own 2 pregnancies. This is a subject I feel very passionately about, which is why I feel the need to weigh in here.
    I truly believe that Ben has put a lot of time and effort into these tips, and I feel that what he does is amazing. It takes a lot of dedication, time, and effort to write, speak, and be the Top Trainer in the USA. He is Badass and deserves props.
    However, I have to say that these tips are potentially quite harmful. Here's why: Twists are contraindicated during pregnancy. Crunches are not advised during pregnancy. Hanging from something is not advised during pregnancy. Movements with a wide range of motion where one straightens and bends the legs by engaging the abs is not a good thing for the round ligament, and puts a lot of strain on the lower back and hip flexors. From a practical standpoint, the abs really do need to soften so that the uterus can grow. . . because there is a BABY that is trying to grow. Space needs to be made. The abs have to stretch a lot. The exercises that you scoff at, like pelvic tilts and kegels, are actually pretty important. You state that "Unfortunately, most of the resources you’ll find in books, magazines and the internet simply recommend that you limit your choice of exercises to pelvic tilts." Yes, Ben, that is because pregnant women aren't supposed to be doing the types of exercises you recommend. They are not supposed to be doing advanced and technically challenging movements that increase the chances of injury and squish the baby. It is really easy to freak a pregnant woman out about what she is going to look like after having a baby, and you wrote that many nutrition and fitness programs for pregnancy "leaves you way more fat and out-of-shape than you need to be after you’ve had a baby."
    Really? You needed to go there? Cheap Shot.
    Women can get their bodies "back" after having kids. They can actually get tighter abs than they had pre-pregnancy. They can come back fitter, healthier, and stronger.
    So, let's keep encouraging women to exercise and challenge themselves and to feel strong while they are pregnant without encouraging them to maintain a 6 pack. Cool?

    1. JBYoga says:

      Agree! Ben you make some great offerings here , but as a childbirth educator and pre/ post natal yoga instructor I have concerns.

      I am a yoga instructor and I have founded that we can challenge and support women to encourage strength, stamina, and fitness. We can also be conservative when it comes to safety and security. Crunches put too much focus on surface and deplete her capacity to breathe. In turn the baby is depleted. She needs to get in touch with her transverse ab…her belt. She needs access to her diaphragm and intercostal muscles so she can fully respirate. A pregnant woman should not twist the Lower abdominal region as this can pull in the round ligaments. They can over stretch and therefore will not support the uterus and this may lead to pain, , swayback, pubic bone pain, poor fetal positioning. There is also thought that twists can disrupt the pregnancy as they are not only for the spine but also “wring ou t” the inner organs much like one wrings out a sponge. There are so many good workouts she can do that do not put her or her baby at risk.

  16. Jessica Messer says:

    So glad I came across your blog post!! FINALLY a pregnancy workout that isn't just stretching and breathing!! Can you recommend strength training for the pregnant woman?? I would love to be able to keep my tone in my arms and legs during this pregnancy. I am definitely implementing these workouts into my daily regimen along with my running.

    1. Do a search for my interview with Cassandra Forsythe. It will help you for sure!

    2. wondertrainer says:

      Please see the message I just publicly posted to Ben. You shouldn't be doing most of these movements. They are contradindicated during pregnancy

  17. Chronic Pain says:

    Seems like hard core exercises for a delicate woman…. I really doubt if a single woman would be ready to do these hard core exercises… One has to be strong enough mentally as well as from the core of her heart to perform these exercises…

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  19. SummerSong says:

    Thanks for the exercises! I've been told by dr's to do regular core exercises because of some back issues I had, but never quite knew what exercises where safe/effective during pregnancy. Pelvic tilts and cat/cow just doesn't feel like it does anything.

  20. monavie says:

    It’s very trouble-free to find out any topic on web as compared to textbooks, as I found this piece of writing at this website.

  21. Jillian says:

    I was wondering why I can't see the videos in this post.

  22. Get Pregnant Jessy says:

    I always thought that you should take it easy during the pregnancy… somehow i feel that this is something you should learn early on and it should be common knowledge… but it isnt. Anyway thx for a good read!

    1. SummerSong says:

      And that's why so many women get fat when they get preggers. They don't think they should exercise and eat too much of whatever they feel like. There are women given bed rest, and of course now is not the time to be pushing yourself too hard, but taking it easy is a disaster waiting to happen!

      I biked about 100 miles a week and up until the day before my little girl was born because that's what I did before I got pregnant. I didn't push myself, start anything new, and if I felt overly tired, gave myself plenty of rest. The end result was I was back to pre-pregnancy weight/ pant size in about three months continuing to eat the regular healthy meals I usually do (with some treats and junk food too). Although it's nothing scientific, I personally think my little girl has the happy sunny personality that she does because of all the contact with endorphins she had before she was born.

      1. TANIA GORDON says:

        All well and good but it sounds like you have had one pregnancy ? Have u ever suffered losses ? Had a previous c section because it sounds like your experience is seriously limited to be giving advice to other pregnant women maybe once you have a bit more experience you will be less opinionated and better informed therefore in a position where you can actually have an opinion haha

  23. Terri says:

    I m sorry but crunches and curls, bent knee raises etc are NOT suitable for pregnant women, they have very little use for the general public. They can cause diastasis recti in men and woman as well as herniated discs, abdominal hernias and but worse than anything, prolapse in women. Functional exercises are more appropriate, if done correctly the core is utilised. Pregnant women should be training postural muscles including obliques as they assist in delivery.

  24. Rosemary says:

    Am fat and expecting my first baby, a little exercise ll give me alot of pains what ll l do?

  25. Ben,
    Your abdominal exercises for pregnant women could get you in some serious trouble. You are recruiting alot of rectus and obliques throughout your workout which puts women at a much higher risk for diastasis recti. The only "safe" abdominal exercises during pregnancy will be recruiting the transversus abdominus and quieting the rectus abdominus and obliques. A simple way to achieve this would be to stay with any plank or hands and knees exercises and omit all others. Any abdominal exercise that curls your ribs closer to your pelvis will recruit those unwanted abs as well as force more pressure down on those strained pelvic floor muscles. Careful!!!
    Tasha Mulligan, PTpartnersllc.com

    1. That's why I've made notes on specific trimesters…I'm very aware of diastasis recti and I've trained LOTS of pregnant women!

      1. Shannon says:

        I do see the benefit to some of these exercises, others not so much. In my experience with exercise during pregnancy I feel that there is a great deal of concentration on exercises that will likely do more harm than good (to the mom to be). Although you are educated on diastasis recti I do hope that women are doing there own homework before embarking on this exercise regime.

    2. lindsey says:

      I’d have to agree. Per trimester or not, you do not want to be doing things like v-situps or holding planks for extended periods of time. Now I’m not one to only train the TA because we do not function like that in the real world. DRA is a symptom that men and women can develop and it’s from a dysfunction in the overall system (whole body). You’ve got to find the root of the problem. Prenatal fitness and postpartum fitness is something that is seriously lacking any kind of substantial research and experience. Our country needs to do better.

  26. Kumar says:

    I’m a 28 yr old and weigh 171 lbs with 20% body fat. I have a pretty active lifestyle which includes lifting weights 3 times a week and 2-3 times a week of good 45 mins cardio with intervals etc. My goal is to lose some fat and build lean mass and I’m on a 2000 calorie diet with carb/protein/fat in ratio of 40/30/30 but I sometimes go a bit high on protein and might add 200 more calories. Does this excess protein convert into fat or does it just tax the kidneys a little more and get flushed out? Do you have any more suggestions on changing the ratio of carb/protein/fat intake and still create some calorie deficit.
    PS: Thanks a lot for your advice on fixing my lower back issues. I’m doing some of your stretches from the book runwithnopain and it’s working out pretty well for me :)

  27. Helene Byrne says:

    Because pregnancy alters alignment and causes a kyphotic/lordotic posture, abdominal exercises should focus on lower spine flexion, with only limited upper spine flexion. Isolations of the Transverse Abdominis, either side-lying, seated, or standing, should be done daily.
    Pregnant women should also be tested for diastasis recti by week 20, and if found, avoid all twisting movements, as these place shear forces across the linea alba (mid line connective tissues) which will worsen the condition and may lead to complications such as umbilical hernia or pelvic instability.

  28. Amy says:

    Looks like a killer core workout for any woman, pregnant or not!

  29. blu-k says:

    Thanks for this. I too found a lot of the exercise advice when pregnant limited and lacking in evidence to back it up. On my second pregnancy and will incorporate a few of these exercises.

    First time round a physio recommended the opposite arm/leg extension as the number one for abs, concentrating on good form. By the end i could only do arm extensions, but I did get my abs back after the baby so it did help.

    Not so sure about the russian twists or v-sit towards the end of pregnancy – by the third trimester it would be quite difficult to sit up enough (because of the belly in the way) to stop muscle separation …

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