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The Best Core Exercises for the Second Trimester and Beyond

Peri of the PH method




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

The second trimester is that sweet spot in pregnancy where you finally have energy again, and yes, that means you may find yourself interested in getting back to your weekly workout routine. But with that bump growing, you're likely wondering can I workout my core while pregnant, and what are the best core exercises you can actually do while pregnant. The good news is, there are plenty of safe and effective second trimester core exercises that can keep you and your little one healthy. Exercising during pregnancy can be a great way to ease tension and get your endorphins pumping, while also keeping you and your baby healthy. It may seem counterintuitive to do second trimester core exercises while pregnant, but it’s far from it. When done safely, they make a great addition to any second-trimester exercise routine.

But before we share our favorite ab exercises during second trimester, let's take a moment to acknowledge how incredible your body is right now. You're creating life, and that's no small feat. Believe it or not, exercise can help you stay more comfortable during your pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. But what once may have felt “beginner” or “easy” may now be more challenging. Be patient with yourself. Movement, including stretching, is incredibly important for your physical and mental health and you should be proud that you’re pushing yourself during what may seem like a difficult time.

To talk more about second trimester core exercises, I’m excited to introduce this community to Peri Hughes, Founder of the PH Method. Peri is a certified fitness trainer and prenatal exercise specialist based in San Francisco (which is how I found her when I was pregnant with Caden) with years of experience in helping expectant mothers stay fit and healthy during pregnancy.

Best 2nd Trimester Core Postpartum Exercises

Understanding the Importance of Your Ab Exercises During Pregnancy

The Role of Core Strength in Pregnancy

Core strength plays a crucial role, especially during the second trimester. It's like the body's natural corset, holding everything in place, providing stability and balance, and helping you carry the extra weight of your growing baby bump. And yes, a strong core can also make labor and postpartum recovery smoother! 

Changes in Abdominal Muscles During Pregnancy

As your belly expands, your abdominal muscles (specifically the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominals) stretch and separate to accommodate your growing baby. This is completely normal, but it does mean your core strength can be impacted, including your low back. That's where core exercises, step in, helping to maintain muscle strength and prevent issues like lower back pain that's so common during pregnancy. During these second trimester core exercises, it's important to keep your spine neutral, back flat, and concentrate on your core breathing. Squeeze your hips and raise your torso to make it a straight line from head to hips while you keep your head and neck straight.

A Trainer's Advice on Maintaining a Safe Ab Exercise Routine

Frequency of Ab Workout

The magic number for abdominal exercises during pregnancy is…there isn’t one! Every woman's body and pregnancy experience is unique. However, Peri Hughes, our expert trainer, suggests aiming for 2-3 times per week. Always listen to your body – if it's saying ‘not today', that's perfectly okay.

Equipment Needed

Many of these second trimester core exercises Peri suggests can be done with minimal or no equipment. A yoga mat, pilates bal, resistance band, and light handheld dumbbell weights and ankle weights are helpful for certain exercises. But really, the best ‘equipment' you have is your own body.

Can You Do Core Exercises on Your Back During Pregnancy?

Yes! Peri emphasizes “It is important that we are training our core in different positions to mimic the movement patterns we are doing in day-to-day life. So, I like to train my core not only on the back but also in All 4's, Seated, kneeling and standing positions too.”

A Trainer’s Safe Second Trimester Workout Plan for Expectant Mothers

What exercises are safe during second trimester? Let's dive into some of Peri’s favorite effective and (more importantly) safe core exercises tailored for your journey through the second trimester.

Seated Diaphragmatic Breathing (360 Breathing)
Image courtesy of Peri Hughes: Seated Diaphragmatic Breathing (360 Breathing)

Diaphragmatic Breathing (360 Breathing)

The top fundamental component of prenatal fitness is diaphragmatic breathing, also known as 360-degree breathing. It's one of the safe and effective second trimester core exercises you can do on a daily basis.

Peri says, “This is truly the GOAT when it comes to core exercises in pregnancy. It is safe to do throughout all trimesters and it is the most effective way for us to train our deep ab muscles.” The beauty of this exercise is that you can do it anywhere, anytime!

During my own pregnancy, I found this breathing technique to be a real game-changer in learning and understanding my body and my connection to my core – something I took for granted prior to pregnancy. Carrying into the third trimester when movement becomes even more challenging, doing diaphragmatic breathing, also known as transverse abdominis breathing, became my defacto exercise to replace any corework that wasn’t safe for that point in my pregnancy. This is also an essential exercise during postpartum when you learn how to reconnect with your core.

Image courtesy of Peri Hughes: Bird Dog – a safe second trimester core exercise

Bird Dog

A personal favorite because there are so many variations is the “Bird Dog.” Peri describes it as “a great core exercise that works our deep core stabilizers, it also taps into your posterior chain [structures at the back of the legs and spine, and your glutes] which can help improve posture throughout pregnancy.” This simple movement which is often used in yoga and pilates became my replacement for all crunches in my workouts. Additionally, the Bird Dog exercise is effective for targeting the obliques, deep TA abs, outer glutes, hips, and shoulders. Another effective exercise for targeting the obliques is the modified side plank. You can always scale it to fit your skill level. Lie on your side, supporting yourself up on your elbow and forearm. Make sure that your back is straight, and bend your bottom knees while keeping it in contact with the floor.

To add variety to your second trimester core exercise routine, you can also try the incline side plank. This exercise allows you to achieve a full side plank position but from an easier position. You will be working across gravity, rather than directly against it. To do this exercise, you will need a sturdy table or sofa to support your full weight.

 Supported Cross Body Taps w. Ball
Image courtesy of Peri Hughes: Supported Cross Body Taps w. Ball

Marching Cross Body Taps with Ball

The “Marching Cross Body Taps with Ball” exercise not only strengthens your core, but also promotes a sense of balance, which can sometimes feel a bit off during pregnancy. Peri notes, “The cross-body, oppositional movement pattern in this exercise works the anterior sling across the Abdominal wall. It is important we train this mind-to-muscle connection to better support us in the postpartum period as we work on narrowing the gap caused by Diastasis Recti.”

Best 2nd Trimester Core Postpartum Exercises

How to Perform Second Trimester Core Exercises

Now that we covered WHAT your second trimester ab workout plan is, let’s review HOW to do them safely, led by our expert trainer!

Diaphragmatic Breathing (360 Breathing)

Peri’s instructions: “Find a comfortable seat either on a chair or sitting cross-legged. Sit up tall with your ribs aligned over your hips and your ears over your shoulders. Bring one hand to your belly and one to the side of your rib cage. Take a deep inhale through your nose, breathing deep into your rib cage and your belly. On your exhale, purse your lips and visualize a birthday candle 8 inches away from your mouth. Exhale the air out like you are blowing through a straw. Allow the breath to be audible. Every time you exhale, you want to gently hug your deep core muscles towards your spine.”

Bird Dog

Peri’s instructions: “Start in an All 4's quadruped position with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. As you inhale, extend your opposite arm and leg off the floor and away from the midline. Exhale and engage your core and lift your pelvic floor, bringing the hand and knee together under your belly. Inhale to extend the arm and leg back out, maintaining a 90 degree angle in your knee. Keep your spine steady in neutral as you move, ensuring that you don't experience any discomfort in your back.” (Repeat 6-8x each side).

Marching Cross Body Taps w. Ball

Peri’s instructions: “Place a small pilates ball behind your back between the ribcage and hips. Rest your elbows and forearms down by your side, and keep your throat open and chest wide. Feet are hips-width distance on the floor with your knees bent. Inhale through the nose to prepare, exhale through pursed lips, and begin activating your core and hugging your baby towards your spine, as you exhale you are lifting one knee up to a rooftop position and bringing the opposite hand across the body to meet and press against the thigh. Inhale again and lower the arm and leg back down. (Repeat 6-8x alternating sides).” With control, bring the band back to the starting position and repeat this movement to target the deep transverse abdominals, lower abs, upper abs, low back, hips, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, and upper body.

Best 2nd Trimester Core Postpartum Exercises

The Potential Risks of Unsafe Ab Exercises in Pregnancy

And now, let’s discuss something crucial— the potential risks of performing unsafe second trimester core exercises during pregnancy.

Understanding Diastasis Recti

What exactly is Diastasis Recti? Simply put, it refers to the separation of the abdominal muscles, which happens when your growing uterus pushes against the abdominal wall. Now, don't panic! It sounds scary, but with the right knowledge and precautions, it's entirely manageable.

According to Peri, “If you do not exhale on the effort part of any exercise during your pregnancy, you can create a mismanagement of pressure in the core, which we call intra-abdominal pressure. Essentially the breath builds up in our core canister and will put additional pressure on the linea alba (long fibrous band of connective that extends from the sternum to the pubic bone) this can not only promote a Distasis Recti but also pressure down in the pelvic floor. This can feel like pressure or a heaviness in the pelvic region and can in some cases cause leaking when lifting a heavy object.”

How to Prevent Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy

But how can we prevent Diastasis Recti during pregnancy? All women get some degree of diastasis recti in pregnancy. The key to minimal damage and faster recovery lies in choosing the right second trimester core exercises and paying close attention to form. Opt for workouts that gently engage your abs, like the Bird Dog exercise we mentioned earlier. Avoid strenuous exercises that put too much pressure on your abdominals. You’ll know you are pushing your limits if you see “coning” of your abs with a bulge along the middle of your stomach.

Avoiding Twisting Movements

A very important reminder from Peri: “We also want to be mindful of performing quick, twisting-type moves in core exercises in the second and third trimesters. This can trigger Round Ligament Pain which can feel like a sharp jabbing sensation down the side of your abdomen. The Round Ligament attaches the uterus to the pelvic bone and stretches from its pre-pregnancy size of roughly 2cm to 12cm by the 3rd trimester. Any sharp, sudden movements can cause this pain to occur later on in pregnancy. Focusing on core exercises that work our deep core stabilizing muscles are much more effective in the later second and third trimesters. A good way to check in is to make sure you can keep your pelvis and spine stable as you perform this core exercise.” 

If you are an active yoga fanatic, this is an especially important reminder since so many poses involve twisting. Instead of twisting the opposite direction, for example twisting to the left in a left foot forward warrior position aka Twisted Warrior pose, open your chest in the direction of your hips, in this example towards the right, also known as Extended Side Angle.

How to Maintain Motivation for Regular Ab Exercises

Maintaining regular workout motivation can be challenging, especially when you're navigating through the changes of pregnancy. Start by setting attainable goals; small victories can fuel your motivation – you’ll be surprised what 15 minutes of movement can do for your energy and mind.

Pregnancy Safe Core Workout Resources

Peri suggests “the work of Dr Sarah Duvall. She is a great resource for pre and postnatal women. With helpful tips and exercises to support common postpartum conditions. The Motherkind Podcast also offers honest conversations around the highs and lows of motherhood.”

Stay tuned for more pregnancy and postpartum fitness and wellness advice, and be sure to follow Peri Hughes for daily tips.

Photo by Yan Krukau


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