18 Safe Transverse Abdominis Exercises You Can Do During Pregnancy

Are you pregnant and you want to train your ab muscles?

This post will teach you how.

Specifically, you’ll learn how to target the transverse abdominis muscles and the obliques no matter what trimester you’re in.

These are the muscles necessary to help treat and prevent diastasis recti.

Are you ready?

safe-abdominal-exercises-in-pregnancy

Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

Is It Safe To Do Ab Exercises in Pregnancy?

Yes, it’s safe to do ab exercises during pregnancy. In fact, it’s recommended that you keep your core strong as you get into the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.

The most important thing is that you avoid doing traditional ab exercises like sit-ups or crunches.

Instead, you need to focus primarily on strengthening the transverse abdominis.

I’ll show you how soon.

With that said, make sure to get clearance from your healthcare provider before doing any type of exercise at all.

Ok?

Benefits of Strengthening Your Core During Pregnancy

So why is core work so important during pregnancy?

For starters, your core gets significantly weak throughout the pregnancy.

This is a result of the muscles becoming stretched (from the growing uterus) and from not being used (since many women are afraid to do ab exercises).

By doing direct core work in pregnancy, you may see several benefits such as:

  • Decreased risk of diastasic recti
  • Improved posture
  • Decrease risk of back pain
  • Increased postpartum recovery

What Is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti is a condition where the muscles of your six-pack separate along the midline.

This leaves a gap in your abdomen that allows your intestines to protrude out.

The bulge can be fairly noticeable depending on the size of the separation.

How can I prevent my belly from separating during pregnancy?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive way of ensuring that diastasis recti doesn’t happen to you.

With that said, you might be able to decrease your risk by strengthening the muscles of your core.

The key core muscles are:

  • The Transverse Abdominis aka TVA
  • The Obliques, and
  • The Rectus Abdominis

Let’s go over them really quickly.

abdominal-exercises-in-pregnancy

The Transverse Abdominis (TVA)

The transverse abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle that wraps around your abdomen like a corset.

It functions by compressing your ribs and abdominal muscles, while maintaining spinal stability.

In fact, it is one of the muscles that helps you deliver your baby.

The Obliques

The oblique muscles lie on the sides of your belly. They are where “love handles” are located.

These muscles help you bend sideways, and rotate.

The Rectus Abdominis

Lastly, the rectus abdominis are the “six-pack” muscles. They work to stabilize your spine and pelvis, and allow you to flex your torso.

Of the three, the transverse abdominis is thought to be the most important muscle group in preventing and treating diastasis recti.

How Can I Strengthen My Transverse Abdominis During Pregnancy?

So how do you exercise your transverse abdominis?

Easy.

You need to do exercises that

  1. require spinal stability, and
  2. gently compress the core muscles along your obliques

The good news is, you don’t need to do exercises that “isolate” the TVA. All of the ab exercises listed below will target one or more core muscles while strengthening the TVA.

But here are the top three exercises that do focus most on the transverse abdominis that you can do in pregnancy.

Top 3 Transverse Abdominis Isolation Exercises You Can Do In Pregnancy

#1 Posterior Pelvic Tilts

The pelvic tilt is the most fundamental exercise in learning how to activate the TVA muscles.

It also helps to restore your hips and low back into a normal anatomical neutral position.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • There will be a natural arch in your low back- it is normal if your low back does not make contact with the floor.
  • The goal of this exercise is to flatten out this curve so that your low back makes contact with the floor.
  • To start, focus, on driving your belly button down toward the floor, and letting your tail bone rotate up toward the sky.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  • As subtle as the movement is, you should feel your transverse abdominis muscle activating.
  • Repeat.
posterior-pelvic-tilt

If you are in the second or third trimester of pregnancy – you can do this exercise against a wall.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand with your back against a wall with your feet at least 6-12 inches away.
  • Make three points of contact with the wall, your head, your upper back, and your butt.
  • Again, there will be a natural arch in your low back.
  • The goal of the exercise is to flatten out this curve so that your low back makes contact with the wall.
  • Focus on driving your belly button back toward the wall while tilting your pelvis posteriorly.
  • Once your low back is flat against the wall, squeeze your ab muscles and hold this position for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat.

#2 Diaphragmatic Breathing

The second exercise to teach you how to isolate the transverse abdominis muscle is diaphragmatic breathing.

All it involves is taking purposefully deep breaths using your diaphragm muscle.

Here’s how:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs crossed.
  • Relax your shoulders so that you aren’t holding any tension in your neck.
  • From here, inhale as much as you can by expanding your belly to it’s fullest capability.
  • As you are inhaling make sure that your shoulders do not move- you want the entire movement to come just from your belly.
  • Hold the inhale for 1 second, and then slowly begin to exhale.
  • Exhale, as much as you possibly can over 5 seconds.
  • Focus on squeezing your TVA muscles at the fully exhaled position for 3 seconds.
  • Repeat.
deep-breathing

#3 Cat Cow

The third exercise that can help isolate the TVA muscle is the cat cow. You may be familiar with this exercise from yoga.

Here’s how it looks:

  • Get into a quadruped position (on hands and knees) with your back as flat as possible.
  • From here, begin inhaling as you arch your back and draw your head up toward the sky.
  • Hold this position for 2-3 seconds.
  • Then, reverse the movement by exhaling and completely rounding out your back and tucking your chin to your chest.
  • In this fully rounded position, focus on drawing in your abdominal muscles and hold this position for 2-3 seconds.
  • Repeat.
cat-to-cow

These three exercises can be practiced every single day throughout your pregnancy.

They will help

  1. Strengthen your core,
  2. Increase blood flow to your spine, and
  3. Promote spinal mobility

Now let’s go over other safe abdominal exercises you can do while pregnant.

These will target all of the muscles listed above, not just the transverse abdominal muscles.

Ab Exercises for The First Trimester of Pregnancy

Here are 5 great core exercises you can do in the first trimester.

As always, make sure your doctor says it okay, and avoid any exercise that feels funny or causes pain/discomfort.

Let’s get started.

Sitting Leg lifts

The first exercise is the sitting leg lifts. This movement will strengthen your lower abs, as well as the transverse abdominis.

Here’s how it looks:

  • Sit down on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
  • Keep your feet together, and point your toes forward.
  • Next, place your hands down by your sides. (The further down closer to your feet, you place your hands, the harder the exercise)
  • Then, bring both of your legs up towards the sky while keeping your legs straight and feet together.
  • Hold this position for 1 second and slowly lower back down.

To make this exercise easier, only lift one leg at a time while keeping the other foot on the floor.

To make it more challenging, bring your hands closer to your feet.

Do 8-12 repetitions per set.

leg-raises-ab-exercises

In and Outs

The next exercise is the In and Out. This exercise will strengthen the lower abs as well as the transverse abdominis.

Here’s how it looks:

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Place your hands down on the floor at your sides by your hips.
  • Lift both feet off the floor to shift all your weight to your buttocks.
  • Slowly extend your legs straight out as you lean back slightly.
  • Do not let your feet touch the floor.

To make this exercise easier, you can elevate yourself onto a chair or a bench.

To make it more challenging, slow down the tempo to 3 seconds in, and 3 seconds out.

Do 12-15 repetitions per set.

in-and-out

Side Planks

Next is the side plank. This is one of the best exercises for strengthening the obliques and the TVA.

The good news is, this exercise can be scaled up or down depending on your preferred level of difficulty.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Position yourself on your side, with your legs straight, and your hips extended.
  • Prop yourself up on your elbow/forearm.
  • Next, brace your core and squeeze your butt muscles as you elevate your hips off the ground.
  • Stack your feet on top of each other, and make sure that your spine is straight.
  • The only two points of contact on the floor should be your feet and your forearm.

To make this exercise easier, place the bottom knee on the ground.

To make it more challenging, prop yourself up onto your hand with your arm straight.

Do 20-30 seconds per side.

side-plank-ab-exercises

Dead Bugs

Next up is the dead bug. This exercise is performed while lying on your back, and will activate the entire rectus abdominis and TVA.

Here’s how it looks:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, and feet off the floor.
  • Next, raise your arms up toward the ceiling. This is the starting position.
  • From here, posteriorly tilt your pelvis.
  • Next, begin lowering your right leg as you extend it toward the floor. At the same time, you will bring your left arm up and over your head until it is also parallel to the floor.
  • Hold this position for 2-3 seconds and focus on activating your TVA muscles.
  • Do not let your low back come off the ground
  • Slowly go back to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg and arm.

To make this exercise easier, keep the knee bent of the working leg as you extend it down toward the floor.

To make it more challenging, place a foam roller or a long yoga block between the elbow and knee of the non-working side, and don’t let it drop.

Do 10-12 repetitions per side.

dead-bugs-ab-exercise

Up and Down Planks

The last exercise is the hardest. The up and down plank will challenge you in your ability to maintain core stability while moving.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Start in a forearm plank position, with your core tight and your glutes engaged.
  • From here, transition into a straight arm plank, by extending one arm at a time.
  • Try to minimize any side-to-side swinging, and do not let your hips sag or pike up into the air.
  • You will then continue alternating between a forearm plank and a straight arm plank.

To make this exercise easier, you can do it from your knees, or you can widen your feet.

There’s no need to make this exercise any more challenging :).

Do 10-12 repetitions per set.

up-and-down-plank

Ab Exercises For The Second Trimester of Pregnancy

Alright so now you are between 13 and 27 weeks. Your baby is getting bigger, and you won’t be able to do some of the ab exercises listed above.

Thankfully, there are easier variations you can perform that will still give you a great ab workout.

Here they are.

Sitting Alternating Leg Lifts

The alternating leg lift is similar to the one above, except, you will be doing one leg at a time.

Here’s how it looks:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
  • Keep your feet together, and point your toes forward.
  • Place your hands down by your sides.
  • From here, raise one of your legs up towards the sky, keeping your knee extended and toes pointed.
  • Hold this position for 1 second and then repeat with your other leg.
  • To make this exercise more challenging, bring your hands closer to your feet.

Do 8-10 repetitions per side.

sitting-straight-leg-raise

Alternating In and Outs

Similarly, we can also do the In and Out exercise with one leg at a time. This will make the exercise less demanding, and give you more space to accommodate your growing uterus.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Place your hands down on the floor, at your sides, by your hips.
  • Lift both feet off the floor and bring your knees up toward your chest.
  • Slowly extend one leg straight out as you keep the other leg bent.
  • Do not let your foot touch the floor.
  • Slowly return back to the starting position and repeat with your other leg.

Do 8-10 repetitions per side.

alternating-in-and-outs

Bird Dogs

The next exercise is the bird dog. This is a great movement to teach you how to stabilize your core from a safe position.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Assume a quadruped position (on hands and knees) with a flat back.
  • First, brace your core and posteriorly tilt your pelvis.
  • Next, lift your right knee off the ground and begin extending that leg straight behind you.
  • At the same time, lift the opposite arm and extend it straight out in front of you.
  • Hold this position for 3 seconds while squeezing your glute muscles and keeping your ab muscles engaged.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Do 8-10 repetitions per side.

bird-dog

Modified Side Planks

Next up is the oblique focused exercise – the modified side plank.

This exercise is performed exactly the same as the full side plank, except your bottom knee will remain on the floor.

This is what it looks like:

Do 20-30 seconds per side.

modified-side-plank-pregnancy

Mountain Climber

The last second trimester ab exercise is the mountain climber. This exercise will target the lower abs while teaching you how to stabilize the TVA muscle.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Assume a tall plank position, which is the same as the starting position of a push-up.
  • Make sure your hands are directly underneath your elbows, which are directly underneath your shoulders.
  • Keep your back straight, your glutes activated, and your core engaged.
  • From here, pick up one leg and bring that knee to your elbow.
  • Don’t worry if you can’t make contact. Slowly bring that knee back down and repeat on the other side.
  • If this exercise is too challenging, then perform it with your hands on an elevated surface such as a bench, chair, or sofa.

Do 12-15 repetitions on each side.

mountain-climbers-ab-exercises

Ab Exercises for The Third Trimester of Pregnancy

Okay, now you’re in the third trimester. You’re uterus is growing at the fastest rate and your ab muscles are stretching.

This is an important time to strengthen the core.

Here’s how.

Quadruped Leg Extensions

The quadruped leg extension is a scaled back version of the bird dog. This exercise will help strengthen the core stabilizers while activating your glute muscles.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Assume a quadruped position (on hands and knees) with a flat back.
  • From here, brace your core and posteriorly tilt your pelvis.
  • Then, lift one knee off the ground and begin extending that leg straight behind you.
  • Hold this position for 2-3 seconds and return it slowly.
  • Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions and then switch sides.

Do 10-12 repetitions per side.

quadruped-leg-extension-ab-exercise

Modified Plank Reps

The next exercise is the modified plank.

You can do this exercise from the standard plank position (on your forearms) or in a tall plank (which is a bit harder).

Here’s how it looks:

  • Assume a tall plank position, which is the same as the starting position of a push-up.
  • Make sure your hands are directly underneath your elbows, and that your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders.
  • Keep your back straight, your glutes activated, and your core engaged.
  • From here place one knee down on the ground.
  • Slowly straighten that leg and then place the other knee on the ground.
  • Keep your core tight the entire time

Do 10 repetitions per side.

modified-plank-reps-pregnancy-workout

Modified Side Plank (Both legs bent)

This variation of the side plank is the most scaled variation. Instead of having one leg bent on the floor, you will keep both legs bent on the floor.

Here’s what it looks like.

To make it more challenging, you can perform a tall side plank with your arm extended (hand on the ground rather than your forearm).

Hold this position for 15-30 seconds per side.

side-plank-pregnancy

Pallof Press

The next exercise requires the use of a closed-loop resistance band.

(I recommend you pick up a set because they will allow you to do so many different exercises).

The pallof press will strengthen the oblique muscles and the TVA without you even having to move!

Here’s how to do it.

  • Tie one end of a closed loop resistance band against a sturdy structure such as a pole or a horizontal beam.
  • Interlock your hands on the other end of the band and hold it up by your chest.
  • Step away from the pole to place the band on tension.
  • Next, turn away from the pole so that you are facing away from it.
  • Brace your core and press the band directly out in front of you.
  • The band will try to rotate your torso. Do not allow this to happen.
  • Hold this position for 3 seconds and slowly bring the band back toward your chest.
  • Repeat.

Do 12-15 repetitions per set.

pallof-press

Farmer Carry

The last exercise is the farmer carry.

This is another great oblique and transverse abdominis exercise that doesn’t require any abdominal movement.

You will need to use something moderately heavy such as a dumbbell, a small suitcase filled with books, or a backpack filled with books.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Grab the weight with only one hand and hold it close to your side.
  • Then, all you have to do is walk.
  • The weight will try to bend your torso laterally, do not let this happen.
  • Walk until your grip starts to give out.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Walk until your grip gets tired on both sides.

farmer-carry-ab-exercises

Ab Exercises To Avoid During Pregnancy

Alright, so now you have a list of 18 safe ab exercises you can do in pregnancy.

The next thing you need to know are the exercises you should avoid doing. In general the two main exercises you should avoid are

  1. Crunches, and
  2. Sit-ups

These exercises will place too much pressure on your rectus abdominus, which sits directly over your uterus.

This becomes especially important in the second and third trimesters. Thankfully, there are much safer ways to train your core in pregnancy.

Is it OK to twist while pregnant?

Similarly, it’s best to avoid any exercises or yoga poses that require a lot of twisting.

A common example is the Russian twist exercise. This movement can place too much pressure on the abdomen, or strain the uterine ligaments.

There are plenty of other low impact exercises you can do to strengthen the obliques.

Can you do stomach vacuums while pregnant?

The stomach vacuum is an exercise that many consider to be the best way to activate the TVA muscle.

To do it, you must suck your stomach in as much as you can and hold this position for time.

I recommend that you avoid the vacuum exercise as you might inadvertently place too much pressure on your uterus.

This is in contrast to bracing.

Is it bad to tense your stomach while pregnant?

No. It is normal to tense/brace your stomach muscles throughout the day. All of the safe pregnancy core exercises require you to brace your abdominals. to a degree.

That is the only way to activate the important transverse abdominis. Just use good judgment and avoid exercises like the sit-up, the Russian twist, and the stomach vacuum.

What Are The Best Transverse Abdominis Exercises After Pregnancy?

What about postpartum? What are the best transverse abdominis (or ab) exercises after pregnancy?

I have an entire post on 100 Ab Exercises You Can Do After Pregnancy.

In fact, these exercises will help treat diastasis recti if you have it.

By the way you can still get diastasis recti if you had a c-section. I have an entire post all about it.

Final Thoughts On Ab Training In Pregnancy

So there you have it.

A list of safe abdominal exercises you can do in the first, second, and third trimester of pregnancy. As always, every woman is unique.

Make sure that your doctor gives you clearance before engaging in any exercise activity.

Now I want to hear from you.

Which ab exercises are you going to try first?

Comment below and let me know!

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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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