6 Simple Exercises To Help Rebuild Your Core After Pregnancy

June 14, 2021 - 11 minutes read

A progressive postnatal program to help activate your core, reduce low back pain and just feel like yourself again.

It’s no secret that pregnancy brings about a lot of changes in your body – not the least of which is the lengthening out of your abdominal muscles. With so many of our day-to-day movements relying on a strong, stable core, neglecting this area after pregnancy can often lead to low back pain, poor balance, and even urinary incontinence.

So how do you reconnect to your body and safely build back up to your strong and stable pre-pregnancy self? A gradual and progressive core routine is a great place to start.

The No. 1 rule of exercising after pregnancy

Before you get started on any of the exercises below, it’s important to remind yourself to listen to your body throughout this process.

If your core feels a little foreign or if you can’t do these movements the way you expected you’d be able to, that’s absolutely fine. It will take time for the abdominal muscles to regain strength and for the skin around the area to firm up, so progress slowly and be patient. Challenge yourself to feel the right muscles working, but don’t push through it if you feel pain or discomfort. Be kind to your body and remember that this is a process.

And, as always, be sure to consult your doctor before engaging in any new form of physical activity. Once you have the go-ahead, you can go ahead and grab your yoga mat, head down to the floor, and spend some much needed time reconnecting with your body.

Related: Postpartum Exercise: 4 Things You Need To Know After Giving Birth

1. Basic breathing (with transverse abdominal activation)

“Breath work may seem simple, but getting it right is so important if you want to properly set yourself up to activate your deep core muscles.”

Step 1: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent, and feet resting on the floor.

Step 2: Inhale and exhale a few times. Don’t flatten the back or tilt the pelvis, but maintain the natural curve in the back. Breathe in slowly and deeply.

Step 3: Take a deep breath and, while exhaling, lightly tighten the abdominal muscles to draw your belly button in toward your spine. Concentrate on contracting the muscles below the belly button without flattening the back. Maintain the contraction for 5 to 10 seconds, breathing normally as you hold the contraction.

Repeat for 8 to 10 reps.

2. Heel slides

“This first progression adds some light movement to the deep core activation you performed in the exercise above. Focus on slow, controlled movements and relax the hip flexors throughout this set.”

Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your sides. Begin with the basic breath contraction (as outlined above) to activate the transverse abdominals.

Step 2: Keeping one knee bent, inhale slowly as you slide the other leg out along the floor until parallel with the ground.

Step 3: On the exhale, keep tension in your low core as you slide your leg back to the bent-knee position. Maintain the relaxed curve in the back as you move.

Repeat using the other leg and continue alternating back and forth for up to 5 reps to start, then build up from there as your strength increases.

Once you reach the point of being able to complete 20 reps per side without losing core activation, progress to the next exercise.

3. Bent-knee leg raises

“Lifting one foot off the floor brings in the added component of stability. Keep your hips still as you perform this movement and make the lift intentional through the core, rather than reacting to the lift of the leg.”

Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your sides. Perform the basic breath contraction.

Step 2: Keeping one foot on the ground, inhale slowly as you lift the other leg up, drawing the knee in toward the chest.

Step 3: On the exhale, slowly draw the leg back down to the starting position then repeat using the other leg. Alternate back and forth for up to 5 reps per side to start, then build up from there as your strength increases.

Once you reach the point of being able to complete 20 reps per side without losing core activation, progress to the next exercise.

4. Heel taps

“Reversing the movement from above, this exercise challenges you to maintain control of one leg while you lower the other toward the floor.”

Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your sides. Perform the basic breath contraction then draw your legs up, one at a time, into a tabletop position (legs floating with the hips and knees at 90 degrees) and hold.

Step 2: Keeping one leg in the tabletop position, inhale slowly as you lower the other heel to the floor while keeping a bend in the knee.

Step 3: Exhale to raise the leg back up to the starting position. Repeat using the other leg.

Alternate back and forth for up to 5 reps per side to start, then build up from there as your strength increases.

Once you reach the point of being able to complete 10 reps per side without losing core activation, progress to the next exercise. If you’re unable to keep the core engaged or you feel your back arching during this movement, reduce the reps or move back to Exercise 3 (bent-knee leg raises).

5. Advanced leg extensions

“After mastering the bent-knee version of this exercise, it’s time to advance to a full leg extension. If straightening the leg completely is too much, keep your knee slightly bent and work your way up to the full reach.”

Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your sides. Perform the basic breath contraction then draw your legs up, one at a time, into a tabletop position (legs floating with the hips and knees at 90 degrees) and hold.

Step 2: Keeping one leg in the tabletop position, inhale slowly as you extend the other leg straight out toward the floor until parallel to, but not touching, the ground.

Step 3: Exhale to draw the leg back up to the starting position. Repeat using the other leg.

Alternate back and forth for up to 5 reps per side to start, then build up from there as your strength increases.

Once you reach the point of being able to complete 10 reps per side without losing core activation, progress to the next exercise. If you’re unable to keep the core engaged, or experience lifting or pain in the low back with this exercise, reduce the reps or move back to Exercise 4 (heel taps).

6. Leg lowers

“This version takes a lot of core control so pay attention to how much your body is moving during this exercise. If you notice yourself rocking up and down, re-stabilize and slow everything down.”

Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms at your sides. Perform the basic breath contraction then draw your legs up, one at a time, into a tabletop position (legs floating with the hips and knees at 90 degrees). Straighten your legs up toward the ceiling and hold.

Step 2: Keeping one leg lifted, inhale slowly as you lower the other leg straight out and down toward the floor until parallel to, but not touching, the ground.

Step 3: Exhale to draw the leg back up to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

Alternate back and forth for up to 5 reps per side to start, then build up from there as your strength increases.

If you’re unable to keep the core engaged, or experience lifting or pain in the low back with this exercise, reduce the reps or move back to Exercise 5 (advanced leg extensions).

Next steps

While these exercises are a great way to rebuild strength and stability through your core, they’re not the only time you can get in a good workout in the day. By being mindful of your posture when you get up and down off the ground to play with your little one, using your core to stabilize when you’re bending over to change diapers, and squatting with good form when you bend over to pick up toys, you’re teaching your whole body to work together and will see a huge improvement in your posture and alignment over time.

Related: 5 Pelvic Floor Exercises To Strengthen The Forgotten Muscles Of Your Core