4 Moves to Strengthen Your Core without Crunches, Sit-ups, or Planks.

Oftentimes, when I tell my postnatal clients to hold off on the crunches, sit-ups, and planks until they’ve established a stable core again, I’m met with the same question—Then, what can I do?

Blame high school PE class, blame popular fitness culture, or blame whomever you’d like, but we seem to have this notion that these moves are the ONLY way to strengthen our core. While they can be great when done correctly with strong form, they can also be very detrimental when done incorrectly or without a stable foundation.

The hormonal and physical changes in the body during pregnancy cause most of us to lose a connection with our deep core muscles, our diaphragm, and even our pelvic floor. These muscles are all intimately connected and play a huge role in our posture, balance, and stability.

We want to work on finding that connection again before moving along to anything else, but once that connection is established, below are some great next steps.

*Disclaimer: if you have diastasis recti (or aren’t sure if you do), please check out my previous post on that before reading below.

  1. Dead Bug

Target areas: abdominals, hip flexors, quads

 

 set-up:

  1. start on your back with your knees bent directly above your hips
  2. flex both feet and bring the heels parallel to the floor (legs at 90 degrees flexion)
  3. extend the arms straight out in front of the shoulders (fingertips to ceiling)
  4. engage the transverse abdominal muscles (check out my post on diastasis recti if you aren’t sure how to do this)

movement:

  • extend left leg straight out (parallel to the floor) as you raise left arm straight overhead (parallel to the floor)
  • slowly bring back to starting position
  • repeat on opposite side

BE MINDFUL: do NOT let your extended arm or leg touch the floor (this will cause you to lose core engagement). This movement should be performed slowly for best muscle recruitment + engagement. 

  • Repeat 2 sets of 10 reps to each side

 

  1. Windshield Wiper (with the knees bent + a yoga block)

target areas: abdominals, lower back, hip adductors

 

 set-up:

  1. start on your back with your knees bent directly above your hips
  2. place a yoga block between the mid-thigh and press it tightly
  3. flex both feet and bring the heels parallel to the floor (legs at 90 degrees flexion)
  4. extend the arms out into a t-shape straight from the shoulders
  5. engage the transverse abdominal muscles (check out my post on diastasis recti if you aren’t sure how to do this)

movement:

  • lower the legs to the right and slowly draw them back above the hips in a neutral position
  • repeat in the opposite direction

BE MINDFUL: do NOT rubber-band the legs up and down. Strong engagement of the transverse abdominal muscles is very important to prevent this from occurring! Also, it’s not important how low you get your legs, but more important that your engaged throughout the full range of motion.

  • Repeat 2 sets of 10 reps to each side
  • Optional Challenge: perform the movement with straight legs and flexed feet

 

  1. Forearm Side Plank (knees down)

target areas: abdominals, mid/lower back, glutes, hip adductors

setup:

  1. start on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder
  2. bend your knees and draw them back in line with your hips
  3. flex both feet
  4. relax the head and neck, looking straight forward
  5. body should line up—ears, shoulders, hips, knees
  6. engage the transverse abdominal muscles (check out my post on diastasis recti if you aren’t sure how to do this)

movement:

  • lift + lower the hips slowly with control (no rubber-banding)
  • Repeat 2 sets of 10 reps on each side
  • Optional Challenge: hold at the top of your side plank for a 10 count

 

  1. Bird Dogs

target area: abdominals, upper/mid back, glutes, shoulders

 

set-up:

  1. 1. start in a table top position on hands + knees
  2. hands directly under the shoulders
  3. knees directly under the hips
  4. engage the transverse abdominal muscles (check out my post on diastasis recti if you aren’t sure how to do this)
  5. keep the head and neck neutral, gazing towards the floor

movement:

  • extend opposite arm and leg
  • draw opposite knee to opposite elbow under the belly
  • extend arm and leg again
  • Repeat 2 sets of 10 reps on each side
  • Optional challenge: hold extended arm + leg for a 10 count

The core is often the most misunderstood muscle group in the body. It supports us in all movements and in all planes of motion. Developing a strong core will improve your stability, balance, and ability to recruit the larger muscle groups in the arms + legs. Perform these exercises 4-5 times per week and you’ll create a strong foundation for all other forms of movement.