Strengthen your abs and pelvic floor now for an easier delivery and a lower risk of incontinence later.
The Perfect Spiderman Plank
When you're pregnant, the payoffs for developing strong abdominal and pelvic-floor muscles are plentiful. "These muscles are a pregnant woman's best friend," says Julie Tupler, R.N., creator of Diastasis Rehab in New York City and author of Maternal Fitness: Preparing for a Healthy Pregnancy, an Easier Labor, and a Quick Recovery (Fireside). "If your abs are weak, you won't be able to push effectively," she explains.
Having a strong pelvic floor can also assist during labor, as well as help prevent urinary incontinence later.
This workout, designed by Fit Pregnancy fitness editor Teri Hanson and based on the Tupler Technique, will also teach you how to work these muscles separately. The goal: During the pushing phase of labor, you ideally draw in the deep transversus abdominis, or transverse, muscle and relax the pelvic floor to let the baby out. Do these exercises in the order shown up to three times a day, performing 10 repetitions of each move and progressing to 20 reps when you feel strong enough.
Most Important Muscles
The transversus abdominis, or transverse, is the innermost abdominal muscle. It encircles your trunk like a corset and involuntarily contracts when you sneeze. The action of this muscle is forward and backward, which compresses the abdominal cavity, and it can help you push during labor.
The main muscle of the pelvic floor, the PC (short for pubococcygeus), lies in a figure eight around the openings of the urethra, vagina and rectum. Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic-floor muscles, helping to prevent the urinary incontinence that's common after childbirth. To do Kegels, squeeze the muscles around the vagina as if you are stopping the flow of urine; hold for 10 seconds, breathing normally, then slowly release. Do 20 reps five times a day.