The Abs Have It

Center yourself, before and after delivery, with these three midbody moves.

Sculpt Flat Abs with the Yogi Jog

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Keep my abdominals toned during pregnancy...why? After all, there's no way I'll have a flat belly, no matter how many exercises I do!

If that's what you're thinking, think again. Ab work serves a crucial purpose right now. Your abdominals provide a stable core for the rest of your body, and during pregnancy it's critical to maintain that strong center.

In fact, according to Karen Clippinger, M.S.P.E., a kinesiologist at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Southern California, many women develop a more pronounced lower back curve as their pregnancy progresses because of the added weight in their bellies. That, combined with a hormone-induced loosening of their joints and ligaments (including those around the spine), adds stress to the spine.

"Strengthening the abs will help counter that tendency toward an increased lumbar curve," says Clippinger, who designed this workout routine. Clippinger chose these moves to help you safely gain abdominal strength both during pregnancy and after delivery.

The first two exercises can be done prenatally, while the third can be added after baby arrives. You'll begin with the controlled movement of the sitting knee lift, which targets the spine-supporting abs and hip flexor muscles. The second exercise, the side-lying crunch, is especially useful after the fourth month of pregnancy, when women need to avoid performing exercises while on their backs. Finally, the bridging-with-a-curl move is great to incorporate in your postpartum routine.

She emphasizes that even though these exercises are safe postpartum, you shouldn't try to do too much too soon. "Some women think their work is done after delivery," Clippinger says, "but for your health and safety, you need to use meticulous technique and not return too quickly to a rigorous workout."

Prenatal and Postpartum

1. Sitting Knee Lift: Sit near the edge of a sturdy chair, feet flat on the floor directly under your knees. Place your hands, palms down, under your buttocks. Contract your abdominals to tilt your pelvis under; holding this position, bring your bent left knee toward your chest.

Contract your abs further as you lower your left foot to the floor, using your abs to hold the position. Release the tilt to a neutral position and repeat. Do all reps with left leg, then repeat with the right. Do 2 sets of 8–12 reps in first trimester, 1–2 sets of 8–12 reps in second and third trimesters. During the first trimester, you can attach a 1- to 3-pound weight to each ankle for resistance. Strengthens abdominals and hip flexors.

2. Side-Lying Crunch: Lie on your left side, knees bent at a 30-degree angle to your hips. Roll over to the right only enough to lift your knees about 6 inches off the floor, your body weight resting on the back of your left shoulder and shoulder blade. Place both hands behind your head, fingertips touching but not clasped, elbows open. Curl torso up on the diagonal, bringing your breastbone toward your right knee. Your left shoulder will lift only slightly off the floor.

At the top of the movement, reach both arms forward toward your knees, curling up a little higher. Place hands back behind head and lower to starting position, then repeat. Do 1 set of 6 reps, then switch sides, progressing to 12 reps for all 3 trimesters.

Note: You probably should be able to perform this exercise comfortably into the beginning of your last trimester. If you have a diastasis, lift your torso directly upward, not on the diagonal. As your pregnancy progresses, and when you begin to exercise postpartum, help pull yourself upward by holding your thighs. You also can add a second set postpartum when the first is no longer challenging. Strengthens abdominals.

Postpartum Only

3. Bridging with a Curl: Lie face up on the floor with your heels on the seat of a chair, knees bent. Position yourself so your hips are about 6–8 inches behind your knees. Relax your arms by your sides. Keeping your lower back in contact with the floor, curl your torso upward, bringing ribs toward hips, until shoulder blades clear the floor.

Holding this position, tilt your pelvis under, press down with your heels for leverage, and use your abs to lift your pelvis off the floor until your legs and hips form a straight line. Lower buttocks to the floor, then lower upper torso. Do 1 set of 8–12 reps; when that's comfortable, add a second set of 8 reps and build to 12 reps. Strengthens abdominals.

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