PREGNANCY MYTH #3: NO SIT-UPS AFTER THE FIRST TRIMESTER

This particular myth seems to stem from the recommendation that pregnant women should not lie on their backs for extended periods of time after the first trimester.

 

In an earlier post, I explained that around the 12-16 week mark (though it can be much later for some), a woman’s uterus becomes large enough that when she lies flat on her back, it may exert pressure on the vena cava — the vein responsible for returning blood from the lower body to the heart.  This is believed to interfere with the flow of blood and nutrients to the placenta, with the implication being that it could be harmful to the developing fetus.

 

According to obstetrician Dr. Michael S. Broder, author of The Panic-Free Pregnancy, this reduction in blood flow to the placenta is “a laboratory finding only,” and has never been medically correlated with any increased risk to the fetus.  In fact, even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists only cautions against extended periods of supine lying.  So while sleeping on your back for an entire night might not be advisable, a few minutes here and there is not likely to be harmful.

 

That said, some pregnant women report orthostatic hypotension (a “head rush”) upon rising from a supine position, and in that case, it is most certainly better to err on the side of caution and avoid it altogether.  The key with all things pregnancy-related is to listen to the body.  If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!

 

So where does this leave us with sit-ups?  Well, unless you are Superwoman, chances are that you don’t do sit-ups for more than a couple of minutes at a time before your abs are screaming for a break.  As long as you take care to rest between sets in any position other than flat on your back, short sets of sit-ups are absolutely not going to harm your baby.

 

As well, once your abdominal area begins to enlarge, the compression action of sit-ups will become increasingly uncomfortable, probably to the point where you will no longer want to perform them.  I certainly noticed last week that V-sit-ups were difficult and uncomfortable, and I had to modify them by bending my legs at the knees.  I am pretty sure that within the next few weeks, I will find that even regular sit-ups will start to become uncomfortable.

 

At that point, I will switch to alternative abdominal exercises such as knees-to-elbows (for as long as I can safely and comfortably do them), L-sits, front and side planks, and overhead squats (which are fantastic for working stabilizer muscles).

 

I think my midwife said it best when she said, “If you feel comfortable doing sit-ups, do them.  Your body will tell you when it’s time to stop.”

 

Workout:

 

MONDAY

Rounds in 20 min:
5 chest-to-bar pull-ups (had to use the 1/2 inch band for these)
7 burpees
9 seconds of L-sit (I did a modified bent-knee version)
Total: 7 rounds + 3 pull-ups

Chest-to-bar pull-ups are certainly difficult with even just a few extra pounds on me!  I did the first couple with no band, but then realized I just wasn’t going to be able to get any significant numbers without some assistance.  Same goes for the L-sits — I just didn’t seem to have the abdominal strength to hold them with straight legs.  Ah well…

25 responses to “PREGNANCY MYTH #3: NO SIT-UPS AFTER THE FIRST TRIMESTER

  1. Hi Carli,

    I just found your website and I’m really enjoying it! Thank you for sharing all of your wonderful stories and recommendations.

    I was quite fit before becoming pregnant (12 weeks now), but had problems keeping my pregnancies. So this time, upon finding out I was pregnant, I stopped jogging and doing many of my normal workouts in an effort to hold on to the pregnancy. Now that I’m about to enter my 2nd trimester, I’ll be ramping my workouts back up again and trying to jog again.

    I do have a question for you though, about the sit-ups. My personal trainer advised me to stop doing any form of frontal sit-ups. Her reasoning to me was because the fit abdominal muscles cause there to be less room for growth and they cause problems with natural childbirth. She rattled off some statistic about the more “tone” your ab muscles are the more likely you are of having a c-section.

    I’m just curious what you think about this. Now, in my trainers defense, I currently live in Germany and things are viewed a bit differently here. Sometimes more relaxed and sometimes more strict, and I’m still working out which of those works well with me.

    In the end, I stopped doing crunches of any kind (for the past 8 months) but continued my yoga. But now my stomach is all flabby and round. And then I see your post and I’m thinking that maybe I can start doing some crunches now.. at least for another few months.

    • Hi Nikki,

      In all the research I did, I never came across anything suggesting that having strong abs could cause difficulty in having a natural childbirth or limit the growth of the baby. It would be worth asking your trainer to forward you the studies that show this… I have a feeling she’d have a difficult time finding any! 🙂

      From my experience, the hormone relaxin works very well on the abdominal area, and you will eventually hit a point where you can no longer do sit ups because the muscles just don’t feel strong enough. For me, that happened around 30 weeks. Even though I could see my obliques right until the end of the pregnancy, there was a definite point where I had to stop doing abdominal exercises because the muscles and ligaments were relaxed and stretched out to accommodate the growing baby. I can’t conceive of any physiological reason why strong abs would make a woman more likely to have a c-section.

      My advice to everyone is to go with what feels good. If you feel like you can still do ab exercises safely, go on and do them. The benefit of having strong abs during pregnancy is that you will have a much flatter belly sooner after birth! 🙂

      Carli

      • Thank you for your input, Carli. I think you are correct, I also couldn’t find any research suggesting that tight abs “equal” C-section. I will start doing more ab work, while I can, to reduce the flab that has accumulated over the past 6 months 🙂

  2. Hi Nikki
    You mention doing situps through a majority of your pregnancy. Are these normal situps on the floor or did you attempt to do GHD situps?
    On an unrelated note, did you do any handstands or handstand pushups while pregnant?
    Thanks
    Ann

    • Hi Ann,

      Not sure if your question was for Nikki or actually for me, but I thought I’d answer anyway 😉

      I just did regular sit-ups on the floor, and not GHD sit-ups. I think GHD sit-ups would have been a lot more difficult a lot earlier in the pregnancy, so I likely wouldn’t have been doing them to 30 weeks!

      I did handstands right up until I stopped working out in the 9th month, but was unable to do handstand push-ups as of, I think, around 7 months. I had gained enough weight by that point that I simply didn’t have the strength to push myself up anymore 🙂

  3. Thanks for this valuable information. I was trying to figure out if pregnant women miss on those lovely situps or not. Lol. Good job!

  4. Thanks a lot Carli. What about planks? Do you think it’s safe during pregnancy too (so long as your body tells you it’s ok of course)?

    • Hi Elise,

      Planks are a fantastic exercise to perform during pregnancy, and from everything I read and experienced, they are safe to do throughout the entire pregnancy (as long as you feel good doing them).

  5. Hi,Carli,
    I’ve just found your blog and enjoy reding it. But I have a question about pregnancy and sit ups. Don’t you think that doing sit ups while pregnant could cause diastasis recti?
    Greetings from Bulgaria,
    Vania

    • Hi Vania,
      Thanks for your question! Doing sit-ups (and other ab strengthening exercises) in early pregnancy should in theory help to reduce the odds of developing diastasis recti by strengthening the abdominal muscles. It’s definitely a good idea to be careful later in the pregnancy, when there is more pressure on the abdominal area, especially if you have risk factors for developing diastasis recti (e.g. maternal age over 35, pregnant with multiples). I found that I had to give up doing sit-ups just after 30 weeks, as I was starting to notice a ridge along the midline of my abdomen while doing them. But for some women, it would be a good idea to give up sit-ups much earlier. https://onefitmom.ca/2011/06/10/observations-at-32-weeks/

      Carli

  6. Hi Carli,

    You are my saviour!!
    I’m 9wks pregnant and currently have the flu..
    The whole time I’ve had people saying what I can and can’t do in the form of weight training.. Now I know I can continue on my merry way..
    I can not express enough gratitude.xx
    Thank you so much.
    Nikki
    Hello from the Northern Territory(oz)

  7. Hi Carli,
    You ARE a savior indeed… I was really glad and relieved to find your blog, as I’m sick if everyone (including my fitness instructors – go figure…) telling me not to continue with my normal exercise.

    I’m used to working out at least 3-4 times a week for an hour, in a fitness studio for women. Its a unique method, combining between Yoga and Pilates exercises, using elastic bands, fit-ball, over-ball and weights. There’s also a special “pregnant class” for those in need :).

    I used to be in a very good shape – one of the things I love about fitness workouts, is pushing and challenging my body to constantly get to new levels. This is something I’ve been doing for at least 3 years now.

    I’m also practicing horse riding – not really competitively, but as a serious sport – used to do it for the past 5 years at least once a week.

    I’m currently 12 weeks pregnant, and I don’t know why or how this happened exactly, but I somehow let everyone frighten me into giving up about 50% of my activities, if not more 😦
    I started going only once a week and doing only the exercise that’s officially considered safe by the studio instructors – no sit-ups, no weights, no lifting your legs or doing any kind abdominal crunches at all, no elastic band around your legs, etc.. And of course no horse riding …

    All of the above left me feeling week and flabby, out of shape and in disharmony with my body – not a nice feeling at all, to make a long story short.

    Recently I’ve stumbled upon some fitness instructors with a different approach… Closer to yours… For the past 2 weeks I’ve been gaining some of my strength back, going to workouts every day, and starting yesterday I even went back to doing abdominal crunches and sit-ups as I finally got an explanation that’s not “the most dangerous thing for the poor disabled pregnant ladies” 🙂
    My concern is that although I’m feeling better already, I might have let myself go too much by now and won’t have time to gain anything back before the belly starts growing (it’s already not flat, but not a pregnancy one yet). What do you think? Is it too late to get back in shape?

    I know it was the longest comment in history, but I’m just so relieved to find someone who thinks pregnancy should not be an excuse to let yourself become some kind of a couch potato (as I can see in so many unfortunate cases…)

    Thank you again
    Rita

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  9. I just found this website because I am 6 weeks pregnant and I wasn’t sure if I could perform sit ups since i exercise regularly before my pregnancy. I really do appreciate this post and forward to reading more

  10. Sometimes you can have pregnancy symptoms the day after conception. If you think you are pregnant, go to a Dr. and they can do a pregnancy test (usually blood) about 10 days after you think you are pregnant. And sometimes it is just your hormones running super high and that is also totally normal! Good Luck!

  11. Sit ups in pregnancy are a big no no. They can cause diastasis recti…separation of the stomach muscles and permanent belly bulge post partum. In pregnancy ab work should be concentrated on the transverse abdominal muscle only ….so pelvic tilts etc. Please don’t cause your abs to split any further than they will naturally. I’m a women who did sit ups until way into 2nd trimester and now I have a permanent diastasis. Please Google it x

  12. I broke my foot and gained 60lbs. My foot is fine now and I want to exercise again to get the pounds back off, and have been researching workout routines to maximize results. But just found out that I am 7 weeks pregnant. What can I do to exercise and loose the fat but still “feed” the baby?

  13. I think it’s so wonderful to read about continuing strength training into pregnancy as we need to be super healthy and strong to push out a baby. I think this article would really benefit from a diastasis clause though. Not saying you shouldn’t do abdominal work but this is a real danger and can cause permanent damage. I have done a lot of research on this one and work with multiple yoga instructors who s work focuses on prenatal yoga. In some of your comments, you do mention this but it seems to need a place in the article itself especially since your readers are more likely to be gungho about working out and might benefit from some things to look out for or warning signs. I don’t mean to criticize and truly enjoyed reading this article! Thank you

  14. I have to agree with some of the comments here as a pre/postnatal trainer, that sit-ups are risky for pregnant women. I know you’re passionate about Crossfit and that’s awesome. But I’ve just spent some time going through your blog and honestly, there’s a lot about Crossfit that needs to be altered for pregnancy. It’s not about safety of the baby but the pressures put on your core and pelvic floor. Your baby will be fine – you may not me. I agree with most of what you say – women can continue to strength train through pregnancy FOR SURE. But sit-ups, planks, overhead squats… Yikes. Brianna Battles from Everyday Battles is a crossfitter and strong advocate for pre/postnatal wellness in this demographic. I think you would find her content interesting.

    http://www.everyday-battles.com

  15. Eeek! No situps past the first trimester so you don’t further widen your abdominal gap (diastasis recti)! This is how people get abdominal hernias…

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