Use these core stability exercises to strengthen your midsection, prevent injuries, and reduce low back pain!
While there's nothing wrong with crunches, more often than not they're just not as effective towards your bigger goals (less pain, carrying kids, functional core).
These ab exercises are better than sit-ups because they train your core as a whole, not just one muscle, and in one plane of motion.
As a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, I can tell you that your focus needs to be on improving the way your midsection functions before anything else.
Picking up, holding, carrying, and playing with your babes all require a strong set of muscles (and some core rehab from pregnancy), not just pretty ones.
And while sit ups and crunches do have their place, for most moms, especially new moms they can cause a bit more damage than good.
Instead, place your focus on core stability exercises to reap the following benefits:
- Less low back pain
- Better posture
- More strength
- Stronger core
- More ability to use the upper and lower body TOGETHER
Why These Core Stability Exercises Are Better Than Sit Ups
Through pregnancy your abdominals stretch (and sometimes separate). If you've had diastalsis recti you'll need to treat that long before you'll be rocking any serious ab training (learn how to check for diastasis recti).
Post-pregnancy, sit ups and crunches often cause the belly to "round" or "bulge out" at the top of the movement.
Instead of strengthening the abdominals after pregnancy, this further stretches them (read more about why to avoid these exercises specifically postpartum)
And while your back was made for flexion (rounding) we tend to already get a lot of that (reaching for kids, breastfeeding etc). Thus, the solution to being stronger and reducing low back pain isn't just found in training our abs with sit ups but with stability.
What Type Of Ab Exercises You Should Focus On Instead
Instead, place your focus on training your abs to be functional. The purpose of your core is to keep you upright and prevent movement.
Thus, making use of exercises that target the below anti movements are a better bang for your buck as a mom:
- anti-lateral flexion
It's these core strengthening movements that help us build stronger bodies as a whole and not just in one area.
Having a strong core will help prevent back pain, carry kids easier, and do things you actually enjoy doing.
Before you dive into these awesome ab exercises, don't forget to learn the basics: here's a 10 minute diastasis workout great for postpartum healing and activation.
Core Strengthening Exercise #1 - The Deadbug
I love deadbugs, LOVE. They're a fantastic anti-extension exercise performed on your back.
This core strengthening exercise teaches your body to resist the urge to extend the low back against tension.
It requires you to maintain a slight pelvic tilt against movement and thus, trains your all your core muscles.
How to perform it:
- Lay on your back with your arms straight up from your shoulders, knees bent and legs up as well.
- Tilt your pelvis so that your low back presses into the floor. You should feel engagement in the low abs.
- Slowly extend an opposite arm and leg out from the body taking care to keep the low back on the ground. if it rises, you've low engagement.
- Bring the arm and leg back to the starting position and repeat.
Perform 8-10 repetitions per side.
This exercise is actually a progression of the rehab exercise you should be doing post-pregnancy. Plus, there are many ways to scale and make it hard (adding bands around your arms, feet, sideways).
Pro Tip: make sure that low back stays on the floor! Otherwise the exercise is ineffective. For a complete how-to breakdown watch this video.
Exercise #2 : Parlof Presses
Parlof presses are an anti-rotation exercise. Your body has to fight to remain neutral as a force, or tension attempts to get it to twist.
Keeping a neutral back and fighting the urge to rotate stimulates your entire side body. This can be done standing, kneeling, in a half lunge position, with a press, as a hold, and more. There are literally tons of variations.
To perform it:
- Using a resistance band anchored to something and come into a standing position beside the anchor point with the band tight and held with both hands at chest height
- Keep a neutral body position
- Press the band away from the body
- Pause and resist the temptation to rotate toward the tension
- Return the band to the starting position at chest height and repeat.
Perform for 8-10 repetitions per side.
Exercise #3: Plank Walks
This core strengthening exercise is one of my favorites but it's not great for brand-new moms.
The exercise is an anti-extension exercise like the deadbug but instead of laying down your body will be in a full plank position.
The reason it's not great for new moms is because of this position. As a brand new mom you'll struggle to activate the muscles necessary to pull in your belly (those muscles are stretched remember?).
So placing your body in a position where the belly in hanging only accomplishes making the problem worse. Instead, ELEVATE the exercise on a bench to start. This will help you better engage the core muscles.
If you've already rehabbed your abs then this exercise is great. The goal is to prevent your low back from extending as well as to reduce rotation as you move your arms away from your body and become more and more unstable.
To perform it:
- Come into a full plank position with a bit of a pelvic tilt to really engage the deeper core muscles.
- Keep the feet wider than a normal plank to give you some support.
- Slowly walk your hands out in front of your face. While you do this, try not to let your low back arch or your hips twist.
- Only go as far as you can without falling on your face. Walk your hands back into a regular plank position and repeat.
Exercises #4 Cable Rotation/Rotational Pull
This exercise is a great active rotational exercise and can be done standing or kneeling. It forces the muscles of the trunk to work together and requires a lot of core stability. It's an awesome way to target your midsection and improve strength.
Like any other exercise, the rotation requires you to focus instead of just going through the movements. This trick and this trick alone is what will enable you to become strong and activate your muscles.
- Start with the cable or resistance band at chest height and stand sideways to it.
- Hold the band at chest height with soft knees roughly hip distance apart.
- Let your body be pulled in toward the anchor.
- Use your entire torso, and the glute closest to the anchor point to rotate away from the band.
- Return to the starting position.
Perform 8-10 repetitions per side.
Exercise #5 Hollow Holds
Hollow holds are an old-school gymnastic exercise that works the front of the abs (anterior core) as well as the hip flexors, quads, everything. It's a wicked hold, a challenging exercise but it's a great way to build strength and stability.
Plus, it makes use of the pelvic tilt position which is crucial to giving your low back some love.
Here's how to perform the hollow hold.
- Begin by laying on your back. Think of tucking your ribs and hip bones together which rounds the lower back and presses it into the floor.
- Holding that position raise the upper back off the floor and the arms overhead. Then, keeping the legs squeezed together and the toes pointed and raise the legs off the ground. This creates a boat-like pose.
- Work up to 25 seconds.
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Other Fitness Tips To Help Moms Get Strong
- How to fix diastasis recti years later
- How to master push ups as a beginner
- How to reduce back pain
- Exercises to AVOID as a new mom
- Benefits of strong glutes
- Pelvic floor health
- Glute workout finishers
- Strength training for beginners
- How to make at home workouts harder
- Everything you need to know about home workouts
- The best tricep exercises for women
- Why you should use pause reps
- Best bodyweight exercises for moms
- Follow-along at-home workouts
- Fitness tips
Frequently Asked Questions About Core Stability Exercises
The best exercises for a strong core are deadbugs, planks, parlof presses, side planks, and bird dog. As well as all variations of them.
Having strong, stable core muscles means strengthening the body to get the upper and lower body torso to work together. Focus on anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-extension exercises to have a bulletproof core.
You can add 1-3 core exercises into your current exercise program to perform each week. Or you can create a core stability workout and perform it a couple times per week at the end of the workout.
There are a lot of options out there when it comes to ab exercises better than sit ups or crunches.
Strategic core strengthening exercises will give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of low back pain, performance, and strength (these plank alternatives are a great place to start).
These ab exercises train your body to work as a whole and improve functionality. Then, when you're ready, grab a set of gliders and REALLY fire up those abs!
Likewise, TRX straps can be great for your core muscles as well! Check out this beginner TRX workout with a speedy core finisher.