Should I be doing side planks in pregnancy?

I recently received a message from a client who is 20 weeks pregnant with her first baby. She has signed on to an app which gives regular updates on the progression of her pregnancy, including exercises that she should do at each stage.

This week the app said:

 “It may be difficult as you progress further, but doing side planks can be a great way to strengthen your abdominals and core for delivery. Can you hold for 30 seconds? What about 1 minute?”

She was a bit confused by this message as we do not do side planks in our pregnancy exercise classes and got the feeling that they were perhaps not the best idea for her. Here are my thoughts…

It depends on many factors, so have a read and see which one resonates with you.

“I love doing side planks. They give me such a thrill! I have no pelvic floor or abdominal muscle issues and I have had my technique checked and it is all good.”

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If this is you, then continue! Clearly they are something that you enjoy and you don’t have any problems when doing them, so far be it for me to stop you! Ultimately exercise is very good for you in pregnancy, so let’s not put up barriers unnecessarily. You may find that you need to drop down to your knees as your pregnancy progresses and that your length of hold reduces. Make sure you don’t hold your breath!


“I’ve never really done them before and I don’t have a deep seated desire to do so. I don’t do side planking in my job or in my sport, so I don’t necessarily need the strength in that position”

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Well…I would argue that perhaps it is an unnecessary exercise to start in pregnancy and that there are better alternatives. What does your daily life look like and what movements will you be requiring in motherhood? New mums need to bend, squat, lift, walk….can you build strength in those patterns instead?

“I tried to do it but it hurt my shoulder…”

“When I do it I have to hold my breath as it is really difficult…”

“When I try it I feel pressure down in my pelvic floor…”

“When I try it my tummy muscles bulge out like an alien is trying to escape…”

“I hate doing side planks…”

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Well, here in Australia, the answer to that would be “yeah…nah”.

In other words, no. Don’t bother doing them. Your body doesn’t seem to love them. Yes those exercises can strengthen the abdominal muscles (and others), but there are plenty of alternatives, so please don’t think that you are somehow missing out on working your abdominals by cutting out sideplanks.

Why don’t I do them in my pregnancy classes?

  • I have up to 10 pregnant women in my classes – realistically I think in any class I would have 2 or 3 who could do good quality side planks for 30 seconds (ie with good pelvic floor activation, breathing pattern and alignment)
  • I often have multiple clients in a class who have never exercised before
  • There are plenty of other more enjoyable exercise options ;)
  • We do actually progress women back to them in the postnatal classes, but I’m not convinced of their benefit in pregnancy (in those who haven’t done them before).

So there you go – those are my thoughts.

Is there any research to say whether or not side planks are harmful in pregnancy? Not to my knowledge. What we do know is that the superficial abdominal muscles do go through a separation (normal) during pregnancy and have some limitations in terms of their ability to produce strength, probably due to changes in the line of pull and the length-tension relationship of the muscles. In other words, the abdominal muscles are not the same during pregnancy, so perhaps we need to take that into account when exercising!

Ultimately…the answer as to whether or not women should do these exercises in pregnancy is…it depends! (haha, don’t you hate that answer!). But if she enjoys them and can perform them well, then why not? Most women do have to modify these exercises as the pregnancy progresses – reducing the length of the hold, dropping down to the knees and sometimes working on an incline.

The big question really is….do we need strong abdominal muscles for birth anyway?

To be discussed in the next blog post…

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