Prenatal workout: Pilates instructor shares best lower body and core exercises for expecting mums

Keeping your core active during pregnancy is important to support your lower back and postural changes

Pre-natal core and lower body workout
(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

Prenatal workouts, such as this lower body and core workout for expecting mums, can be extremely beneficial, both before and after you gave birth to your baby. Admittedly, childbirth is taxing on the body but by exercising regularly, you can not only improve comfort levels but also mitigate some of the negative effects of giving birth somewhat.

We asked an expert to share the best prenatal exercises to improve lower body and core strength. And not just any expert but the wonderful Korin Nolan, leading pilates expert and founder of Power Pilates UK and Dynamic Pilates TV, who has plenty of experience in training expecting mums and others.

This workout can be modified depending on how far along in the pregnancy you are, by reducing or increasing the repetitions. You could also add weights to make it more intense, especially if you are in the first two trimesters. Have a look at our best dumbells, best adjustable dumbbells and best kettlebells guides for more info on which weights you should use.

You may need to reduce the range of movement as you get heavier, for example not going as low into your squat. In any case, do what feels right for your body and focus on quality movements over quantity, and correct alignment and form.

Prenatal workout: what to consider before you begin exercising

"It’s beneficial to keep your core active during pregnancy to support your lower back and postural changes", Korin explains, "Laying on your back is fine for short periods of time but do listen to your body and do what feels right for you."

You may wish to lay on a big plump cushion to elevate the upper body, especially if you are later on in your pregnancy. In any case, if you are past 12 weeks, you need to keep your head down on the mat. As you get heavier, laying on your back might not feel comfortable for you at all.

We'd recommend getting a thick yoga mat for comfort.

Lower body and core prenatal workout

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

1. Squat

Repeat movement 10-20 times

Stand with your feet a little wider than your hips, draw your tummy in by lifting your pelvic floor and hugging your baby towards your spine.

Inhale as you bend your knees to sit back into a squat position, making sure that your knees track forwards over your toes, the weight is back into the heels of the feet, your hips flex backwards and your spine stays long. Exhale and stand straight back up, driving the weight into the heels of the feet.

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

2. Squat Hold with Single Leg Extensions

Repeat 8-10 taps and then stand (you can repeat this several times through)

Hold the squat position as above and reach back one leg at a time to lightly tap the floor behind you and then change. Keep the transitions nice and smooth from one foot to the other and draw in the core muscles as you hold the squat. Stay as low as you can without it feeling overly strenuous.

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

3. Oyster

Repeat movement 10-15 times

Lay on your side on your elbow with your shoulders drawing down and your knees bent, stacked one on top of the other. Engage your core muscles and lift from your underneath side. Maintain this as you exhale opening the top knee, keeping the toes connected and then close. Only open the knee as far back as you can without rolling the hips back and try to take the focus to the outer thigh/glutes on the top leg.

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

4. Leg Lifts

Repeat movement 10-20 times

Stay in exactly the same set-up as above and extend the top leg. Keep the core engaged as you lift the leg on the exhale and lower the leg to tap the floor with the big toe. Try and focus on lengthening the top leg as much as you can rather than lifting it high up. You want to lift the leg to about hip height.

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

5. 4-Point Kneeling Leg Lift

Repeat movement 10-20 times

Come onto your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Lengthen the spine into a neutral position and draw to connect the core muscles (again feeling like you are hugging your baby in towards your spine).

Extend one leg out behind you and lift to hip height as you exhale, then lower to tap the floor. Squeeze the glutes as you move, keep engaged through the core so that your lower back does not move. Try not to put all your weight into your hands.

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

6. Donkey Kick

Repeat movement 10-15 times

Keeping in the same set-up as above, keep both knees bent and lift one leg up to the side as you exhale – do this to a point where it feels comfortable i.e. not too high. Take the focus into the outer thigh with minimal movement throughout the rest of the body.

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

7. Modified Single Leg Stretch

Repeat movement 10-20 times

Lay on your back with both knees folded above your chest. Interlock the hands around one knee and extend the opposite leg up to the ceiling, then switch legs. Engage the core muscles as you move so that your back does not shift to create a big arch under your lower back. Aim to keep your back as close to the mat as possible. Focus on the exhale as you change your legs.

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

8. Single Leg Lowers

Repeat 5-10 times each leg  (May not be suitable for the third trimester)

Lay in the same position as above with one hand around one knee and the other leg extended to the ceiling. Lower the straight leg towards the floor and on the inhale, as low as you can take it before the back starts to lift. Then lift back up again on the exhale. Ensure the core stays connected throughout and only lower the leg as far down as you can without losing connection.

Pre-natal core and lower body workout

(Image credit: Korin Nolan)

9. Toe Taps

Repeat movement 10-20 times

Start in the same position as above and have both hands down by your side. Keeping the knees bent and engaging the core throughout, tap the toes down to the mat and then change to the other leg, maintaining stability in the pelvis throughout.

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is a fitness fanatic (a.k.a. fitness and nutrition writer) who's been rambling on about all things health and fitness for over two years now here at T3. His achievements include a short-lived fitness podcast called Fit Mentality Podcast and being a judge on the Fit&Well Awards 2021. In his free time, he works out at home, runs, cycles and loves a good ol' walk around the city. He writes about general fitness stuff, fitness tech, workouts, workout gear/equipment, nutrition and much, much more.