Is Twisting Safe During Pregnancy?

One of the most common exercise-related questions that comes up during pregnancy is whether it’s safe to “twist it.” In fact, worry about twisting has made many pregnant women afraid to lie down in bed, break their backs, or perform daily activities that require a bit of twisting.

First, let’s be clear. You are not a robot. You shouldn’t even try to move like one.

While there are certainly some movements that need to change as pregnancy progresses, there are many types of rotation that are safe — and actually useful – during pregnancy. In this article, we will explain what is meant by winding (often used interchangeably with spinning) and clarify what kind of movement is perfectly fine, and what you want to avoid as the pregnancy progresses.

First, there is some basic anatomy to understand so you can appreciate where the guidance to “avoid twisting” comes from.

Anatomical Changes During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, there are two main changes that increase the stress on the outer wall of the abdomen. First, as the stomach grows, it increases the pressure in the abdominal cavity, or intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). This increased pressure pushes outward on the abdominal wall, which thins and weakens the connective tissue – called linea alba — which runs between the left and right side of the rectus abdominis (“6-pack”) muscle.

In the photo below, you can see the linea alba in a non-pregnant individual on the left (a very thin line down the middle of the abdomen). Then, see how it expands during pregnancy in the image to the right. This stretch of linea alba tissue leads to widening of the gap between the left and right side of the rectus abdominis muscle, otherwise known as diastasis recti (which is, to some degree, a normal and necessary adaptation to pregnancy).

Another factor that increases the stress on the outer wall of the abdomen is the usual pregnancy shifting alignment. As the belly expands, the pelvis tends to tip forward, as you can see in the image below (notice how the navel points down toward the ground). Not only does it compress the tissues in the low back (no wonder low back pain is so common!), but it also additional increases the stress on the linea alba tissue.

Because of high IAP and shifting alignment that increase stress on the linea alba tissue, it is important to avoid activities that may additional emphasize this pressure. This is where “circular” precautions come into play.

Rotation: What to Focus on and What to Avoid

Starting in the second trimester – or as soon as you have a clear stomach – you want avoid exercises involving rotation with separation of the hips and shoulders. This means rotation where your shoulders move in one direction, but your hips don’t follow at the same level. You can see an example of this at left picture below. The shoulders are turned directly into the side wall, but the hips don’t move the same amount. This type of rotation, or twisting, places excessive stress on the linea alba tissue.

said, exercises that include rotation in which the hips and shoulders move together as a unit is safe and useful. You can see an example of this at correct image below. Notice how the shoulders and hips move both directions as a coherent unit. This type of rotation does no add any additional stress to the linea alba tissue.

Useful Spin Exercises

Any time you are spinning, but trying to keep your trunk neutral alignment (hips and shoulders in line), this is beneficial because you are using your deep core muscles to maintain this alignment (which strengthens them) while avoiding putting any additional stress on the outer wall of the stomach Below are some examples of rotations with a neutral trunk:

Important Technique Points

When performing the above exercises, remember the following two important points of technique to ensure that you are practicing a safe and beneficial rotation:

  1. Start the turn with your back foot: This may seem surprising, but twisting starts at ground level. Specifically, your turn is a result of how well you pivot on your back foot. If you look again at the pictures above, you will notice the difference in the rear foot positions. Therefore, you want to think about starting your opportunity turning your back foot (like you’re blowing out a cigarette butt!). The more you pivot your foot, the better your turn will be, and the better you’ll be able to preserve the “cut,” as discussed next.
  2. Keep the “cut”: All these exercises you stretch your arms in front and hold your hands together (as shown in the pictures above). Notice that when you do this, your arms and trunk form a triangle. Think of this triangle as your pizza, or pie, “slice” (whichever tastes better😊). The purpose with rotation is to keep the shape of the cut as you move the trunk as a coherent unit. If you find your arms wanting to bend, focus more on pivoting your rear foot to generate a stronger turn.

When “Twisting” is Right.

We would like to add an important clarification to the above guidance to allay any unnecessary fears. While it is important to avoid exercises involving the separation of the hips and shoulders during pregnancy, it is perfectly safe to twist during pregnancy when unloaded. This means you can do light stretching (like the cover image of this blog post!), reach for a seatbelt in the backseat, lie down in bed, break your back, and do any other daily task that requires you to move your shoulders further away from your hips. You will be fine, and so will your child. The goal is not to move through life like a robot. You can do “normal” things without fear, because our bodies are built for it.

Additional Resources

For more resources, check out our prenatal programs and services. You’ll find a variety of offers — including education, self-guided training programsand the ability work with an expert coach — to help you help you train safely, effectively, and with confidence during and after pregnancy.

Or, if you’re a health and fitness professional interested in learning more about coaching prenatal and postpartum clients, explore our pre & postnatal professional education.

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