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The #1 Exercise to Master During Pregnancy & Postpartum

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

Written by Joanie Johnson, personal trainer, Pilates instructor, Pre & Postnatal Corrective Exercise Specialist, Diastasis and Core Consultant through Fit For Birth™

Find the original post and more of her amazing work at

Take a deep breath and tell me,

What part of your body do you feel moving?

Are you feeling your chest rise and fall? Or are you feeling movement in your lower ribs and belly? If you said chest, you are unknowingly stressing yourself out! Our autonomic nervous system is divided into two systems known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When we are breathing with a big rise and fall in our chest, we are using our sympathetic nervous system, aka fight or flight mode. This breath turns off all the body’s functions associated with rest and recovery and sends extra blood flow and energy into areas that will help us escape imminent danger. Chest breathing sends a signal to our brains to make more of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, because these hormones help us run away from predators…which is a good thing. But on a chemical level, our bodies can’t differentiate between being chased by a lion and working on a stressful deadline…which is a bad thing. Especially for the stressed out daze most of us walk around in today. Sweat and anxiety is definitely not the pregnancy “glow” any of us had in mind.

So what can you do about it? Enter the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is our primary respiratory muscle. When we breathe, it becomes the MOST important muscle in our bodies.

The act of breathing creates motion in our abdominal cavity as the diaphragm massages our internal organs. This movement helps with digestion and plays a role in nutrient and waste exchange by aiding in lymph flow. It regulates PH balance which affects the hormonal system and mental-emotional-cognitive balance. It also neutralizes intra-abdominal pressure, minimizing the risk of developing diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction and STRENGTHENS the core!

The single most important thing you can do for your health during pregnancy is learn to breathe diagrammatically.

Diaphragmatic breathing switches on your parasympathetic nervous system, slowing and calming all the systems in the body. This is a much better place for you and your baby as it gives you a sense of control over any situation. i.e. that work deadline, stressful family interactions, labor!

Try this exercise:

  • Place your hands around the bottom of your ribcage.

  • Take a deep inhale and try to “push” air into the back and sides of your rib-cage. That expansion you are feeling is your diaphragm.

  • Now place your hands on your chest, take a big breath into the upper chest and shoulders. Note the difference. That’s a stress breath.

Try to maintain a diaphragmatic breath as often as you can throughout the day. Try it in all positions to see if you can successfully access this breath and keep yourself from entering a more stressful state. It’s a great way to calm anxiety and the #1 exercise I use with my clients to start strengthening the core, post pregnancy.

About the author:

Joanie spent 9 yrs as a professional dancer, performing, touring and teaching dance to movers of all ages. She has spent 12 yrs teaching group fitness and offering one-on-one personal training for various gyms and methods around New York City. Additionally she works at Fit for Birth, the industries leading holistic pre & postnatal continuing education company as a Head Coach, their Graduate Liaison and Coordinator of the Pregnancy Sāf Elite program.

She the original co-founder of Fit Pregnancy Club, NYC’s premiere pre & postnatal fitness studio and has been featured in publications such as Women’s Health, Parents, Forbes and Fast Company. Her daughter, Adina, was born in 2016 via Cesarean birth. The recovery she went through inspired her deep dive into developing an approach for preventing common pregnancy and postpartum injuries like diastasis recti, pelvic floor dysfunction and supporting women during the transitions that occur during preconception, pregnancy and motherhood.

Since 2010, she has proudly coached thousands of pregnant, birthing and parenting bodies. She’s a passionate advocate for maternal health and spends most of her free time reading and studying the most current pre/postnatal fitness research and forming relationships with and coaching other professionals working to support women during their parenting years.

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