This is our fourth installment in a multi-post series that explores whether common exercises are safe or unsafe for core health.
The Move: Triceps Kickback
The Verdict: Safe!
The triceps kickback is an excellent exercise anytime, and especially during pregnancy. Slow, controlled strength training is great for the entire body, building strength and stamina for birth and paving the way for a smooth recovery. In addition to strengthening the triceps, kickbacks also retract the shoulder blades, correcting a common postural tendency to over-lengthen the upper back muscles while tightening the chest and rounding the shoulders. This postural imbalance is called kyphosis, and it is more common during and after pregnancy due to heavier breasts and the daily activities of holding, feeding and caring for a newborn. Strengthening the upper back while releasing the chest helps restore healthy posture and alignment, alleviating any discomfort. Strong triceps also come in handy when easing yourself out of a low chair, pushing yourself up to seated from a side-lying position, and for strength in the many new movements you will be making on a daily basis with a newborn.
Form and alignment tips
- Avoid momentum (do not swing). During pregnancy, joints are hyper-mobile due to the hormones relaxin and elevated levels of progesterone. Swinging or using momentum places strain in the joints while lowering the workload on the muscles, which decreases benefit while increasing the risk of injury. To achieve maximum benefits safely, slowly perform each exercise with control through the entire range of motion.
- Keep one foot forward to avoid straining the back. I don’t recommend doing this exercise with the feet parallel, which would require unsupported forward flexion (bending over without support), but rather with one foot forward. This protects the back.
- Avoid locking out the knees or other joints – similar to swinging a weight, this practice places unnecessary strain on the joint and allows the muscle to rest, which is counterproductive to the exercise. It is most common for people to lock out the back knee when performing kickbacks, so be mindful to keep a slight bend in the rear leg.
Exhale on exertion
With every repetition, exhale and draw your abs up and into the spine on the “work” of the kickback – this means exhaling and engaging the abdominal muscles in an upward lift as you extend the arms to lift the weight. This coordination of breath and muscle engagement healthfully recruits the deep core, activating the transverse abdominis while decreasing intra-abdominal pressure, protecting the back and the pelvic floor.
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