Congratulations, you’re pregnant! Now you might be wondering if and how your exercise habits should change. Did you know medical experts agree that pregnant women free from any obstetric and medical problems should participate in 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most, if not all, days of the week? That might seem a like a lot, but research shows prenatal exercise will benefit both you and your baby.
We selected our top 7 prenatal exercises to help you get started and to continue through all three stages of pregnancy.
*Be sure to get clearance from your health care provider before starting any new exercise routine.
While cardiovascular exercise is the most popular form of exercise during pregnancy (think walking), strength training is important to maintain (or increase, if you are new to exercise) core strength and overall fitness level. (See “A Few FAQ’s About Mom’s Expecting Body”)
Benefits: As well as chiseling your butt into shape, when performed correctly (I have clients use a prop such as a bench or chair to squat over), squatting also engages the pelvic floor and core musculature. This will help prepare you for child birth and also reduce the chances of postnatal incontinence.
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart (or wider to accommodate belly), pelvis neutral, and body weight is slightly back on heels.
- Push hips back as you bend through knees – as if sitting in a chair.
- Extend arms foreword for balance, keep head and neck aligned with spine.
- Lower pelvis until thighs are parallel to the floor, or tush touches the bench.
- Keep abs tight, “hug your baby”, exhale as your return to standing position by pressing through heals. This is one rep.
- Repeat 20 times.
2. Opposite Arm & Leg (standing)
Benefits: Clients often tell me they feel clumsy or unstable during their second and third trimester, rightfully so, their center of gravity is shifting. I love this exercise to help women work on their balance and proprioception – their body moving in space. This four-in-one exercise tones shoulders, legs, engages core, and improves overall stability.
- Use a 1-5 pound dumbbell (or improvise and hold a water bottle or can of beans)
- Stand with feet together, hips in neutral, arms by sides, and fix your gaze straight ahead.
- With a weight in your right hand and soft bend in elbow, simultaneously lift your right arm and left leg.
- Extend right arm only to the height of your shoulder. Left leg extends out 18-24” while keeping toe facing in the direction of your gaze.
- Engage your abs “hug your baby” while moving arm and leg – it will help with your balance.
- This is one rep. Complete 12 reps on one side and repeat 12 reps on opposite side.
3. Wall Sit
Benefits: This isometric exercise produces little or no movement but sure packs a punch. I recommend a wall sit exercise for anyone with a desk job – it helps to wake up leg muscles. Sitting on the wall actually feels good for pregnant mama’s posture and is an effective way to strengthen and tone legs AND pelvic floor muscles.
- Lean your back against a wall, leaving about 2 feet between your feet and the wall.
- Slide your body down the wall, as if you are trying to sit on an imaginary chair. (Keep your hips above your knees.)
- Create a small pelvic tilt backwards to press your lower back into the wall, and now press your weight through your heels of your feet
- A slight variation: Place a medium-sized ball between your knees and gently squeeze it while you hold the wall sit position, this will target your inner thighs (adductors) and work your pelvic floor muscles too. Bonus!
- Another variation: while sitting on wall, slide arms up against wall to position your elbows the height of shoulders and forearms lying against wall on either side of your head. Now your engaging upper body and receiving tremendous benefit of stretching your overworked chest muscles. (Yes, those breasts are getting bigger and heavier).
- Hold this seated position for 30-75 seconds.
- Repeat throughout day, especially if you have a desk job.
4. Elevated Front Plank
Benefits: Good posture is a must for moms-to-be to help alleviate back aches and pains. An elevated plank is an effective exercise for all stages of pregnancy for overall core strength. In addition to strengthening abdominals and back muscles, an elevated plank will help increase upper postural strength to aid in good posture.
- Use a bench or chair (approximately 16-24″ in height). Begin on knees and place forearms on platform, elbows should be directly under shoulder joint.
- Engage your abs, “hug your baby” and extend one leg back, curling toe under, then extend other leg back so you are in “plank” position. Maintain neutral hip position throughout exercise. Keep head in natural extension of the spine through entire exercise.
- Hold for 10-30 seconds. Come down to rest on knees and repeat.
*If this position is challenging to hold for 10-20 seconds, try to increase the height of platform and reduce duration.
5. Pelvic Floor Exercises (Kegels)
Benefits: Women I have trained who do pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) through pregnancy often find they have an easier birth. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy can help develop the ability to control these muscles during labor and delivery, and may help reduce the likelihood of bladder leaks & hemorrhoids.
Kegel exercises are also recommended immediately after pregnancy to promote perineal healing, muscle memory, and to regain bladder control. They are easy to perform anytime, anywhere.
It takes diligence to identify your pelvic floor muscles and learn how to contract and relax them.
- To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urination in midstream. If you succeed, you’ve got the right muscles.
- Perfect your technique. Once you’ve identified your pelvic floor muscles, empty your bladder and lie on your back – or on your side. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
- Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on tightening only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
Repeat 3 times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day
Benefits: Completed with good form, push-ups can be an effective functional exercise to strengthen your core. Yes, even for pregnant mamas. To modify a push-up in the second and third trimester, use an elevated platform (as shown in plank above) to accommodate growing belly and relieve pressure from abs.
- Start on your hands and knees, place hands a few inches wider than your chest, and bring hips to form a straight line from your shoulders to knees. Head is in natural extension of your spine. Keep your eyes focused above your finger tips.
- Inhale and lower your body towards the floor. Be sure your body is moving as a UNIT, everything goes down together (do not let your hips drop first or leave them up in the air as your chest moves) and up together.
- Exhale and push yourself back to starting position. Only go down as far as you can push yourself back up with good form. This is one rep.
- Complete 5-15 reps with good form.
7. Opposite Arm & Leg (on ground)
Benefits: I like this exercise for prenatal and postnatal clients. Perform this simple exercise with control and balance and it will strengthen and engage your deep ab muscles and lower back muscles to keep you strong and minimize back aches.
- Kneel on all fours with spine is in neutral alignment, hands under shoulders & knees under hips, and shoulder blades are pulled back & down.
- Lengthen and lift right leg directly behind you and at same time, lengthen and lift left arm straight in front.
- Reach and elongate your arm and leg towards the walls (not up toward ceiling), hold for 5 seconds.
- Lower left arm and right leg, and repeat opposite arm and leg. This is one set.
- Complete 5 sets.
Give yourself and your baby every advantage of prenatal exercise. Let AMC help you navigate the do’s & dont’s of prenatal exercise. Our Small Group Prenatal Fitness program is more than a class – it is personalized training in a small group setting. Visit our website to learn more and to get started. We have a brand new introductory prenatal package for first-time clients.
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