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 engaged, “hug your baby” and exhale as your return to standing position by pressing through heals. This is one rep.
- Repeat 10-20 times. (The mama doing squats in image has been working with AMC throughout her pregnancy and is accustomed to holding a heavy weight. Squats can be loaded or not-loaded depending on your fitness level.)
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 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 so that you’re pressing lower back into the wall, and now press your weight through heels of your feet (not toes).
- 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 you’re 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. Deep Belly Breaths / Belly Breathing
Benefits: The diaphragm is one of the core muscles and it’s designed to work in partnership with the pelvic floor and transverse abdominal (TVA) muscles, therefore making a conscious connection of these muscles is paramount to healthy pelvic floor and a strong core.
- Make sure your body is aligned correctly with a natural curvature of the spine – you can ensure this by allowing your bum to sit naturally behind you (not tucked under) and rib cage aligned above your hips. (I love having clients practice belly breaths on a physio ball— it’s soft and provides feedback when the pelvic floor muscles are engaged/contracted.)
- With a long inhale – feel rib cage bi-laterally expand, pelvic floor are relaxed and lower as the diaphragm lowers, allowing air to enter.
- As you exhale – allow air to expel slowly, closing the rib cage around your spine, feeling pelvic floor lift up gently in connection with rising diaphragm, and allow the natural engagement of your transverse abdominals as they work in unison with pelvic floor. This exhale feels and looks like you are giving your baby a great big hug!
- Practice belly breathes whenever you think about them. Target 10-15 deep breaths throughout each day.
Belly Breathing is the antidote for this fight or flight type breathing and will not only assist you strengthen your core, but also bring more calm into your world.
5. Pelvic Floor Exercises (Kegels)
Benefits: Clients who practice pelvic floor exercises (Kegels and deep belly breaths) throughout pregnancy often find they have an easier birth and quicker recovery. 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. (*Note, this first step is to IDENTIFY the PF muscle, do not stop of flow of urine as a daily exercise.)
- Perfect your technique. Once you’ve identified your pelvic floor muscles, empty your bladder and lie on your back – or on your side. Gradually contract your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for 1-5 seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 5 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
- Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on contracting only your pelvic floor muscles. Be mindful 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 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. My favorite way to execute a push-up in the second and third trimester is to use an elevated platform (as shown in image) to accommodate growing belly and relieve pressure from abs.
- The pregnant women in this photo are practicing an elevated push-up on a 20″ high bench– which is a pretty good challenge, (one 3rd trimester mama is practicing a wall push-up because to relieve the most abdominal wall pressure.) The higher the platform the easier the push-up will feel. 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 bench. Be mindful 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 2 sets of 5 reps with good form.
7. Opposite Arm & Leg (on ground)
Benefits: I like this exercise for prenatal and new 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 in neutral alignment, hands are under shoulders & knees under hips, and shoulder blades are in their “opposite back pockets”.
- 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. AMC is here to help you navigate the do’s & don’ts of prenatal exercise. Our Small Group Prenatal Fitness program is live-streaming, and is more than a class – it is personalized training in a small group setting.
You’re invited to take a FREE introductory session as a test-drive. Each session is 60 minutes and offered every Saturday at 9am CST. Email Cassandra@ActiveMomsClub.com to arrange your FREE session.
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