Being pregnant doesn’t have to mean being sedentary. In fact, staying in shape can help you have a healthy pregnancy and even make labor easier!
Everyone’s body is different, and how much exercise is safe for you depends on a lot of factors. Before you do any new exercises, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s OK. For example, since I was already running regularly before getting pregnant, my doctor gave me the OK to keep running. If you don’t run, you should not start during pregnancy. Don’t worry – there’s no running required in the exercises on the next page.
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Staying in shape when you’re pregnant can make pregnancy so much better! Exercise can help prevent cankles, stave off lower back pain, and give you more energy.
Prenatal Exercise Tips
I’ve gotten quite a bit of advice from my doctors on what is and isn’t cool when it comes to prenatal exercise. Here is what they’ve told me:
- Don’t overheat. Take breaks, and drink lots of water. You don’t want your core body temperature getting above 101F, because this can be bad for the baby. 101F might seem high, but running on a hot day can send your temperature even higher.
- Take things slowly. Your body knows what it needs, so listen to what it’s telling you. Don’t push yourself too far too fast, and if it hurts, don’t do it.
- Watch your heart rate. I’ve gotten a little bit of conflicting advice on this, so ask your doctor! Some doctors have said that you don’t want your heart rate to go over 140bpm for an extended period. It’s OK if it spikes there occasionally, but take a break to bring it down if it stays high for more than a few minutes.
- Stay off of your back. The point at which this becomes an issue can vary – I’ve heard anywhere between 16 and 22 weeks – but once your uterus gets big, it’s not good for you to be on your back for too long. It puts pressure on a major vein. This won’t hurt your baby, but it can make you feel dizzy and even have some tingling or numbness in your extremities.
- Avoid heavy weights. You shouldn’t lift anything heavier than 20 to 30 pounds, unless your doctor says otherwise. For the exercises that use hand weights, don’t push it – use what’s comfortable.
There’s a common misconception that you should do no ab work at all during pregnancy, and from what I’ve read, that is only a half-truth. You should avoid some ab exercises – like crunches – because you shouldn’t be on your back. However, stronger ab muscles will help a lot when it’s time to push.
On the next page, check out some prenatal exercises to make your pregnancy and labor more comfortable!
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by mr. toaster
Before we get started, I just want to reiterate that I am not a doctor. These are the pregnancy exercises that have been working well for me, and in my 20th week everything with my baby is healthy and normal. Please talk to your doctor about any new exercise routine before you start.
Your goal should be repeating each move three times. If you can only do one set to start, that is totally OK! You’ll get stronger as you go. You can also increase the number of sets for each move separately. Maybe you do three sets of deep breathing but start out with one set of squats. Just do what you can, and don’t push too hard.
What’s more important is that you get moving. Don’t focus on how much you’re doing – just be proud of yourself for doing this for your body and for your baby!
1. 100 Up
This is a conditioning exercise for runners, but it’s great at improving your walking stride and your posture, too. Unlike the rest of this series, you’ll just do one set of this move. You’re basically marching in place to 100 steps, raising your knees as high as you can. This video shows you how to properly do the 100 Up:
Important tip: it is 100 steps total, so 50 per side. When I first started doing the 100 Up, I thought it was 100 steps per foot, and it was totally exhausting!
2. Deep Breathing
Sit criss-cross on the floor. If you’re getting big, you can sit against a wall to support your back. Place one hand on your lower abdomen and one on the top of your bump, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Hold for 30 seconds, then release.
3. Pelvic Floor Exercises
You probably think of incontinence as something that happens post-delivery, but pregnancy hormones can cause prenatal incontinence, too. Strengthening your pelvic floor with Kegel exercises can help with this! My friend Lisa Bennett, who is a licensed prenatal yoga instructor, suggested combining pelvic floor exercises with squats, so you can do this as a separate move – sitting or standing – or you can do it with exercises #4 or #5 below.
To do this exercise, you want to flex the muscles that stop the flow of urine. The idea is to do this without tightening your abs or glutes. Hold for up to 15 seconds. You probably won’t be able to do 15 seconds at first, but that’s the goal. Add a second or two as your muscles get stronger until you get there.
You can do this with or without weights. I use three pound dumbbells, not like this fellow, though this is a good representation of what your squat should look like:
You can even bend your knees and stick your butt out a little bit more, if you’re flexible enough to go deeper.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and come into a squat – imagine that you’re sitting down on a chair. Hold the squat while you do 10-15 overhead presses. To do an overhead press, bend your elbows, so your hands are next to your shoulders, then raise your arms straight up over your head.
5. Wide-Legged Squat
This is another move that can use weights. I use those same three pounders, but you should use whatever feels comfortable to you.
Move your feet so that they are further than shoulder-width apart with your toes turned out slightly, bend at your knees into a squat. If your knees extend over the tops of your feet, you should widen your stance. Raise your arms straight out to the sides until your hands are level with your shoulders, then lower your hands back down to neutral. Repeat 10-15 times.
On the next page, check out some yoga moves that are great for a healthy pregnancy!
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by jontunn
6. That One Where You Lift Your Opposite Arm and Leg
I have no idea what this move is called, but it’s always been one of my favorites in yoga class. It’s great for strengthening your back, which can help you avoid prenatal backaches or at least make them less severe.
Start out on your hands and knees. Inhale, and lift your right arm so it’s straight out in front of you, level with your shoulder. At the same time, life your left leg straight out behind you. Imagine someone gently pulling your raised hand and foot away from each other as you breath and lengthen your spine. Take 10 deep breaths, and repeat this move with the left arm and right leg.
7. Downward Dog
Down dog is great for your back and for stretching your legs. A lot of pregnant women get leg cramps, and stretching can help mitigate that problem.
From that same hands-and-knees position you were just in, curl your toes under and lift your butt in the air. You should have your weight on the palms of your hands and the balls of your feet. Chances are, your heels won’t touch the floor if you’re new to down dog, and that is 100 percent fine. Just relax and take 10 deep breaths in this pose.
8. Child’s Pose
From downward dog, bend your knees until they are on the floor, push your bottom back onto your heels, and let your body relax forward as you stretch your arms out in front of you. If you need to, spread your knees apart to make room for that baby bump!
Stay here and breathe for as long as you like.
9. Cat/Cow Pose
This move stretches and strengthens your back. The gentle stretch in your abs can also help relieve round ligament pain: that pain in your belly caused by your ever-growing uterus.
Come back onto hands and knees, and on your next exhale, push with your hands and curve your spine away from the floor, scooping in your abs as much as is comfortable. Curl your chin into your chest, and breathe in this position for 10 breaths. On your next inhale, roll your shoulders back, arching your back as much as feels right to you. Lift your head to look at the sky, and breathe here for 10 deep breaths.
10. Warrior II
Warrior II is a prenatal dynamo! It stretches and strengthens your back and strengthens your legs which can help make pushing easier.
Come back to standing position with your legs in a wide stance. Turn your right foot out and turn your left foot in ever-so-slightly. Raise your arms to shoulder height, and bend your right leg at the knee, until that thigh is parallel to the floor. Turn your head to gaze past the fingertips of your right hand, and breathe here for…you guessed it!…10 deep breaths. Repeat on the left hand side.
Image Credits: Creative Commons photos by lululemon athletica