If you get tired just thinking about exercise, don’t worry—prenatal workouts shouldn’t be extreme. Instead, think of them as a way to start your life as a mom in a healthy, balanced way.
Your goal throughout these nine months should be maintaining your current level of fitness, supporting a healthy amount of weight gain (for most women, that’s no more than 30 pounds), and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles that give support during labor, says Hal Danzer, M.D., a fertility specialist and Ob/Gyn in Beverly Hills, California. Of course, before resuming exercise or starting any new program, check with your doctor, and even when you’ve been given the green light, listen to your body at all times. “You should feel energized, not exhausted—and always be able to hold a conversation,” says Tracey Mallett, a prenatal fitness expert and creator of the workout DVD Fit For Pregnancy. Nausea, lightheadedness, cramping, or shortness of breath are all signs you should stop and call your doctor, says Danzer.
Ready to lace up your sneaks? Consider these by-the-trimester exercise tips:
- Now’s the time to develop healthy workout habits. Low blood sugar is a concern for pregnant women, so keep it at bay by eating a small pre- or post-workout snack (a mix of protein and complex carbs—like peanut butter on whole grain toast—is best). Also, be sure to stay hydrated during exercise with frequent sips of water.
- The best workout choices are low-impact: walking, swimming, and prenatal Pilates or yoga. More vigorous activities like using an elliptical machine or spinning are OK during the first trimester if you were in good shape before becoming pregnant. “The big issue is keeping the heart rate under 130 beats per minute,” says Danzer. Maintaining this heart rate helps prevent your core body temperature—and your baby—from getting too hot.
- Avoid working out while lying on your back. That position can restrict blood flow to your baby. If there’s a favorite exercise you want to do, stack pillows high enough to lift your head above your heart, and limit the time spent on that move to less than five minutes. Or, roll over to your side to do exercises such as leg raises and knee extensions.
- Feeling off balance is common. During the second trimester, your ever-expanding belly changes your center of gravity. If you feel unsteady while doing certain exercises, hold onto a chair, countertop, or even your partner (it’s the least he can do!).
- At this point, it’s completely natural for your body to want to slow down: Your increasing size is requiring more energy to move around. “Focus on walking and performing stretches to open the pelvis and keep your body flexible,” Mallett says. (For ideas, see Yoga for mamas-to-be.)
- Be careful not to overstretch: Pregnancy hormones helpfully get you ready for childbirth by relaxing all your ligaments and joints, but they can also put you at risk of overextending yourself. Stick to the stretches you’ve been doing and avoid the temptation to test your newfound flexibility—don’t even think about trying that split you’ve never been able to do!
Mini Circuit for Moms in the Making
From Tracey Mallett’s prenatal workout book, Super Fit Mama, these moves combine strength and cardio to build and maintain muscle tone while keeping your heart rate up (but remember, don’t go higher than 130 beats per minute!). Perform the exercises in order, three to four times a week, based on your energy level.
1. Plié squat with shoulder circles
Targets: Shoulders, quads, hamstrings, and glutes
Post-baby benefit: To help you to pick up your baby with ease
- Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, and your toes pointing out to the corners of the room. Hold 3- to 5-pound weights, resting your hands on your thighs.
- Bend your knees over your toes and lift your arms forward to shoulder height. Next, move your arms out to the side so they’re parallel to the floor, and then lower them down to the start position. Repeat 8 times, then reverse the order so that you lift your arms to the side first, then front, then down. Repeat 8 times
2. Hamstring curl
Targets: Hamstrings, glutes, and cardiovascular system
Post-baby benefit: Still having some breath left after chasing your tot
From a standing position with your feet together, step to the left (your legs should be about shoulder distance apart), and bend your right knee to lift your heel toward your glutes. Meanwhile, bend your elbows at your sides, forearms parallel to the floor. Repeat, alternating legs, for 60 seconds. Keep both knees bent at all times and focus on squeezing your hamstrings as you bring your heels up.
3. Modified push-up with leg extension
Targets: Chest, arms, abs, glutes, and hamstrings
Post-baby benefit: Being able to easily haul groceries, your baby, and her car seat
- Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the corners of a coffee table or chair (during the third trimester, modify by placing your hands against a wall instead). Extend your legs behind you in a push-up position. Lift your right leg off the floor to hip height. If you start to feel a strain in your lower back, don’t raise your leg as high.
- Inhale as you bend your elbows toward the coffee table or wall, and then exhale as you draw your abs to your spine and straighten your elbows. Do 10 reps, then repeat with your left leg lifted.
4. Knee twist rotation
Targets: Legs, obliques, and cardiovascular system
Post-baby benefit: Getting off the couch without having to grunt “Oof!”
Start by standing with your arms overhead. Lift your right leg toward your chest and bend your elbows to lower your arms to shoulder height. At the same time, twist your upper body toward your knee. (This might get tougher as your belly gets bigger, especially in the third trimester, so modify by just raising your knee toward your chest sans the twist). Alternate legs and twist to the other side. Repeat for 60 seconds.
Yoga for mamas-to-be
Prenatal yoga can make for an easier delivery by helping you stay relaxed, focused, and confident on the big day, says Jennifer Derryberry Mann, a prenatal yoga instructor in Athens, Georgia, and editor of Belly Button Bliss: A Collection of Happy Birth Stories. Get your om on with this short sequence:
- Butterfly Pose Sit on the floor and bring the soles of your feet together. Let your knees open as wide as is comfortable, and lengthen your spine. Lean forward to grasp your shins, lowering your torso toward your legs. Relax your shoulders, neck, and jaw. Take 5 to 7 breaths, focusing your attention in your lower back, hips, and pelvis. To end, release your shins and slowly return to sitting.
- Dancing Mama Pose Get on all fours, with your shoulders over your hands and your hips over your knees. Extend your left leg to the side, with your foot on the floor and your toes facing forward. Inhale and lift your left arm out to the side and up, creating a gentle twist in your upper back. Exhale, lower your arm to the side and then extend it forward as you sit slightly back toward your heels. Keep your neck long and relaxed. Repeat 5 to 7 times, and then switch sides.
- Goddess Pose Stand in a wide, high squat with your knees bent to about 90 degrees and your toes turned slightly out. Raise your arms out to the sides to shoulder height, with your palms turned upward and elbows slightly bent. To support the weight of your growing belly, lightly contract the muscles in your legs, tuck your tailbone in and lengthen your spine. Work up to holding the pose for 2 minutes.
- Side-lying Rest Pose From a seated position, roll to one side and ease down to the floor so that you’re resting on your side with your knees slightly bent. Rest your head on a pillow or your arm, and tuck another pillow between your knees. Rest a hand on your belly, breathing slowly and deeply, taking a few minutes to connect with your body and your baby.
Reprinted from KIWI Magazine