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If you’ve always exercised, you may be wondering which routines you can safely continue now that you’re pregnant and how hard you can work out. And if you haven’t been active, now’s the time to start moving: Research shows that exercising during pregnancy is good for you and your growing baby and can help you get your body back more quickly after you deliver. Here you’ll find the six safest, most comfortable and effective workouts for pregnancy and information on how to get started on each of them.
No matter what form of exercise you do, be sure to find an instructor who is trained in prenatal exercise and can personalize your program. And for essential precautions, see “Safety First!” below.
>>Check with your doctor before starting or continuing any exercise routine. Keep her abreast of your workouts during each trimester—you may need to adjust them if health complications arise.
>> Remember that pregnancy is a time to maintain your fitness level, not to push yourself hard to get into better shape.
>> Drink water (preferably room temperature) before, during and after each workout.
>> Use the “talk test” when performing any exercise program: If you can’t carry on a conversation, you need to slow your pace.
>> Stop immediately if you feel dizzy or fatigued or experience bleeding.
>> Don’t exercise outdoors on hot days. Work out in the early morning or evening when it’s cooler, or take your workout inside.
>> Always wear well-fitting, supportive athletic shoes designed specifically for your chosen activity (e.g., walking shoes for walking, cross trainers for weight training).
>> Invest in a good, supportive sports bra.
>>If you’re exercising outdoors, remember to wear sunscreen and a protective hat.
The benefits Walking is a great overall workout that you can do throughout your entire pregnancy to strengthen your heart and lungs while toning your lower body. Many women find that walking also boosts energy and eases nausea.
The cautions Your joints may be more lax during pregnancy, so avoid uneven surfaces to keep from tripping and falling, particularly if your belly is large and you can’t see the ground in front of you. Shorten your stride if you feel any pulling in your groin or pelvis.
How to get started Walk briskly. Make sure your heel strikes first, and roll through the arch and off the ball of your foot. Keep your abs pulled in to avoid arching your back. Walk at least 3–5 times a week, varying time and intensity; or add intervals (intersperse 3–5 minutes of moderate walking with 1–2 minutes at a slightly faster pace). Aim for 30 minutes each session.
For more information For a great prenatal program, visit www.fitpregnancy.com/walking
workout. Walking Through Pregnancy and Beyond, by Mark and Lisa Fenton and Tracy Teare (Lyons Press, 2004), guides women of all fitness levels through pregnancy and postpartum. And don’t miss the groundbreaking Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, by James F. Clapp III, M.D. (Addicus Books, 1998).
The benefits Running can provide the same benefits as walking but offers a greater challenge to your muscles and cardiovascular system. It’s also a great way to keep your legs toned.
The cautions Do not start a running routine if you were not a runner before becoming pregnant. If you were, you can continue your program at a modified level as your pregnancy progresses so long as you have your doctor’s OK. Avoid uneven surfaces to keep from tripping and falling. Shorten your stride if you feel any pulling in your groin or pelvis.
How to get started If your joints feel wobbly, add some balance moves such as alternating knee lifts on your strength-training days to increase strength and stability. If you were running 5–6 days a week before becoming pregnant, cut down to 4 days a week and cross train with activities such as stationary cycling. As soon as running becomes uncomfortable, switch to walking only.
For more information Runner’s World Guide to Running & Pregnancy, by Chris Lundgren (Rodale, 2003), is a comprehensive guide for the experienced runner and mom-to-be. It includes health information, suggestions for cross training, stretches and a guide for postpartum running. www.runnersworld.com
The benefits Swimming, shallow-water aerobics and walking, and deep-water running offer cardiovascular benefits. The water’s buoyancy creates little or no stress on your joints. Swelling may even be reduced as the pressure of the water pushes fluids back into your bloodstream.
The cautions Water temperature should be no warmer than 90 degrees F. Watch your exertion level. Keep breast or butterfly strokes to a minimum in your third trimester, as they may be too taxing on your heart. When doing shallow-water walking or aerobics, wear aqua shoes to avoid slipping.
How to get started Try walking from one side of the shallow end of the pool to the other. Or hold onto the side while doing large, slow kicks and big arm circles. For a more challenging workout, use a buoyancy belt in deep water and tread water or run. If you’re a swimmer, swim 20 minutes each
session 3–6 days a week. In your third trimester, swim at a lower intensity.
For more information Swimming Through Your Pregnancy, by Jane Katz, D.Ed. (Doubleday, 1983), includes a safe and effective swimming and water exercise program to keep you fit during pregnancy. It also features a 12-week postpartum program to help you get back into shape quickly.
The benefits Weight training helps maintain muscle tone, strength and proper posture. It can ease discomfort, prepare you for delivery and recovery, and help you lift and carry your baby (and all her stuff) after she arrives.
The cautions Don’t do any exercise while lying on your back after the first trimester. Use machines
if maintaining proper form with free weights becomes difficult. Reduce your weight as the pregnancy
progresses, and never lift your maximum weight.
How to get started If you haven’t previously done strength training, start slowly, using light weights. Do only 1 set of 8–12 repetitions, focusing on your form. Limit training to 2–3 days a week, with a day off in between.
For more information Fit to Deliver, by Karen Nordahl, M.D.; Susi Kerr; Carl Petersen, P.T., B.Sc.; and Renee Jeffreys (Hartley and Mark, 2004), is tailored to different fitness levels and stages of pregnancy. It helps women prepare for delivery and regain their prepregnancy shapes quickly postpartum. www.fittodeliver.com
The benefits Prenatal Pilates gently strengthens your entire body and will teach you to be aware of your pelvic-floor and transverse abdominal muscles (the deepest ab muscles), which will help you deliver your baby.
The cautions Avoid movements that compress your neck. After the first trimester, don’t work on the Reformer, which uses springs and cords that may pull too much on your hip flexors and groin muscles. During the second and third trimesters, don’t attempt any inversions or do exercises lying flat on your back. Limit your range of motion as needed, and discontinue any exercise that feels uncomfortable.
How to get started Use a slip-proof mat. Keep a towel nearby to relieve tension under your knees. Incorporate the Pilates breathing technique of inhaling through your nose before the movement, and exhaling through your mouth as you pull your navel to your spine and move or shift into a movement. This trains your ab and pelvic-floor muscles and will help during labor and delivery.
For more information The Fusion Pilates for Pregnancy video (Gianni Productions, 2003, VHS or DVD) is designed to give women a challenging workout without compromising safety. The Pilates-based workout follows the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines and includes modifications appropriate for each trimester. www.fusionpilates.com
The benefits Prenatal yoga can be done throughout your pregnancy. The mind-body connection that you learn helps you to enjoy your changing body. You will learn how to breathe through labor pain using relaxation techniques that help your pelvic floor open up.
The cautions Stay away from yoga classes that heat the room to over 100 degrees F and classes that are too taxing. Don’t attempt inverted poses such as the headstand or plow. Do not do any posture that requires you to lie flat on your back after the first trimester. You may modify such poses as downward dog, triangle pose or warrior series using a chair to help you keep your head above your heart.
How to get started Since prenatal yoga programs can be very gentle, you can start one now, even if you’ve never stepped foot in a class. Become aware of your body’s abilities and limitations. Listen to your breath and quiet your mind; this can be a powerful tool when it comes time to give birth.
For more information Rocki’s Prenatal Yoga (M.O.O. Productions, 2001) features a wonderful combination of standing and seated poses, breathing and relaxation techniques, and meditation that is perfect for all fitness levels. The video was created by Rocki Graham, owner of Yoga Baby studio in Santa Monica, Calif. www.mooproductionsinc.com