Carrying a baby takes more strength and endurance than you might think, both before and after you give birth. As a result, strong “mommy” arms aren’t enough. If you want to prevent some of the aches that moms-to-be and new mothers experience, you must target the muscles of your upper back, chest and shoulders in your training.
“There’s a tendency to curl the upper back and shoulders during pregnancy,” says Chanteil Miller, C.P.T., a physical therapist, martial-arts teacher and personal trainer in Los Angeles who designed the workout that follows. This rounded posture — caused first by the additional weight in your belly during pregnancy, then by the postpartum armload of baby plus diaper bag et al. — puts the lower back at risk for injury. Strengthening your upper back, neck and shoulders will help you support the increasing forward weight, thus reducing lower-back problems.
Stability and Balance
Miller, who works with many pregnant women, designed these exercises to increase the endurance of upper-back muscles, achieve muscular balance between upper back and chest muscles (“Any time you’re working your back, you’re also working your pecs,” she says), and improve the stability of the shoulder joint and its surrounding muscles. The alternating pullover helps stabilize your torso; the raise and row adds a challenge for your biceps, and the wall push-up is a great overall upper-body strengthener. All you need to get started are a few dumbbells, some pillows, a wall and your own body weight.
For total back care, you also can incorporate postural exercises into your everyday activities. For example, relax your shoulders and pull your shoulder blades down and together, even when you’re not exercising. This eventually should become a habit; you won’t have to concentrate on doing it. When you’re walking, squeeze your buttocks with each heel-toe stride. This forces you to lead with your legs, not your belly, and prevents you from rounding your shoulders forward.
If you follow an effective workout regimen during and after pregnancy — and these three exercises are a great addition to your regular routine — the motherhood experience should be that much more comfortable for all concerned. “When mom feels good,” Miller says, “everybody feels good.”
Do these in order 4 times a week, along with your regular prenatal workout. Do 1 set of 12–20 repetitions for each exercise. When you can do 20 reps comfortably, progress to 2 sets, keeping the weight the same. Because these are postural exercises, it’s not necessary to exceed the suggested weights.