Ease pain and improve your posture with these strength-–building exercises.
Your ever-expanding belly can do more than advertise your pregnancy to the world; it can throw off your normal posture, causing you to arch your back. The frequent result: painful lower-back strain. The simple solution? Exercises that strengthen your back muscles. "Strengthening your back will help you handle some of the back strain that is inevitable during pregnancy," says Douglas Brooks, M.S., an exercise physiologist in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
These moves, which also use the abdominal muscles that help counterbalance back arching, will improve your posture and balance as well, making your movements easier and safer as your pregnancy progresses. With your doctor's permission, do them throughout your pregnancy and also include them in your postpartum workout.
1. OPPOSITE ARM AND LEG REACH: Begin on hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders, arms straight but not locked, knees aligned under your hips. Contract your abdominals to form a straight line from head to tailbone. Tighten your abs to stabilize your torso; then lift your left arm and right leg up to form a straight line at about torso height. Don't allow your body to shift from side to side as you lift. Lower and repeat, alternating arms and legs slowly. Do 1 set of 20 reps, alternating sides. As your belly grows, tighten your abs to adjust your balance so your back doesn't sway and cause your belly to drop. Strengthens back and abdominal muscles.
2. WALL TILTS: Place an exercise ball between your lower back and a wall. Lean back against the ball and walk your feet forward so they're in front of your belly, hip-width apart, and bend your knees slightly. Place your hands on your thighs. Pressing gently against the ball, tilt your pelvis to bring your tailbone forward (this should be a subtle movement). Release, pressing back against the ball, and repeat for 1 set of 15–20 reps. Then bend knees to a squatting position, keeping your knees aligned with your ankles and squatting no lower than your hips. The ball will roll up your spine. Straighten legs and repeat 5–6 times. Strengthens back muscles and quadriceps and stretches lower back.
3. BRIDGING: Sitting on the ball with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent, walk your feet forward (keep feet in front of your knees); take small steps until your head, neck, shoulders, and upper to middle back rest against the ball and your hips are just lower than your shoulders. Relax your arms and place your hands on the floor, if you wish. Lift your hips to about shoulder height, keeping your buttocks tight. Relax your buttocks and let your hips lower slowly toward the floor. Lift your hips to starting position and repeat. Do 1 set of 15–20 reps. Strengthens and stretches the back muscles.