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Soon enough you’ll have plenty of balls in the air, maybe more than you ever imagined. And with that babe in your arms, you’ll be having a ball, too! In the meantime, one of the best ways to prepare your body for the stress of pregnancy and the rigors of labor is to strengthen your legs, abdominal muscles and back using an exercise ball (also called a stability ball).
“The ball makes you use your back and ab muscles at the same time, the way you do in real life when you try to maintain a healthy posture or pick something up, like a child,” says June Kahn, a Reebok Global Master Trainer in Chesterfield, Mo., who has been teaching pre- and postnatal fitness classes for almost 20 years. “These kinds of exercises create muscular balance, which helps reduce the risk of back strain or other injury.”
Here are three of Kahn’s favorite moves designed for expectant women. Do them throughout your pregnancy using a 55-centimeter ball. (You’ll need to use a different size if you’re taller than 6 feet.)
1. Wall Squat Stand with your back to a wall with an exercise ball pressed between your lower back and the wall. Allow your arms to hang relaxed at your sides, or rest them on your thighs. Place your feet about 3 feet from the wall, hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked. Keep your chest lifted and shoulders relaxed (A). Bend your knees, slowly lowering your body toward the floor (don’t allow momentum to take over). As you squat, your buttocks should move backward toward the wall, under the ball, until knees are in line with ankles (B). Straighten legs and return to starting position. Do 1–2 sets of 10–15 reps, resting 30–60 seconds between sets. Increases leg strength and muscular endurance; improves torso stability.
2. Incline Pelvic Tilt Sit upright on the ball with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Walk your feet out in front of you until you’re lying with the ball in the middle of your back. Your hips should be off the ball and your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your hips onto the ball and place your hands on your upper thighs; keep your neck and shoulders relaxed (A). Using your abdominal muscles to initiate the movement, tilt your pelvis upward to lift your hips off the ball (B). Slowly bring your hips back down onto the ball, still using your abs and keeping your spine in a neutral position. Do 1–2 sets of 10–15 reps. Strengthens abdominal muscles; relieves lower-back discomfort; improves leg and torso strength and stability.