feeling groovy

A new prenatal workout will help you ‘dance through your next nine months.

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You know the old mindset: A woman tells a man she’s pregnant, and even though she’s barely showing and looks healthy as a horse, he responds, “Shouldn’t you be sitting down?" Today, people are too sophisticated to expect a woman to “lie in” for nine months but, unfortunately, it’s still not an everyday occurrence to see a very pregnant woman weight-training in the gym, jogging through a park or taking a yoga class. But you’re going to change all that. After all, if you’ve been a steady exerciser — taking aerobics classes, lifting weights or kickboxing — until now, why does your pregnancy have to alter your routine?

The truth is, it does and it doesn’t. Somewhere between lying in and running a marathon is a workout plan for the modern pregnancy. Dancing Thru Pregnancy, an exercise program created by Ann Cowlin, answers this need. “Instead of modifying existing fitness activities, I created a specialized system to satisfy the [physical and spiritual] demands of pregnancy, birth and recovery,” says Cowlin, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Nursing in New Haven, Conn., and author of the forthcoming book Women’s Health and Fitness Programming (Human Kinetics, 2001). Cowlin uses the word “dancing” to describe the euphoria and freedom a woman can feel during her pregnancy.

Strength and Endurance

“Just like any other athlete preparing for an event, exercise [that you do] while pregnant should mimic the circumstances you’ll eventually experience,” says Cowlin. “Childbirth involves a long-distance, low- to moderate-intensity endurance marathon (labor); followed by a sprint (transition); and ending with a strength test (pushing).” Cowlin’s program combines aerobic exercise, strength work and childbirth preparation. While a traditional childbirth class may teach you relaxation exercises, Cowlin will have you practice those techniques while you’re working out and your heart rate is up. “It’s all well and good to relax in a dark room or while you’re sitting down, but let’s face it, during childbirth, most women are breathing heavily and working hard, so isn’t it a good idea to combine the two?” she says.

Physical exercise is just one aspect of the Dancing Thru Pregnancy program. “Our first goal is to have the pregnant woman be able to center herself [physically and mentally],” she says. “Being centered requires the combination of physical balance, slow and deep breathing from the transverse abdominal muscle and a calm mental association with your body.” The exercises will help you open up areas that need to be relaxed during birth and strengthen areas that need to be strong. “Traditionally, exercise measures ‘how far’ and ‘how much,’” says Cowlin. “Instead, when it comes to birth, ask yourself, ‘how do I feel inside?’” Here is your own Dancing Thru Pregnancy workout.

Dance Moves

Try to do this workout at least 3 days a week. Alternate with some form of cardio exercise: walking, swimming, mild hiking on flat trails or riding a stationary bike.

1. centering Purpose: to get centered before you exercise. Stand with feet about 6–8 inches apart. Slowly rock forward onto the balls of your feet, then backward onto the heels, until you sense that your weight is evenly distributed — half on the balls, half on the heels. Bend forward at your hips, but don’t lock your knees or ankles. Then rock from side to side. Don’t try to hold your head up. Release tension in your neck, shoulders and arms. Relax your abdomen and inhale. Exhale by hissing and contracting the abdomen. Repeat.

2. swaying Purpose: to relax and stay centered while moving. Gently push down on your right foot while taking a small step to the left with your left foot, leg slightly bent. Push off the left foot and return to center, bringing in the left foot. Do this move to the right and left, then forward, backward and diagonally. Inhale when you step out; exhale when you return to center. Arms should flow with the movement. Repeat the pattern 3 times; center in between.

3. aerobics for labor prep Purpose: to increase aerobic fitness through breathing and movement. After swaying, increase your range of motion by taking steps forward and back and side to side, even crossovers (grapevines). Then try this: Step forward on a diagonal with your left foot, extending left arm out (A). Place your weight on your left foot and tap your right toes behind your left, extending left arm upward (B). Take a step backward with your right foot, rocking hips backward, arms following (C). Place your weight on your right foot and tap your left toes in front of your right foot, arms swinging back (D). Step sideways with your left foot, arms following, and sway side to side (E). Repeat, starting in the other direction. Once you have learned the steps, tilt and rock your pelvis as you move. Work on getting your heart rate up and pay attention to your breathing.

4. cardio kick Purpose: to add intensity and work your legs. Step sideways with your left foot, raise your right knee toward your hip, then extend your leg out and forward as if kicking a door closed. Alternate by stepping sideways in the other direction and kicking with your other leg. Do 2 sets of 4–8 kicks with each leg.

5. real-life moves Purpose: to create fitness movements out of everyday tasks — making beds, mowing the lawn. This allows you to work with familiar motions to stay fit. Start in a split lunge position, 1 foot in front of the other and hip-width apart, rear heel lifted. Bend down and forward at your hips as if to pick up something (A), then straighten legs, reaching hands upward as if to toss something or unfurl a sheet (B). Do 4 times, then switch legs and repeat.

6. cooling down Purpose: to lower heart rate. After 15–30 minutes of activity, sway for about 5 minutes. Keep your arms above your chest to help prevent blood from pooling in fingertips. Finish with pliés and arm circles. Pliés: Stand with feet farther apart than hip width, toes and knees out. Bend knees (A), then straighten legs. Stretch your whole body by standing with 1 foot in front of the other. Keeping hips square, reach in front of you, palms touching (B). Hold for 20 seconds, then switch legs.

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