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Any physical exertion that lasts for more than 45 minutes (and you can bet that labor will) requires some advance strength-building. You wouldn’t run a 10k without training, would you? Or jump right into an advanced step workout without building up strength and stamina first? The same is true for labor.
The exercises shown here will help you endure the rigors of giving birth by building and maintaining your strength during pregnancy. “If you train your body to prepare for labor, you won’t waste energy with inefficient pushing when the big day comes,” says prenatal-fitness instructor Bonnie Rote, R.N., of Delafield, Wis., who designed our workout. “You’ll understand exactly what you have to do, know that you can do it, and be ready to welcome your baby with everything you’ve got. Staying fit during pregnancy will also help you recover more quickly.”
Do these exercises 2–3 times a week, starting in your first trimester. The sooner you begin, the more coordinated your muscles will be for pushing.
1. All-fours lift Get down on your hands and knees, positioning your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Keep your head and spine aligned, with your back as straight as possible. Contract your abdominal muscles and exhale; imagine that you’re pulling your baby up toward your spine. Relax to the neutral spine position; don’t let your back sag or arch. Do 2 sets of 8–10 repetitions, resting 30 seconds between sets. Strengthens the abdominals and helps to relieve back pain.
2. 3-in-1 exercise Sitting on the floor, position a stack of blankets or pillows behind your back for support. Lean back in a semi-reclined position, knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Place your knees about shoulder-width apart and hold on to the back of your thighs, elbows out to the side. Keep your head and spine aligned so that your chin is up and not on your chest (A). Inhale and tilt your pelvis upward, curling your body into a “C.” Pull your abs in toward your spine while relaxing your pelvic-floor muscles (B). Hold this position for 5 counts as you slowly exhale, keeping your pelvic-floor muscles relaxed. Return to starting position.
Repeat 2–3 times, taking 2 deep breaths at the end of each rep. Strengthens abs and teaches you the mechanics you’ll use during the pushing phase of labor.
3. Upper-back press/chest stretch Kneel on your left knee on a mat or carpeted surface beside a chair, knee directly under hip. Place your right foot flat on the floor, knee directly over heel. Hold the chair for support with your right hand and lean slightly forward from the hips. Tilt your pelvis upward to keep your spine neutral.