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Madeleine Lewis, a 37-year-old fitness instructor in Hawthorne, California, was already working out with a fitness ball when she became pregnant with her second child. Instead of giving up her routine, she kept at it and found the ball was especially useful for keeping her in shape during pregnancy. “I got the chance to teach a six-week course using the ball for Mattel’s pregnant employees,” says Lewis. Fourteen women signed up. “They loved using it. I tried out different moves with them, and they gave me feedback about each one.”
Lewis discovered that using a fitness ball can help a pregnant woman maintain balance and stability as her belly grows—and help keep abdominal muscles strong. Strong abdominals are important during the pushing phase of labor.
After the fourth month of pregnancy, many women often give up doing ab work on the floor because it can put pressure on the vena cava, a large vein which carries blood back to the heart. The weight of the uterus on this particular vein can cause a drop in blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the brain (and placenta), resulting in dizziness or nausea. “You can work the abs longer into the pregnancy using the fitness ball,” says Lewis, “because you’re not lying on your back, but balancing on the ball.”
Another advantage to this and any prenatal exercise: “I believe the recovery phase is shorter if you’re fit during pregnancy,” she says.
The following workout was designed by Lewis (that’s her in the photos) to help you stay fit and prepare your muscles for labor, delivery and beyond.
You can begin this program on its own or as a complement to your regular strengthening and cardiovascular routines. The first two exercises will orient you to using the ball as well as warm you up. Make sure you’re comfortable with them before moving on to abdominal work and the last four.
For each of the seven exercises, do 1 set of 12 to 16 reps—the entire workout should take about 15 to 20 minutes. You may do all seven every day but not necessarily all at once. Pick a few at a time as your schedule allows. At the end of your workout, take an extra 5 or 10 minutes to relax in a comfortable position.