A safe and simple way to stay fit as your body changes
When Kara Reibel learned she was expecting her first child, she promised herself that exercise would play a vital role in the following months. The one-time aerobics instructor from Indianapolis was determined to not use pregnancy as an excuse to let herself get out of shape. "Exercise has been a big part of my life since I was a teen-ager, and it never crossed my mind to stop," says the 28-year-old Reibel. Indeed, it wasn't until her last trimester that Reibel, who ultimately gained 45 pounds, had to significantly modify her routine. "It got to the point that when I rode the recumbent bike, part of my daily routine, my knees would hit my belly," she recalls. Since many strength-training machines also became awkward to use, Reibel simply switched to a cross-country ski machine (yes, even with a big belly she was able to use it) and relied on free weights for strength training. "Staying strong made me more enthusiastic about the changes my body went through when I was pregnant and also made it easier to get back into shape after my daughter was born," she says. Reibel's experience confirms what fitness experts know about women who exercise during pregnancy: Pregnant women who lift weights and do aerobic workouts typically report that they have more energy, are more self-confident, and have fewer complaints of aches and sleepless nights than women who remain sedentary, according to Loren Blake, the national group fitness director for Bally Total Fitness centers and a certified fitness trainer who also holds a degree in exercise physiology. "They also seem to enjoy pregnancy more," she says. The effects of exercise on pregnancy have been studied only in recent years, but a growing body of research — particularly by James F. Clapp III, M.D., professor of reproductive biology at Case Western University in Cleveland, and Michelle Mottola, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and physiology and director of the Exercise and Pregnancy Lab at the University of Western Ontario in Canada — suggests that women who work out consistently (at least three times a week) may require less medical intervention than sedentary women. Studies also have indicated that prenatal exercise may prevent varicose veins and help control gestational diabetes. Women who exercise during pregnancy and postpartum commonly report that their recovery is quicker and easier than that of friends who aren't as active. Blake, who lives in Eldersburg, Md., has trained pregnant women and welcomed them into her aerobics classes at Bally clubs for almost a decade. The program she designed for us is based on Bally's B-fit Baby Club. While most of the exercises are meant to be done in the gym, they all can be modified so you can do them at home. "Our goal is to make pregnant women feel comfortable and confident about exercising in the gym for their entire pregnancy," says Blake. "But if you'd rather work out at home, you have that option, too."
All levels welcome Even if you've never lifted more than a can of soup, you can still do the every-other-day weight-training routine. If you didn't lift weights for at least two months before your pregnancy, however, don't start until you have your physician's approval and you've read the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists exercise guidelines. The routine is also challenging enough for experienced lifters to maintain their muscle strength, with modifications for each trimester to accommodate your expanding belly and shifting center of gravity. "No matter what your level of experience, always listen to your body, and don't do exercises that feel uncomfortable," urges Blake. The exercises work major muscle groups in the arms, shoulders and especially the back. "Strong back muscles help reduce the backaches that come with your expanding belly," she says. Of course, strong arms and shoulders will be a boon after baby arrives. Blake, the mother of a 6-month-old girl, taught regular step aerobics and strength trained until the last week of her own pregnancy. "There were days I didn't want to work out, but I was the instructor, so I had to! When each class was over, I was always glad I did it because I felt so good," she says. Blake's pregnancy also gave her a new perspective on the B-fit program she helped create. "Now the program design makes so much sense," she says. "I also realize that being fit gave me the stamina to make it through labor and delivery, and has helped me recover from more sleepless nights than I can count." Reibel echoes Blake's sentiment. "I'm so thankful I lifted weights right up until the day before my daughter was born," she says. "Alex weighed 10 pounds at birth, and I don't know how I'd be able to carry her around all day if I weren't as strong as I am."
Workout Schedule The program This weight-training program can be done during all 3 trimesters. If you've never weight trained, get your physician's approval. The exercises require gym machines, but an alternative is listed with every caption. Accompanying the strength program is a stationary biking program. You also should do abdominal exercises and Kegels (see below) daily. Frequency Do this weight routine 2 or 3 times a week, with a day of rest between each workout. Also do at least 3 weekly cardio workouts of 20–30 minutes each.
Modifying the program If you're dizzy or nauseated or feel pulling in your abdominals, hip flexors or pubic area, adjust the exercise accordingly or simply stop. As your pregnancy progresses, reduce the weights you use as needed. Levels You're a new exerciser if you have not strength trained for at least 3 months. You're an experienced exerciser if you've been strength training at least twice a week for at least 3 months. Weights New exercisers should start with the lightest weight recommended. Experienced exercisers should reduce their prepregnancy weights by 15 percent to start. Remember, pregnancy is a time for maintenance, not heavy training. Sets and reps New exercisers should start with 1 set of 15–20 reps. To progress, add a second set of 8–12 reps, resting a minute between sets. Experienced exercisers should do 2 sets of 8–10 reps, resting 45–60 seconds between sets. Abdominals Continue your regular ab program until about the fourth month; then switch to belly breathing: Either seated, lying on your left side or positioned on all fours, inhale, expanding your belly; then exhale, pulling your bellybutton in. Release and repeat 10–25 times, building up to 100 reps a day. Kegels While sitting, standing or lying down, pull in the muscles of your pelvic floor (as if stopping yourself from urinating). Begin with 5–10 Kegels, holding each for 3 seconds; build up to 10 seconds. Do 5 sets of 10 reps each day. Warm-up At the gym, walk for at least 10 minutes at low intensity on a treadmill, or use an upright or recumbent bicycle. At home, take a brisk walk, climb stairs or march in place. Then do upper-body exercises such as shoulder rolls and arm circles. The exercises Do the exercises in the order shown. After each, stretch the muscles worked before moving on to the next. Hold each stretch 20–30 seconds without bouncing. Cool-down Sit cross-legged or with the soles of your feet together. Relax in this position for at least 5 minutes.
1. Smith plié Adjust your body in the center of a Smith machine and grasp the bar with a wide overhand grip so the bar rests on the back of your shoulders. Keep feet slightly ahead of the bar (your body will be at a slight angle). Now separate your feet wider than hip-width into a plié: toes and knees turned out 45 degrees, legs straight but not locked. Tilt pelvis to a neutral position and squeeze shoulder blades together behind you [A]. Bend your knees, lowering torso as low as you can without changing pelvis alignment. Your tailbone should point toward floor and the bar should be directly over your
hips [B]. Straighten legs to starting position and repeat. Modification: You may want to switch to a leg press machine in the third trimester. Weight range: 20–50 pounds, or no weight at all if the bar is too heavy. Free-weight alternative: Do the same exercise holding a dumbbell in each hand on your shoulders. In the third trimester, place hands on a support instead of holding dumbbells. Strengthens quadriceps, buttocks, hamstrings and inner thighs.
2. Seated leg extension Sit on a leg extension machine with back firmly against rear pad, rollers in front of ankles. Keep feet relaxed and not pointed; hold handles for support [A]. Straighten both knees until legs are fully extended [B]. Slowly return to starting position and repeat. Weight range: 20–35 pounds (up to 50 pounds if experienced). Free-weight alternative: Attach a 1- to 3-pound weight around each ankle; then sit on a straight-up incline bench or a high-backed chair, knees bent and feet flat on floor. Straighten one knee, extending leg in front of you. Lower, do reps, and then repeat with other leg. Strengthens quadriceps. 3. Seated leg curl Sit in a hamstring curl machine, legs straight, roller behind ankles, support bar across thighs [A]. With back and hips against seat, bring heels down and under yourself [B]. Straighten legs and repeat. Weight range: 30–60 pounds. Free-weight alternative: Standing Leg Curl. Attach a 1- to 3-pound weight to right ankle. Stand facing a support, left knee slightly bent. Bend right knee. Bring heel toward buttocks. Lower and do reps; then switch weight to left leg and repeat. Strengthens hamstrings.
4. Seated cable row Sit on a low cable pulley machine with feet on pads and knees slightly bent. Grasp handles, palms in, arms extended and torso slightly forward [A]. Bend elbows to bring handles toward belly [B]. Straighten arms to starting position and do reps. Weight range: 20–60 pounds. Free-weight alternative: Bent-Over Row. Stand in a lunge position, right foot in front, facing the rear of a high-backed chair. Hold a 5- to 8-pound dumbbell in left hand, arm hanging down, palm facing in. Place right forearm across top of chair. Lean forward until back is at a 45- to 60-degree angle. Bend left elbow up. Straighten arm and repeat for reps; then switch arms. Strengthens back, biceps and shoulders.
5. High row Sit on a low cable pulley machine with a short bar attached, placing feet on foot pad and bending knees slightly. Lean forward, grasping the bar with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Then sit erect, arms extended but not locked [A]. Keeping back erect, elbows wide and wrists straight, squeeze shoulder blades together and then bend elbows to bring bar toward your upper rib cage [B]. Straighten arms to starting position. Weight range: 20–50 pounds.
Free-weight alternative: Begin in same position as the alternative exercise No. 4, but with left palm facing the rear instead of in. Contract upper-back muscles and bend left elbow out and up until it's even with your shoulder. In final position, forearm will be vertical and knuckles down. Lower, repeat for reps, and then switch sides. Strengthens upper and middle back, rear shoulders.
6. Vertical pec dec Sit on a vertical pec dec machine, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Contract abs to keep back against pad. With forearms against pads, open arms to feel a mild stretch, about 45 degrees [A]. Press pads together [B]. Return to starting position. Weight range: 20–50 pounds. Free-weight alternative: Incline Fly. Sit on a high-backed chair at a 45-degree angle, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Hold a 5- to 15-pound dumbbell in each hand above midchest, palms facing in. With back supported, lower arms down and out until elbows are even with shoulders, wrists straight. Return to starting position; repeat. Strengthens chest and front shoulders.
7. Seated overhead press Sit on a shoulder press machine with the seat and seat back adjusted so the vertical hand bars are at shoulder height and just in front of your shoulders. Place feet flat on floor with knees bent, contract your abdominals and relax your shoulders; elbows should point to floor [A]. Press hand bars upward, straightening arms but not locking elbows. Keep wrists straight throughout the move [B]. Lower without lifting shoulders. Weight range: 20–40 pounds. Free-weight alternative: Sit on edge of a weight bench or high-backed chair with knees bent and feet flat on floor. Hold a 5- to 8-pound dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent so forearms are vertical, palms facing in. Squeeze shoulder blades and press upward by straightening arms overhead; don't lock elbows. Lower and repeat. As pregnancy progresses, sit all the way back in the chair. Strengthens shoulders and upper back.
8. Triceps pressdown Attach a straight bar to a high pulley cable. Stand with feet separated hip-width apart, legs straight but knees not locked. Hold bar with overhand grip, elbows close to waist, forearms parallel to floor [A]. Maintain arm position and press bar down toward thighs without locking elbows [B]. Return to starting position and repeat. Weight range: 10–40 pounds. Free-weight alternative: Triceps Extension. Hold a dumbbell in left hand and face the rear of an incline bench, adjusted to chest height, or a high-backed chair. Place right hand atop the support. Lean forward from hips until you're at a 45-degree angle, left arm hanging toward floor. Squeeze shoulder blades together, and then bend elbow up to waist. Maintaining that position, straighten arm and extend it behind you. Bend elbow and return to start; repeat for reps. Switch feet and hands and repeat with right arm. Strengthens triceps.