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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.”