The Home Body

a total-body prenatal program you can do without leaving the house

Staying active during pregnancy came naturally for Lisa Rainsberger, 37, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based elite athlete who has won five marathons. “I can’t imagine not exercising — it’s an essential part of who I am and what I do,” she says.

Although Rainsberger chose not to race competitively during her nine months, she either ran or swam vigorously for 45 minutes a day until her seventh month. At that point, she modified her regimen slightly by substituting power walking for running. “I gave up the running because the bouncing put pressure on my bladder, which made me need to pee all the time,” she says. “I found I didn’t have to make as many bathroom stops with the walking.”

Rainsberger thinks her pregnancy went smoothly thanks to her exercise regimen, which also included twice-weekly strength-training sessions. “I had heard all these horror stories about how you get varicose veins, swollen ankles and hemorrhoids,” she says. “But I experienced none of those. I’m pretty sure it was because I kept in such good shape.”

The benefits

Rainsberger’s hunch is probably right: According to a slew of new research, keeping active during pregnancy isn’t just safe — it bestows important benefits.

For starters, one study of 346 women done by researchers from the Columbia University School of Public Health in New York City suggests that exercise may help prevent miscarrying a healthy fetus.

Other recent data, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that women who did moderate to high amounts of exercise while pregnant had almost half the risk of pre-term delivery compared with nonexercisers; they also had a significantly lower risk of delivering after their due date. (Both early and late delivery can pose dangers to the fetus.) “We don’t know why exercise helps women have timely deliveries, but there must be something about being in good physical condition that helps establish appropriate conditions for labor to occur at the correct time,” says lead researcher Maureen C. Hatch, Ph.D., associate professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Yet another new study, from researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that pregnant women who exercised vigorously for two or more hours a week had a decreased risk of delivering overly large babies. (High-birth-weight babies are difficult and sometimes dangerous to deliver vaginally and as a result must frequently be delivered by Cesarean section.)

As if those benefits weren’t enough, other research suggests that if you stay active, you may reap many other rewards as well:

  • You may be less prone to suffering from common pregnancy discomforts such as swelling, nausea, fatigue, leg cramps, backache, varicose veins and shortness of breath.
  • Your labor may be shorter. In one study, active labor was 30 percent shorter on average for women who exercised than for those who were sedentary.
  • Your risk of a forceps or Cesarean delivery may be considerably lower.
  • You could be less prone to mood swings and more happy with your body.
  • Your overall stamina and pain endurance during labor may be higher.

Although there are clearly many reasons to remain fit during your nine months, it isn’t always easy to fit exercise in between all those prenatal doctor appointments, baby-room preparations, reorganization of your work schedule, childbirth classes, etc. That’s why Mia Finnegan, owner of The Fitness House, a personal-training studio in Portsmouth, R.I., designed the following strength and stretching exercises to do in the comfort of your own living room.

One of the obvious advantages of doing a home workout is its ultra-convenience — you just pull on a pair of ragged old sweats, put some good music on and get started. Of course, you’ll still want to get out for some good cardio workouts — see “Winter Aerobics”.

»workout

Mia Finnegan, a Fitness World champion and owner of The Fitness House, a Portsmouth, R.I., personal-training studio, had her first baby this fall. She developed this total-body, multimuscle workout to stay in shape during her own pregnancy. With these six moves, you can work your entire body in about 20 minutes. Not only are they a great accompaniment to your current aerobic workout, but if you’re already lifting weights at the gym, you can use them when you want to exercise but don’t feel like leaving the house.

exercises

Do the following exercises in the order listed.

1. chair crunches

Sit erect in a chair with your hips all the way back on the seat. Place your feet flat on the floor, knees bent, with both hands on your abdomen. Inhale deeply, expanding your belly into your hands; exhale as you contract your abs. Your hips and legs shouldn’t move. Return to starting position and repeat. Do 2 sets of 15–20 reps, resting 20 seconds between sets; no weight required. Strengthens abdominals.

2. push-ups Kneel on all fours with your knees behind your hips and hands under your shoulders, arms straight and fingers pointing straight ahead, hands and knees hip-width apart. Tighten your abs to help keep your belly from dropping. Bend your elbows, lowering your body toward the floor as far as possible. Push up to starting position and repeat. Do 2 sets of 8–20 reps, resting 20 seconds between sets; no weight required. Modification: As your belly grows, do the same exercise standing against a wall. Strengthens chest, front shoulders and triceps.

3. single-arm rows Stand next to a chair so your right knee and lower leg rest on the seat, left foot on the floor, knee slightly bent. Steady yourself with your right hand, elbow slightly bent and a weight in left hand, arm extended toward the floor, palm facing in. Bend left arm to pull weight to waist. Straighten arm and repeat. Do reps; change sides. Do 2 sets of 8–20 reps, alternating arms; use 5- to 8-pound dumbbells. Strengthens middle back, rear shoulders and biceps.

4. curl and press Stand with legs hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging by your sides, palms facing forward. Maintaining this position, bend elbows, bringing dumbbells up toward shoulders. Turn palms in to face each other; then press arms up overhead. Bend elbows; then lower to starting position and repeat. Do 2 sets of 8–20 reps, resting 20 seconds between sets. Use 5- to 8-pound dumbbells. Modification: If standing becomes uncomfortable, do this exercise while seated. Strengthens biceps, shoulders and upper back.

5. leg raise and kick Place a 1- to 3-pound weight around left ankle; then stand next to a countertop or chair, holding on with right hand. Separate feet hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked. Keeping torso erect, bend left knee up, foot off floor. Lean entire body forward slightly and kick backward, extending left leg as if you were pushing a door closed. Pull left leg back up to bent-knee position and lower. Do reps; switch sides and ankle weight to right leg and repeat. Do 2 sets of 15–20 reps on each leg, alternating legs. You can also do this without weights. Strengthens quadriceps, hip flexors, buttocks and hamstrings.

6. cross and kick Place a 1- to 3-pound weight around your left ankle; then stand with your right side to a countertop or chair, holding on with your right hand for support. Separate your feet hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked. Keeping your torso erect, cross your left leg across your body’s midline. Swing the same leg out sideways. Complete reps; switch sides and ankle weight to work the right leg. Do 2 sets of 15–20 reps on each leg, alternating legs. You can also do this without weights. Strengthens inner thighs and upper hips.

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