Stay in great shape throughout your pregnancy with our eight easy moves.
Lisa Anderson became pregnant for the first time at age 43—with twins. Twenty years ago, her doctor may have suggested that she stay near a bed for six months for fear that too much jostling could harm her growing girls.
But times have changed. During her pregnancy this past year, Anderson—a former ballet dancer, avid hiker and cross-country skier who lives in Park City, Utah—kept up a steady exercise program. Wanting to avoid the typical lower back pain and overall postural weakness caused by the stress of an enlarging belly, she took daily jog-walks in the gentle local hills, worked out with light weights and did lots of stretching. Anderson hardly missed a day’s workout. And on the night before her scheduled Cesarean section (one of her babies was breech), she, her husband, her dog and 11 pounds, 7 ounces of soon-to-be-born babies went for an evening walk. “I had no backaches and no swelling,” she says. “I felt really good physically and emotionally; staying active made me feel in control of my body. And now my doctor thinks I’ll recover quickly from the surgery and delivery because I’m in really good shape.”
Exercise: It’s good for you and your baby If a woman in her 40s who’s carrying twins can have a safely fit pregnancy, logic suggests that almost any woman—with her doctor’s guidance—can. Scientific evidence gathered in the past 20 years proves the point. Exercise can lower the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes and keep women from gaining too much weight. It may also help prevent varicose veins.
Research also suggests that exercise may help relieve morning sickness, constipation and lower back pain. And a University of North Texas study reported in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Neonatal Nursing showed that the odds of having a C-section were 4.5 times higher among sedentary women than among those who exercised.
But the greatest benefit of exercise for pregnant women may be mental. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the improvement in overall well-being,” says Layne Smith, M.D., an
obstetrician-gynecologist in Sandy, Utah, who treated Anderson during her pregnancy. “They report less discomfort and less fatigue.” Smith also notes that women who choose natural childbirth seem to have an easier time during labor if they’ve stayed fit and are better able to return to exercise and lose their pregnancy weight after delivery.
Reap the benefits: Start now As prenatal exercise becomes more accepted and encouraged, women are finding all sorts of workouts to do. But you don’t need to get fancy: Our back-to-basics workout, designed by Fit Pregnancy fitness editor Linda Shelton, provides everything you need for overall body conditioning. “These moves will help you maintain your muscle tone during pregnancy and strengthen the muscles you most need to bend and carry and handle the fatigue of early motherhood,” Shelton says. “They’re not complicated, and you can do the whole program in a short period of time. These are the kinds of moves you’d find in any solid weight-training program—exercises for your back, chest, abs, legs and arms.”
Anderson was amazed at how she sailed through what was considered a high-risk pregnancy. “I think I had such an easy time because I’ve made exercise a part of my life and just kept it up during pregnancy,” the Utah mom says. So can you.
Workout for a fit pregnancy
l. ONE-ARM ROW AND KICKBACK Facing a chair, place your right knee on the seat, left foot on floor. Place right hand on chair seat. Bend forward, back parallel to the floor. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand, arm extended down and in line with your shoulder, palm facing in. Bend left elbow up (A). Straighten elbow, pressing dumbbell behind you (B). Bend elbow, then straighten arm back to starting position and repeat. Do reps and repeat on other side. Recommended weight: 5–8 pounds. Strengthens middle back, biceps and triceps.
2. CURL AND LIFT Sit erect on the edge of an armless chair with feet on floor, arms hanging down. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward. Bend elbows, bringing dumbbells toward shoulders and rotating palms inward (A). With elbows by your sides, lift your arms to shoulder height, elbows bent (B). Lower arms to your sides and then straighten to starting position; repeat. Recommended weight: 5–8 pounds. Strengthens biceps and shoulders.
3. SEATED KNEE CRUNCH Sit on the edge of a chair with feet on the floor. Lean back so only your upper back and shoulders are supported. (Prop a pillow behind you, if necessary.) Pull navel toward spine; hold this position and bend one knee up toward your chest. Lower foot to floor, maintaining torso position, and alternate with other leg. Strengthens abdominals.
4. CHEST FLY Lie faceup on the floor or on an incline bench, knees bent and feet flat, with your shoulders supported by enough pillows that your head and shoulders are above your belly. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, extend arms directly above your chest, elbows slightly bent in an arc, until knuckles touch (A). Maintaining this arc and without arching back, open arms out and down toward the floor. Stop when you feel a stretch in your chest muscles (B). Return to starting position and repeat. Recommended weight: 5–12 pounds. Strengthens chest, shoulders and triceps.
5. PLIÉ Stand with your right side to the back of a chair with feet slightly more than hip-width apart, toes and knees turned out to 45 degrees; place right hand on chair for support (A). Pull navel in. Bend knees, lowering torso as low as possible while keeping torso straight (B). Straighten legs to return to starting position and repeat. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings and buttocks.
6. STANDING HAMSTRING CURL Attach an ankle weight to your right ankle. Stand facing the back of a chair, feet flat on floor and slightly apart, knees relaxed. Pull your navel in, keeping tailbone pointed down. Bring right foot slightly behind you, toes touching the floor (A). Bend your right knee to bring right heel up toward buttocks (B). Return to starting position, do reps and repeat with the left leg. Note: To avoid joint strain, attach the weight only to the working leg. Recommended weight: 2–4 pounds. Strengthens hamstrings and buttocks.
7. SIDELYING ABDUCTION Attach an ankle weight to your right ankle and lie on your left side, head supported on your forearm, legs bent at a 45-degree angle. Place your right arm on floor for stability. Place a pillow underneath your abdomen for support if you no longer can contract your abdominal muscles. Lift right leg to about hip height without rolling forward or backward. Return to starting position, do reps, switch weight and repeat with other leg. Recommended weight: 2–4 pounds. Strengthens upper hips.
8. SIDELYING ADDUCTION Attach an ankle weight to your left ankle and then lie on your left side, head supported on your forearm. Bend your right knee and rest it on top of pillows for support. Place your right hand on floor for stability. Lift your left leg up as high as possible toward ceiling without rolling forward or backward. Return to starting position, do reps, switch weight and repeat with other leg. Recommended weight: 2–4 pounds. Strengthens inner thighs.