a safe, show-off-that- pregnant-body weight routine. Plus, how to keep up your favorite summer activities.
To the surprise of many, pregnant women often feel their most beautiful as they grow bigger with their baby. I know I did. Determined to enter the lazy days of summer with a fabulous maternity bathing suit and a body to go with it, I plunked down money for a gym membership during my pregnancy, even though I have a full set of free weights and workout videos at home.
But after I got the membership, I had a nagging thought: How safe is it to work out at the gym? Well, Michelle F. Mottola, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and kinesiology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, says strength training on machines may be preferable to free weights during pregnancy because you can control the movement of the weights more with machines and there’s a reduced chance of getting hurt.
That discovery may cheer you, but it may also leave you with questions. First, will exercise help you through your pregnancy and the birth (i.e., the pain)? In fact, a growing body of research suggests that expectant mothers who exercise have easier pregnancies and healthier babies than their sedentary counterparts. Two studies published in the Journal of Nurse Midwifery found that women who exercise feel and sleep better during their pregnancies and also report higher levels of self-esteem. Likewise, a 1999 study conducted by James Clapp III, M.D., at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland found that women who remain active during pregnancy have calmer, less fussy babies than inactive women.
The list goes on. “Women who exercise regularly and properly during pregnancy experience fewer complications,” says Raul Artal, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “These women are less likely to develop gestational diabetes or other problems. More importantly, however, they have a greater level of stamina and seem to have a better attitude toward labor, delivery and their pain.”
That’s all great news, but what should your pregnancy exercise goals be, and what should your workout look like? For one thing, exercising moms-to-be should not work out in the hopes of keeping their weight down during pregnancy. Whatever your workout schedule, the guidelines for weight gain are the same: If you become pregnant when you’re underweight, you should gain 28–40 pounds. If you’re of normal weight, the proper weight gain is 25–35 pounds. Overweight women should gain 15–25 pounds, while obese women should gain no more than 15. Twins and other multiples should bring on a weight gain of at least 35–45 pounds.
In the end, there are basically three important pregnancy exercise goals: 1) to keep your spirits up, 2) to prepare for labor and delivery, and 3) to help you regain your prepregnancy body more quickly after delivery.
To reach the first goal, you’ll need to find activities that make you feel good — swimming, walking, dancing. For the second goal, make sure to do your Kegels (pelvic-floor exercises) and belly breathing.
To help you reach your third goal, Linda Shelton, Fit Pregnancy’s fitness editor, has designed a program that’s perfect for moms-to-be as well as new mothers. This workout is geared toward women who began lifting weights at least two months prior to pregnancy. To complement this workout, we’ve provided a box on how to update your favorite cardiovascular activities.
If you’ve never lifted a dumbbell or sat on a leg-extension machine before, don’t fret. Use our detailed instructions, and ask an instructor at your gym to adjust your form.
Whatever your fitness level, you’ll find that a trip to the gym will surely boost your spirits and self-esteem. And, as the research shows, it very well may help you with your upcoming labor and delivery.
To begin Your goal is to do 2–3 sets of 8–12 reps for each exercise. Unlike strength-training programs for nonpregnant women, you aren’t trying to exercise to the point of fatigue. Instead, use the suggested weight ranges to determine what amount of weight will challenge you without getting you to the point of exhaustion or sacrificing form.
Progression tips Your goal is not to get stronger as much as it is to continue exercising throughout your pregnancy. Because of fatigue and your changing shape, you’ll probably want to either decrease the amount of weight you use as your pregnancy progresses and/or decrease to 1 or 2 sets for each workout. However you change the weights or sets, maintain at least 8 reps for each exercise.
Warm-up Do some low-impact cardio exercise for 8–l0 minutes before you strength-train. You can walk on a treadmill or a track, pedal at a low intensity on a recumbent bike, or use an elliptical trainer with little or no resistance.
Cool-down Finish your workout by stretching major muscle groups: thighs, calves, back, chest and shoulders. Hold each stretch to mild tension for 20–40 seconds without bouncing. Rest a few minutes to let your body relax before you leave the gym.
Frequency Try to follow this program 2–3 times per week, with a day off between each workout to rest.
1. SEATED CABLE ROWS Sit on a low cable pulley machine with a long, straight bar attached, feet on the foot plate, knees slightly bent. Lean forward from the hips and grasp the bar with an overhand grip; sit upright until arms are straight but not locked [A]. Squeeze shoulder blades together, bending elbows back until bar almost touches lower chest [B]. Keep an upright position throughout. Return to starting position without leaning forward and do reps. Strengthens upper back and rear shoulders. Suggested weight range: 30–60 pounds.
pay attention Don’t rock as you move the weight. Squeeze shoulder blades first; then pull back to avoid having your biceps do the work.
2. INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS Sit on an incline bench adjusted to a 45-degree angle, feet flat on a footrest, knees separated. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms extended above midchest, palms facing forward [A]. Contract shoulder blades and keep back against bench; then bend elbows to a 90-degree position [B]. Straighten arms, pressing dumbbells up to starting position. Strengthens chest, front shoulders and triceps. Suggested weight range: 5–12 pounds in each hand.
pay attention Keep elbows within your peripheral vision to prevent overstretching the chest muscles in the lowered position.
3. SEATED BICEPS CURLS Adjust an incline bench so the back is straight, at a 90-degree angle. Sit with your back against the pad, legs separated, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow your arms to hang at your sides in line with your shoulders, palms facing forward [A]. Bend both elbows, curling the dumbbells up toward your shoulders [B]. Straighten arms and return to starting position. Strengthens biceps. Suggested weight range: 5–l0 pounds in each hand.
pay attention Make sure to not lock your elbows at the bottom of the move, and keep dumbbells in line with shoulders; don’t allow them to drift higher.
4. TRICEPS PRESS DOWNS Stand in a neutral position and grasp a high cable pulley with a short, straight bar attached, legs separated hip-width apart. Hold bar with an overhand grip, hands just shoulder-width apart, with your elbows bent and close to your torso so your elbows line up with your shoulders [A]. Maintaining this position, press the bar down toward your thighs [B]. Return to starting position. Strengthens triceps. Suggested weight range: 15–30 pounds.
pay attention Keep wrists straight, in line with forearms. Keep weight light enough to feel resistance in upper arms.
5. SPLIT LUNGES Stand with your left hand on a support for balance. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and place it on your right shoulder. Take a step forward with your left foot so your right heel is lifted and your torso is balanced between your legs, chest lifted, shoulders relaxed [A]. Bend knees so left knee is directly over left ankle and right knee faces the floor, with knee, hip and shoulder in a straight line [B]. Straighten legs to starting position. Do reps, change position and repeat with the other leg. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and calves. Suggested weight range: 5–10 pounds.
pay attention Keep torso erect.
6. LEG PRESS Sit on a leg press machine with a vertical back pad. Place feet on plate approximately hip-width apart, legs straight but knees not locked. Pull your belly in to stabilize your back against the pad [A]. Release the machine lock and, keeping body weight toward your heels, bend your knees toward your chest until knees are almost aligned with hips [B]. Press plate away from you by straightening your legs. Strengthens buttocks, quadriceps and hamstrings. Suggested weight range: –125 pounds.
pay attention Widen your feet to accommodate your growing belly.
7. HIP ADDUCTION Sit on a hip adduction machine, pads on the inside of thighs, feet on plates with legs a little more than hip-width apart. Keep back against pad, holding handles [A]. Press legs together until they almost touch [B]. Return to starting position and repeat. Strengthens inner thighs. Suggested weight range: 30–60 pounds.
pay attention Avoid starting with legs too far apart, which can pull on pelvic ligaments.
8. ALL-FOURS BELLY BREATHING Kneel on all fours so hands are under shoulders and knees are under hips. (If you have pain in your wrists, bring yourself up onto your knuckles so your wrists are straight.) Head, neck and spine should be in a straight line [A]. Keep your back straight, exhale and use your abdominals to contract your belly and pull your baby up inside you [B]. Relax your belly, inhale and repeat. Strengthens back and abdominal muscles. No weight.
pay attention Even as your pregnancy progresses, use your abs, not your back, to contract your belly.