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Heat, humidity, the summer doldrums — not the best invitation to exercise, especially if you’re pregnant. But there’s a remedy: Get thee to a pool! Being in the water just plain feels good when you’re pregnant, and there are physiological reasons why. Water greatly reduces the usual stress on your musculoskeletal system and supports the weight of the fetus, thus taking a load off your lower back. Water also makes it easier for the heart to pump blood, reduces pregnancy-related swelling (edema) and takes pressure off your bladder. Even as it soothes you, the pool environment allows for a total-body workout. Water provides 12 times the resistance to your muscles as does air, thus offering a strength-training benefit similar to lifting light weights.
Soothing but vigorous For Antigone Cook, an Oregon-based instructor of water fitness, aerobics, ballet and certified Pilates who designed the program that follows, water workouts turned out to be the most comfortable way to exercise when she was pregnant. “I didn’t have any back problems, and I had a lot less swelling in my feet and ankles than other women,” she says. She believes that her water routine even helped make her labor easier. Many women find swimming to be a vigorous workout that they can continue all the way up to delivery — and into their postpartum life. The water is also a good place to concentrate on psychological fitness. In her new book, The KeyEnergy! Pregnancy Workbook (Antigone Cook, 1997), Cook suggests that you approach delivery as you would an athletic event — by physically and mentally training for it.
“For the first child especially, many women tend to be very frightened and don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says. If you picture the best possible outcome, however, you can begin to release that fear — hence Cook’s suggestions for creating positive visualizations during your water exercise programs.
Shallow or deep Cook’s program is divided into three distinct workouts: shallow water, deep water and swimming. You can mix and match portions of each workout or stick with just one; it’s a very flexible regimen that works for every fitness level and stage of pregnancy. The shallow-water workout is designed for women who did not exercise regularly prior to pregnancy or for more fit women on their tired days. The deep-water exercises are somewhat more challenging but are aided by the use of an Aquajogger buoyancy belt.The swimming workout is the most advanced part of the program. Let your comfort rule: If swimming feels good, do it; if it doesn’t, stick with the deep- or shallow-water programs. Keep your intensity level moderate — 3 to 5 on an exertion scale of 10. You should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising. Cook sees this workout as a time to spend appreciating your body as it changes — giving yourself positive strokes, so to speak. Luxuriate in the cooling environment of the pool, and have fun as you improve your fitness. Soon enough you’ll be sharing your world with someone else; make this your time.