Mama's New Workout

Stay strong and vigorous throughout pregnancy. Model Kathy Ireland shows you how.

Sooner or later during pregnancy, you'll probably start feeling that your body isn't quite the one you're used to — and not just because it's being shared with another person. You may suddenly experience no-sweat activities as quite strenuous or develop unexpected back pain. One of the best ways to stay in touch with yourself and keep feeling great in the months ahead is to embark on a moderate cardiovascular and strength-building program. "You need to keep working your muscles despite the changes in endurance and equilibrium that come with pregnancy," says Tim Green, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer who designed the exercise routine that follows. Green leads a number of his pregnant clients through this workout, including our model, Kathy Ireland, who is expecting her second child in early October. Four years ago, after she delivered her first child, he helped her shed the 40 pounds she had gained while pregnant.

More oomph Exercising during pregnancy may provide you with more oomph during your final trimester and labor. "Fit women seem to have more stamina," says Michelle F. Mottola, Ph.D., director of the R. Samuel McLaughlin Foundation-Exercise and Pregnancy Laboratory at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada.

Staying fit throughout pregnancy may also make your postpartum recovery and weight loss easier. If you remain sedentary, you're more likely to gain fat and lose muscle tissue, which could make it more difficult to return to your prepregnancy shape. "Consistent exercise during pregnancy helps prevent excessive weight gain," says Carol Otis, M.D., a UCLA sports medicine physician. "Women who exercise and are able to maintain their aerobic fitness levels also seem to have a more positive attitude about their bodies during pregnancy," she adds.

Better backs Preventing back pain during pregnancy is another goal of Green's workout, and that's good news for many pregnant women. A 1996 study published in the journal Spine found that in a group of 200 pregnant women, 76 percent reported back pain. "Many of these exercises focus on the lower back and legs and on improving balance so women are more aware of their posture," Green says. Preserving muscle tone helps prevent many discomforts of a growing belly.

The experts are persuasive about exercise during pregnancy, but they also urge caution (see the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines). "Don't participate in any activity where there's a danger of falling," Mottola urges. Furthermore, always make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after every workout. You don't want to get overheated, because that can affect the fetus. After the first trimester, avoid exercises that require lying on your back, which can decrease blood flow to the uterus.

Keeping balanced Your body starts producing relaxin (the hormone that causes the pelvic ligaments to relax during childbirth) months before you give birth, so use caution with jarring activities, since your joints are more vulnerable to injury than ever. As your baby's increasing size starts to affect your balance, limit activities, such as tennis or racquetball, involving sudden moves. Take your step routine down a notch and trade your road bike for a stationary one.

The easiest way to make sure you're not working too hard is to take the talk test: "If you can't carry on a conversation without gasping for breath, slow down," says Mottola.

You'll feel the payoffs of prenatal exercise while you're doing it, and your baby will benefit as well. One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is to be fit enough to welcome her with unlimited energy into the world.

The exercises

1. Sit squat Place a chair on carpeting to keep it from sliding. Sit squarely on the edge of the chair, placing your feet at least 12 inches away from it. Separate feet to hip width, knees and ankles aligned; place hands on thighs just above knees. Keep torso erect and abdominals lifted. Keeping head up (focus on something in front of you), exhale and stand up, contracting buttocks as you straighten legs (without locking them). As you complete the movement, drop tailbone toward floor to minimize overarching of the lower back. If necessary, press hands against thighs for slight assistance to lift you upward. Inhale, and sit back down. Repeat for 1 set of recommended reps. For second set, repeat the sit squat, lifting one knee up to hip height at completion of movement. Continue to squat, alternating knees for recommended reps. To modify: First trimester: If you're accustomed to weights, hold 5- to 8-pound dumbbells, arms hanging by sides. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings and buttocks.

2. Split lunge Stand with your left side to a chair, holding the top of it for balance. With feet hip-width apart, take a step forward with left foot so torso is balanced between legs, chest lifted and shoulders relaxed. Lift right heel. Bend knees so left knee is directly over left ankle and right knee points toward floor. Your right knee, hip and shoulder should be in line. Straighten both legs, keeping heel lifted, and repeat for reps; then switch legs. To modify: First trimester: Don't use the chair, and do rear lunge instead, holding 5- to l0-pound dumbbells if you wish. Second trimester: If balance is OK, do split lunge without the chair. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and calves.

3. Step-out pliés Stand with your feet a little more than hip-width apart, knees relaxed, toes turned out slightly and hands on hips. Contract abdominals so tailbone is pointing toward floor, rib cage lifted. Bend knees, lowering torso as much as possible without changing pelvis position. Straighten legs and pull right leg in toward left, leading with heel, until legs are together. Step out more than hip width with left foot, do plié and repeat pull-in with left leg. Continue to alternate stepping out to a plié, then bringing feet together. To modify: Second and third trimesters: Hold plié in lowered position and do a Kegel before straightening legs. Strengthens quadriceps and inner thighs.

4. One-arm lat row and extension Stand about 2 feet from the back of a chair, feet hip-width apart and left foot in front of right. Place left forearm on top of chair and bend forward from hips until torso is at a 45-degree angle, back straight, head and neck aligned with spine. Hold a dumbbell in right hand, arm straight and hanging down in line with shoulder. Palm should face in, wrist straight. Squeeze shoulder blades together and draw right elbow up and toward waist until it's slightly behind you. Hold position; then straighten arm behind you. Bend elbow; then lower arm and repeat for reps. Change positions and repeat with other arm. To modify: First trimester: Do same exercise with torso parallel to floor. Weight: 5–8 pounds. Strengthens middle back, rear shoulder and triceps.

5. Shoulder combo Sit on the edge of a chair, legs hip-width apart, feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging at sides, palms facing in. Squeeze shoulder blades together; then lift arms out and up to shoulder height. Slowly lower arms and lean forward. Lift arms up and slightly behind you,leading with elbows. Lower arms, sit up straight and bend elbows so dumbbells are at shoulder height, palms facing in. Straighten arms overhead without locking elbows. Lower arms so they're hanging by your sides, and repeat entire move. To modify: Third trimester: Use a pillow to support your belly. Weight: 3–8 pounds. Strengthens shoulders and upper back.

6. Seated alternating curls Sit up straight against the back of an armless chair, feet planted on the floor and knees bent. Place a pillow behind your lower back if necessary for support. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging down at sides, palms facing in. Bend left elbow to bring dumbbell up toward shoulder, exhaling while you lift. As the dumbbell passes the thigh, turn palm upward to finish the curl. Straighten arm, lowering to starting position, and repeat with other arm.

To modify: First trimester: Do the exercise standing. Second trimester: Do the exercise sitting on the edge of the chair. Weight: 5–8 pounds. Strengthens biceps.

7. Pelvic tilts Lie face up on the floor with sturdy pillows propping up your head, shoulders considerably higher than belly. Bend knees and place feet flat on floor. Contract abdominals and tuck in pelvis so it tilts upward; buttocks may slightly leave floor. Relax and release; then repeat. You can also do Kegels in this position.

To modify: First trimester: Don't use pillows. Second trimester: Use pillows and, for variety, extend one leg out on floor. Strengthens abdominals and buttocks.

8. All-fours abs Get on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Straighten but don't lock arms; keep back straight, head and neck aligned with spine. Inhale, expanding belly; then exhale, pulling belly upward while keeping back fairly straight. Hold position and continue to inhale and exhale, contracting abs. Strengthens abdominals.