Physical therapists have known about the benefits of exercise balls for more than 20 years, but it has only been in the past few that the “physio” ball has caught on as a regular exercise tool. Now these super-tough, affordable balls (you can buy one for about $25) are standard equipment in most gyms.
“The ball is one of the most versatile and portable pieces of workout equipment around,” says Sara Kooperman, founder of Moms in Motion, a pre- and postnatal workout and certification program for fitness instructors. Kooperman loves using the exercise ball because it can help improve strength, flexibility and balance all at once. Another bonus: You can use it during labor. Drape yourself over the ball facedown to relieve the pain of back labor, or use it to support your body when you do pelvic tilts and rocks to relieve the pain of contractions.
The following arm exercises, designed by Kooperman, are safe to do throughout your pregnancy; simply make adjustments for balance and comfort. The entire workout should take 10–15 minutes. Do 1–2 sets of 12–16 repetitions of each exercise, resting for one minute between sets.
1. Ball row Holding a 5- to 10-pound dumbbell in your right hand, sit on the ball with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Contract your abdominals to help maintain your balance, then swing your right leg behind you so you’re in a lunge position. Keep your left knee bent in line with your left ankle, right knee bent with heel lifted. Adjust your hips so they’re square on the ball. Place your left forearm across your left thigh for balance and drop your right arm toward the floor so it’s in line with your shoulder, palm facing in (A). Maintain this body position as you bend your right elbow up toward your waist, lifting the weight up to hip height without turning your torso (B). Complete reps, switch legs and repeat with the other arm. Strengthens biceps, rear shoulders and mid-back.
2. Incline combo Holding a 3- to 8-pound dumbbell in each hand, sit on the ball with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Walk your feet out in front of you until you are lying on the ball with your entire torso supported and your knees over your ankles. Extend your arms above mid-chest, elbows slightly bent and wide open with palms facing in; squeeze your shoulder blades down and together to stabilize your position. Maintaining this position, open your arms down and out to your sides until elbows are in line with your shoulders (A). Contract chest muscles to bring arms back together, knuckles touching. Keep your arms stable, then bend your elbows down and back behind your head (B). Return to starting position and repeat. To sit up once you’re finished, walk your feet backward while raising your torso. Strengthens triceps, chest and front shoulders.