stay in step

Pregnancy's a great time for this popular aerobics workout.


If you’re like millions of other women who enjoy stepping, perhaps you already have discovered one of the best double-your-benefits prenatal workouts available.

“Stepping is a great cardiovascular conditioning exercise, and it strengthens the muscles that support the pelvic girdle,” says Debi Pillarella, M.Ed., adjunct professor of corporate wellness at Indiana University in Chicago and author of Fitness Stepping (Human Kinetics, 1997). The muscles that stepping works — the buttocks, hip flexors, quadriceps, and inner and outer thigh muscles — are used during labor and delivery. They also serve essential everyday functions, such as enabling you to climb stairs with greater ease.

Pillarella has designed a step routine that’s right on target for most moms-to-be. But if you weren’t stepping before you became pregnant, now may not be the best time to begin, as your balance may be off. If you are a step aficionado or feel comfortable enough to give it a try, you can step safely throughout pregnancy and into postpartum with just a few modifications listed with each caption.

In the first trimester (up to 12 weeks), keep stepping at the height to which you are accustomed, and use the same up-tempo music. Pillarella says the first slight trip on the step is a signal to take the height and tempo down a notch, because your shifting weight is causing you to misjudge your foot placement. Hint: If necessary, put the step directly on the floor with no risers. Also, never step higher than the level you were using before pregnancy. Always work within your comfort range, which may be quite different from before. You may get winded quickly, even in your first trimester. If you still are stepping in your third trimester, your step should be no more than 4–6 inches in height.

Another caution: Pregnant women shouldn’t wave their arms overhead as they step. “During pregnancy, limit [continuous] arm movements that reach higher than your heart level or go over your head because they can make you feel breathless and lightheaded,” Pillarella says. Just keep your arms pumping naturally instead.

Pregnant steppers also should note these fashion tips: Keep cool by wearing bike shorts (make sure the waistband isn’t too tight) and other well-ventilated garments that allow sweat to evaporate. Also, as your pregnancy progresses, your feet may swell and flatten, causing shoes to tighten and restrict circulation. Go up a shoe size or loosen laces to stay comfortable.

Once your doctor has given you the green light to return to exercise after delivery, you can get right back into your stepping routine. Just remember to begin slowly — and you’ll be back in step in no time.

The program Do this routine in conjunction with an aerobic workout of at least 10–15 minutes in duration, 2–4 times a week. Augment with stretching and lower-back-strengthening exercises.

Warm-up and cool-down Do 5 minutes of basic stepping: Step onto platform with right foot, then left; step down with right foot, then left; change lead legs every minute with a foot tap. End warm-up with mild stretching, especially calves. Repeat for cool-down.

Sets and reps Do 16 reps for each of the step moves, in the order listed. Repeat, doing 8 reps. Each exercise takes 8 “counts,” listed in the captions. Once you get the hang of it, do them in any order you choose.

1. V-squat/calf raise Stand facing a step, feet together, hands on hips. Place right foot to one side on top of step, then left foot on other side so feet are hip-width apart in a “V” (counts 1, 2) [A]. Bend knees into a half-squat as if to sit in a chair (counts 3, 4) [B]. Straighten legs; step down on floor with right foot, then left, so feet are together. Then raise up on toes [C]. Lower heels; repeat.

Second trimester: Lower step to no higher than 4–6 inches (if legs are cramping, lose the calf raise).

Third trimester: Do without the calf raise. Strengthens quadriceps, inner thighs, outer thighs, buttocks and hamstrings.

2. Alternating knee-ups Face step, arms down. Step onto right corner of step with left foot, angling body toward corner (count 1) [A]. Lift right knee to slightly lower than hip height; pump arms naturally (count 2) [B]. Step back onto floor with right foot, then left, returning to starting position (counts 3, 4). Repeat at left corner with right foot. Alternate lifts, corner to corner.

Second trimester: Lower step to no more than 4–6 inches.

Third trimester: Change knee lift to a low kick. Strengthens quadriceps, buttocks and hamstrings.

3. L-step Face step, hands on hips. Step on middle of step with right foot; tap left toe next to right (counts 1, 2) [A]. Step sideways off step with left foot; tap right foot next to left (counts 3, 4) [B]. Step on middle of step with right foot (not shown); tap left foot next to right (counts 5, 6). Step off rear of step with left foot, then right; return to starting position. (counts 7, 8). Repeat, starting with left foot.

Second trimester: Lower step to 4–6 inches.

Third trimester: Move closer to end of step. Strengthens legs and aids coordination, lateral movement and balance.